Tablet Opinion

It’s better to vote for Arlington schools

Soon it will be time for residents of the Arlington school district to put political arguments aside and cast votes based on what they believe is best for their schools.

Elected trustees have put forward a $663.1 million bond package for the May 10 election. Early voting starts April 28.

Opponents are offering plenty of reasons to be afraid of approving the package. Some are simply scare tactics, some bear serious consideration.

“Our debt at every level of government is out of control,” says the Facebook page for It’s OK to vote NO, Arlington, a political action committee that opposes the bond proposal. “You and your kids will be paying on this bond package for at least the next 30 years.”

It’s simply wrong to lump a proposal for Arlington schools in with “debt at every level of government.” Arlington residents have no obligation to pay off debts in Plano or Frisco or other Texas or U.S. cities or school districts, nor should they vote against this proposal simply because they might believe the federal debt is “out of control.”

Of course it is true that people in Arlington will be paying for the potential addition to the district’s debt for 30 years. That’s the way bonds work. It allows improvements, primarily brick and mortar, to be paid for during their useful lifetime by the people who are using them.

Figures compiled by the office of Texas Comptroller Susan Combs show the Arlington district to be in strong financial condition, with relatively low debt compared to other districts its size in the state.

A better argument from It’s OK to vote NO, Arlington is this one: “With new buildings come higher operating costs. These costs will be paid out of the same budget as teachers’ salaries.”

Although much of what is proposed in the bond package would come in the form of improvements to existing schools, it would be absurd to say that $663.1 million in new, remodeled and expanded facilities would not bring some higher operating costs.

Arlington trustees have vowed to stay within their current operations and maintenance tax rate of $1.04 for each $100 in assessed property value. Arlington voters would have to approve any increase in that rate.

The trustees, who have spent two years and numerous public meetings developing district goals, a strategic plan and (with the help of a 38-member local committee) this bond package, say the current maintenance and operations tax rate will cover the operating costs of the bond projects.

The district’s debt service tax rate would go up an estimated 15 cents from 2016 through 2020. For a home valued at $100,000, that would mean an extra $126 a year in taxes.

The bottom line for AISD voters is this: Will that extra cost get them the school district they want, and is it worth the cost to them?

The proposed improvements are detailed on the school district’s website.

They include a $46 million career and technical center, a $25 million athletic complex, a $32 million fine arts center, a $2.5 million agricultural science facility, $60 million for multipurpose activity centers at each high school, two new elementary schools, wireless enhancements, security upgrades and building improvements.

Fine arts equipment, technology upgrades/expansion and bus fleet replacement and additions also are on the list.

There is plenty of time for district residents to educate themselves on the details of what’s being proposed. Groups can request an informational presentation.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends voting for the Arlington school district’s bond package.