May 12, 2014

Texas-sized school bonds sweep state

Voters approved 84 percent of money Texas school districts asked for on May 10.

Arlington school officials, with passage of the district’s $663 million bond package, aren’t the only ones coming off a weekend win.

Statewide, voters approved 84 percent of the $6.2 billion in bond packages on ballots in local elections Saturday, according to initial results listed on the Texas Association of School Business Officials’ website.

Arlington made history when 69.7 percent of voters favored the the district’s all-or-nothing bond package to build new facilities and update campuses. The multimillion-dollar bond proposal was the largest in Tarrant County history, yet it only drew about 8 percent of eligible voters.

The low turnout is not a surprise when it comes to local elections, political analysts say, and big bond issues typically pass.

“I think the response validates the support for the Arlington school district and the work that is being done to ensure that all students reach their academic potential,” Superintendent Marcelo Cavazos said.

“The community is engaged with the school district in the process as we meet the needs of all the students,” he added. “This is an affirmation of the work that our teachers and our staff and our board is focused on.”

Surpassing Arlington in voter-approved bonds was the Cypress-Fairbanks district in Harris County. On Saturday, 68.7 percent of voters approved a $1.2 billion bond package for new facilities, technology, transportation, safety and security.

Other districts including Frisco, Northside, Round Rock, Pflugerville, La Porte and Manor passed nine-digit bond packages.

“School districts are trying to catch up, and they have had a hard road for the last five years with funding cuts,” said Joe Smith of “They didn’t get to keep up with their needs and now they are trying to meet the needs.”

Smith, a former Hudson school superintendent, formed, which compiles election results and other education news from media reports statewide.

Smith said it’s not surprising that the big districts got the big bucks they asked for because they are “preparing or working on a bond all of the time.”

“Every time the state cuts funding they don’t do away with the kids and the needs, and districts need to make up for that,” he said. “That’s what’s happening in a lot of these places. It’s a hefty burden.”

Too big a burden?

Some say the burden is too much to ask taxpayers to carry.

James Quintero of the Austin-based conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation said the recent election revealed a need for more education and engagement on the part of conservatives.

“I don’t think we as conservatives really did an effective job explaining to voters that this is an unwise expense,” Quintero said.

He said groups like his must simplify the government jargon that surrounds public finance so voters really know what they are getting into.

“Conservatives can break down these very complex ideas into consumable items for your average Joe,” he said.

Quintero said the most effective message conservatives can spread is to establish the link between debt and taxes for the public.

But Smith said all-or-nothing anti-tax movements out of Austin don’t have a lot of clout.

“I don’t think those statewide movements fit these local elections,” Smith said. “I haven’t found a bond issue they’ve supported yet.”

False choices

Ross Kecseg, director of the Dallas-Fort Worth office of Empower Texans and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said that is not necessarily the case.

“Both sides can be guilty of the ‘all-or-nothing’ false choice,” Kecseg said.

He added that “average people” in school districts don’t want their taxes going up but aren’t aware of all the propositions on the ballot.

“You have a minority that stands to benefit, but a majority that has to pay for it,” he said.

Only two districts that asked for more than $100 million in bonds — Wichita Falls and Marshall — had bond packages rejected Saturday.

Preliminary results show that 55 ut of 73 bond packages passed in Texas, Smith said.

Besides Arlington and Cy-Fair, the largest approved bond proposals are:

• Seventy-seven percent in Frisco approved t$775 million for 14 new schools and facility updates.
• Sixty-five percent in San Antonio favored Northside school district’s $648.3 million package for six new schools and updates to facilities and transportation.
• Round Rock voters approved three propositions for $299 million for two new schools, fine arts venues and technology updates. The major $234.2 million proposition to address high growth garnered 65 percent of the vote.
• About seventy percent of Pflugerville voters approved $287 million for two new schools and safety and security updates.
• Fifty-four percent of La Porte voters approved $260 million to rebuild a portion of a high school and replace an elementary and sixth-grade school.
• Sixty-one percent of voters in the Manor district passed $124.9 million for two new schools, high school additions and transportation.

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