Monday, March 7, 2016

RISD Bond Chatter

What are people saying about the RISD bond election? Not much, from what I can tell. I've seen no formal activity (yet) by any "Vote YES" or "Vote NO" committees -- no yard signs, no emails or direct mail, no robo-calls (thank goodness). Social media has the usual chatter, but not a whole lot compared to recent controversies. Opposition to the bond, what there is, seems to fall into several categories.

  1. Those multipurpose practice fields (MPFs). The criticism doesn't seem to be that the MPFs aren't good to have, only that they are unnecessary. Well, I suppose that's true. The district got along without them before. The district could get along without them in the future, too. But that's true of most things. Classrooms weren't air conditioned until fairly recently and school districts got along. By the way, those MPFs aren't air conditioned either, so if they aren't strictly necessary, they aren't gold-plated luxuries, either. Like most things, each voter has to decide for himself whether to support something that's good to have, but not absolutely necessary. I don't know how to objectively draw the line on that question for each voter.

    Actually, I have heard one objection to the MPFs that deserves serious investigation. Questions have been raised about the safety of crumb rubber artificial turf. RISD should seriously consider alternatives not only for the MPFs, but for the two RISD stadiums, too.


  2. Lake Highlands enrollment growth. The RISD got behind the curve here and wasn't ready with a detailed plan in time to include in the 2016 bond. The district ended up putting placeholder money into the bond, leaving it to be determined later what kind of new school or other expansion might be added with that money. A reflector committee made up of parents, staff, community members, and students has been created to make recommendations by April 18 (i.e., before the bond election). There is some opposition to the bond because the district might not have an agreed plan before the election. It's unfortunate that the district is late with a plan. It's ironic that voters choosing to vote no because of this would itself cause delay in taking action to relieve overcrowding.


  3. Debt. As usual, there is opposition surrounding use of bonds at all. For some, debt is not just a financial tool which can be used well or poorly; it's a unequivocal wrong. For me, it makes sense to build now and enjoy the facilities while the bonds are being paid off. It's how almost all homeowners manage to have a home of their own while they are still young enough to raise a family in it. Interest rates are at historic lows, so now is a good time to borrow. Homeowners shopping for mortgages have benefited. School districts can, too.

    By the way, if you've ever traveled to under-developed countries, you might have noticed many one story buildings with rebar sticking up from flat roofs. I recently heard one explanation for that. Banks won't loan the owners the money needed to complete the building all at once, so the owners are adopting a save-and-build process. It might take years before the owner saves enough to afford to put that second story on the house. Maybe this is an urban legend, but it makes me grateful for the American mortgage industry (with the exception of those unfortunate episodes of bursting real estate bubbles - that's the poor use of a financial tool that I alluded to earlier).


  4. Tax rate increase. There's misinformation circulating. It's the claim that those MPFs and library renovations are responsible for the tax rate increase that accompanies this bond package. In fact, just the maintenance components of the bond would have necessitated a tax rate increase. Certainly, the maintenance and the new classroom construction would have far exceeded what could have been afforded without a tax rate increase. Drop those MPFs and library renovation altogether and we still would have needed most of the tax rate increase.

If you've read this far and still haven't figured out where I myself stand on the bond election, read "Vote YES on the RISD Bond". ;-)

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

I said, "The criticism doesn't seem to be that the MPFs aren't good to have, only that they are unnecessary." A reader privately says that doesn't adequately explain the objection to MPFs. Some don't object to spending the money, but would like it spent on higher educational priorities. That's true. OTOH, I haven't heard much chatter about what higher educational priorities they would spend money on instead. Bearing in mind that bond money can't be spent on, say, teacher salaries. And bearing in mind that the Texas school finance system forbids rich school districts from spending more money on educational priorities than poor districts. Which is why rich school districts tend to spend extra money on buildings. Not that this isn't an important discussion to have, but I haven't heard it be the subject of much chatter surrounding the RISD bond.