(Editor’s Note: The following was written this morning by Rob Hargett, a partner at Reed, Claymon, Meeker & Hargett PLLC and president of the Eanes independent School Board)
By now, you have seen the road signs and received mailers about our school district’s upcoming bond election. You are probably experiencing “bond fatigue”—wondering why there is another bond on this year’s May ballot. The reason is simple: our district’s future is on the line.
Not only did this bond package receive unanimous board support, but every single candidate running for the board this year endorses it, including two individuals who were public critics of last year’s bond. Unfortunately, there is organized opposition utilizing scare tactics. In this day and age, it is easy to spout mean-spirited words and dispense false sound bites. Refuting them with the truth always takes longer. If you are proud of our school district, genuinely concerned about its direction and tired of all the negative rhetoric, please take a couple of minutes to read this email.
This communication is being sent to you from me as a private citizen. If what I say rings true, please vote “FOR” for the bond and forward this email to others, asking them to vote for it, too. Early voting begins TODAY Monday, April 27th and ends Tuesday, May 5th. Election Day is Saturday, May 9th.
What’s in this bond?
The proposed $52.5 million bond provides for basic safety and health needs, allows us to renovate and refurbish existing facilities to extend the useful life of district assets, improves operational efficiency by reducing costs that will help relieve pressure on our strained maintenance and operation budget, and creates space for expanding curricular areas that are overcrowded. This bond has been vetted and discussed for over 10 months. The board solicited extensive community input, listening to many constituents. The result is a truly conservative bond that will not increase our tax rate. Moreover, a Bond Oversight Committee will be appointed to ensure that the district implements the bond consistent with voter approval. And, for the record, this bond does not include a new school, money to purchase land for a new school or any large-scale projects.
Why is this bond vital?
Our well-regarded school district is likely the major reason you decided to raise your family in Eanes. As a wealthy district though, approximately 54% of our property taxes are recaptured by the state under the “ Robin Hood” financing mechanism. In a few years, that number will climb even higher to 63%. In fact, as property values rise, Eanes must send more and more money to the state. Ironically, increasing property appraisals work against us. Property taxes pay for our maintenance and operation (M&O) budget. As you might expect, the vast majority of that budget is dedicated to personnel (i.e., salaries for classroom teachers and those individuals who support them). It makes absolutely no sense for Eanes to fund heating and air conditioning upgrades, roof repairs, building renovations, technology, buses and curricular additions with precious M&O money that costs us $2 for every $1 we get in return. With bond funds, a dollar is worth a dollar. Yes, there is interest to pay and fees are incurred, but we realize 100 cents on the dollar, not 50.
Will this bond hurt teachers?
Absolutely not! Reducing stress on the district’s M&O budget, which this bond accomplishes, actually helps save teaching jobs. If a bond does not pass and the district is forced to take money from its operating budget to repair facilities, purchase buses, etc., there will be less money available to pay teacher salaries. Bond opponents would have you believe that the limited construction projects included in this bond will negatively impact the district’s M&O budget and create space for administrators while sacrificing teachers. They are flat wrong.
The vast majority of this bond is dedicated to basic building maintenance, updated utility systems, physical plant needs and technology replacement. This bond will only add a net total of approximately 15,000 square feet to the district’s footprint. A reasonable estimate of the additional annual cost to Eanes is about $35,000, and that is before efficiencies like lower utility charges and decreased transportation costs are taken into account. That amount equates to much less than a single teaching position! What do we get in return? First, we get expanded space to address overcrowding at both middle schools for our fine arts students and more room at Westlake High School for our award winning Robotics program and popular health science classes. We will tear down a warehouse at Eanes Elementary to help ease traffic flow on that campus as Bee Caves Road expands. This bond moves that warehouse to the Shriner tract. There are also plans for another building on the Shriner property to house our Maintenance Center and Network Operations —departments currently located at Westlake High School that, when moved, free up room for the expanding course areas at the high school discussed previously.
Does a bond jeopardize the district’s financial situation?
Not at all; however, failure to pass the bond will make a tough budget situation even more difficult. Let’s first clear up questions about the district’s financial health. Eanes enjoys a AA+ rating from Standard & Poor’s, as well as Fitch Ratings. If this bond passes, the district will continue to pay down debt at an accelerated pace. The district carries a “Superior Achievement” designation, the highest possible ranking available under the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas. At the end of this fiscal year, there will still be a $29 million fund balance (i.e., our savings).
Over the last few years, the district has drawn from that fund balance to balance its M&O budget in order to maintain stable academic programs and preserve excellence. We have been forced to make this Hobson’s choice because the legislature has given us less money to spend and Robin Hood takes more from us each year. The board is publicly committed to a gradual, thoughtful spend down plan over the next four years, with the help of community input, that will result in a balanced budget by the 2018-19 school year. That plan will leave an appropriate fund balance to secure the district’s financial footing—a requirement under state law. While moving in this direction will prompt painful decisions, it is the only way to assure the district a smooth fiscal landing over time. The opposition gives a lot of lip service to maintaining academics and saving teaching jobs. Can you imagine what would happen to our kids, teachers, class size and programing if we were to balance the budget in one fell swoop as they suggest? After directing us down such a nightmarish path, they then spend literally thousands of dollars contesting a very basic bond. Do you honestly think they care about our children or our teachers?
My children are grown–why should I support this bond?
Eanes is an excellent school district. Maintaining that excellence only helps property values, plus your tax rate will not increase at all.
How can you make a difference?
My hope is that most of you support this bond, but that is not enough. For this bond to pass, you must vote. Please urge other parents and your neighbors to go vote, “FOR” the bond too. We have an exemplary school district. Let’s do everything we can to keep it that way!
Thank you for letting me communicate with you,