Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nitpicking the RISD Bond Election

The board of trustees of the Richardson school district (RISD) called for a $170 million bond election for May 14, 2011, to fund infrastructure and other capital items for RISD's 55 schools. The bulk of the bond will go for things like A/C, heating, roofs, plumbing, computer networking equipment and servers. Passage of the bond will not require a tax increase for RISD taxpayers. (The Wheel offered an early look at this election here.)

The Dallas Morning News's editorial writer Rodger Jones has come out against the bond. Well, he doesn't explicitly reject it. He nitpicks a few items, implying they are frivolous and should not be paid for as capital assets. Like uniforms for athletics and JROTC programs. And electronic devices, which Jones dismissively calls "kiddie calculators."

After the jump, the context in which this bond package was crafted.

Capital expenditures are purchases to acquire or upgrade physical assets like buildings, machinery or equipment. These assets typically have a lifespan of five or ten years or more. Uniforms and electronic devices meet that definition. They are not like paper and crayons, things that are consumed in daily operations. Those uniforms are passed on from one class to another, year after year. The RISD gets up to a decade of use out of marching band uniforms, for example. That's longer than some A/C units might last, which few people object to treating as capital assets. It's the same for calculators. I have one on my desk right now that is probably going on twenty years old, older than some of the school buildings in the RISD.

So, these items do qualify as capital expenditures. Is it essential to buy such items using capital funds? In a different world, no. But Austin leaves local school districts few options for keeping the educational process going. There simply is not enough money in the operational budget to fund everything needed to provide a good education for our children (and RISD is justly credited with providing a good education). Local school districts can't raise property taxes, or if they do, the added revenue just gets swept away by Austin for redistribution to property-poor districts. So, districts like RISD are forced to use capital funds for some items that people like Jones might prefer to treat as operational expenses. If using borrowed money to pay for such things adds an interest expense to their total cost, blame the state legislature, not the local school districts. Austin leaves schools no choice, not if they care about educating our children.

No comments: