Bud Kennedy

Anti-school-bond group taking debt fight across district lines

The campaign against $330 million in school bonds begins inside a tiny Boulevard 26 office.

Miles from most of the parents and children looking to voters on Nov. 4 for Birdville and Keller school improvements, a North Richland Hills Republican is opposing new debt in both and also wants to change the Fort Worth water district board next spring.

Aaron Harris, recently a campaign manager for state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has launched an anti-bond campaign, Direct Action Texas, in the seven cities served by the two school districts, including north Fort Worth.

Campaign workers distribute mock $100 bills, with figures listing the Birdville or Keller debt.

It’s all in line with a statewide campaign against debt and borrowing, with a website: isdbondage.com .

Harris, 35, a real estate investor who graduated from an evangelical Christian school in Fort Worth and formerly worked for a Grapevine ministry, said he is opposing both bond elections so “they don’t fall through the cracks.”

“This is a huge November ballot, and the school boards try to hide these elections,” he said.

(I’m not clear how proposing bonds in a general election for 5 million Texans is hiding them.)

Harris lives in the Birdville district and said he and some friends helped defeat a 2013 bond proposal. The new $163 million proposal cut $20 million.

In the Keller district, including much of far north Fort Worth, Harris is working with a local anti-bond PAC treasurer, Joel Starnes of Fort Worth.

“The schools are always going to cry about needing more money,” Harris said.

“People in the Fort Worth side [of the Keller district] have high school taxes and high city taxes.”

The $169 million Keller bond does not raise taxes. But Keller “has too much debt anyway,” Harris said.

A bond supporter raised questions this week because the phone number for Direct Action Texas is also listed as “Grassroots Groundgame Inc.” matching a firm registered in Austin involving oil executives from other states.

Harris said he owns Grassroots Groundgame, using the name Direct Action Texas, but the registration is mixed up in Texas Secretary of State’s office.

“I don’t know that [other] group,” he said.

Harris said he will work in city, school and district elections to promote “fiscal transparency, ethics and civil liberties.”

“Tarrant County is very conservative, but our local governments don’t reflect that,” he said, complaining that some North Richland Hills council members have backed Democrats.

The maps on his office wall include school districts and the Tarrant Regional Water District, a Fort Worth-based agency with directors elected mostly by city voters.

Current directors Jim Lane and Marty Leonard run for re-election May 9. Harris said he will back their challengers.

He lives in a city that has no water district and chooses to buy its water from other cities, currently the TRWD.

He said he’s concerned about the Fort Worth district’s lack of transparency and spending on the Panther Island project.

His stake in the election, he said, is that “I pay a water bill.”

Basically, Direct Action Texas tells voters in other cities and school districts how to spend their money.