Early voting in the Richardson ISD election begins today.
Back in February, when the RISD board of trustees voted to place the bond before the voters, I recommended a vote YES. Since then, I've attended four community meetings (one in each high school attendance zone), listened to numerous questions asked at those meetings (and answers), heard more than a few passionate speeches by citizens urging a no vote (and some urging yes votes), and read more Facebook posts than I can recommend to anyone (mostly negative).
The objections to the bond haven't changed. Well, one is new (see below). They didn't persuade me to oppose this bond then. They still don't persuade me now.
Objection: Instead of this bond, we should hire more teachers and pay them more.
Well, sure we should support teachers more. But we can't use bond money to hire teachers. We can use bond money to build schools. Paying for what happens inside those schools has to come out of a different bucket, the annual operations budget. The 2016-2017 RISD budget will prioritize teacher retention, but there's only so much the RISD can do without state help. The state legislature controls school finance. And the RISD, along with many school districts across the state, are suing the state, claiming inadequate funding and unequal distribution of funds. I won't vote no on this bond out of spite for the state legislature.
Objection: Don't use debt for construction projects.
Why not? The reason usually given is that you have to pay interest on that debt. Well, d'oh. You have to pay interest on a home mortgage. You have to pay interest on a car loan. People know this and still do it, because it makes sense. You get to enjoy the use of the house or car while you pay it off. The keys to making this work are to get a low interest rate and to keep the size of the loan within your ability to pay. Interest rates are at historic lows and bond rating agencies give the RISD the highest rating of any school district in Texas, a sign that they believe RISD is not exceeding its ability to afford its loans. So those keys to successful use of bonds are met.
Objection: The RISD hasn't decided how to relieve overcrowding in Lake Highlands area: will it be by building one or more new K-6 schools or by building 5th-6th grade centers on the junior high school grounds?
No one argues that new schools aren't needed. No one argues that the $41 million set aside in the bond is excessive. If you think something must be done, voting no is not an option. If you think doing one of these is better than doing nothing, then voting yes is the way to go.
Objection: Multipurpose activity centers (MACs) are wants, not needs.
That's a subjective judgment. It's said that the closest bond election in RISD's history was the 1950s' bond that borrowed money to air condition RISD schools. Is air-conditioning still considered a want, not a need? We have gymnasiums, band halls, auditoriums, stadiums and natatoriums in our schools. I suppose when they were built those were wants, not needs, too, to some people. Each voter is going to have to draw the line for himself. This is not where I myself draw the line. I would vote for this bond without the MACs. I will vote for this bond with the MACs.
Objection: Construction companies donated to the vote YES campaign.
Some people are shocked, shocked to find that businesses give money to try to influence elections. As The Dallas Morning News explains, "It is legal, and typical, for companies who do business with a district to contribute to school board campaigns." The vote YES campaign is not run by the RISD. The RISD has no control over who gives them money or what they do with that money. I too find it distasteful that corporations try to influence elections. But I'm not going to vote against the bond because I don't like how some people support it. (If I used that as a test, I could never vote for either side in any election ever.) Whether or not I personally support the bond will be determined by whether or not I believe the projects are useful in maintaining good public schools in the Richardson ISD, not by who pays for yard signs.
All but the last objection were known to me in February. The objections didn't persuade me to oppose this bond then. They still don't persuade me now.
The bond addresses a broad range of projects that will help maintain good public schools in the RISD. Building maintenance. School construction to avoid overcrowded schools. Career and technology upgrades and expansion. Additional space for athletics, band, dance and drill teams and numerous extracurricular activities. I still recommend a YES vote.