Dallas Public Schools: So What’s This Bond Election About, Anyway?

Dallas ISD trustees Edwin Flores and Mike Morath explain the proposed bond at a town hall meeting.

Dallas ISD trustees Edwin Flores and Mike Morath explain the proposed bond at a town hall meeting.

If Wednesday’s town hall in North Dallas was typical, trustees spent 60 percent of their time explaining the potential bond election, and 40 percent of their time explaining the superintendent search – despite the fact that the subject matter was prominently advertised.

More on that in a second.

Tomorrow at noon, the Dallas ISD board of trustees will vote on whether to place a bond election on the November 3 ballot. A first round of town hall meetings gave the district the chance to explain the ins and outs of the proposed bond, and a second round will happen to discuss the proposed projects the money raised from the issuance will cover.

It will likely be approved. According to the Dallas Morning News, Board president Eric Cowan and trustees Edwin Flores, Mike Morath, Nancy Bingham, and Dan Micciche have openly stated their support of the bond package. Micciche, in a Facebook post, further stated his position, saying, “I will vote ‘yes.’ We will have more community meetings to discuss the list of proposed projects over the next month if the full Board votes to call for the election.”

Sidebar: I asked a few folks on Twitter if this story would have a better chance of being a) more exciting and b) read all the way through if I included a fire-breathing dragon. So here is a fire-breathing dragon. Read further and there might be a cute kitten.

The bond package being discussed includes $1.6 billion in improvements that include new and replacement schools, expansions, upgrades to HVAC systems, school technology upgrades and improvements to libraries and science labs. The genesis for the laundry list of needs being addressed is a report by Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group Inc., and reports and recommendations from DISD’s Future Facilities Task Force.

The current package will not increase the tax rate, as the bond sales will occur at three different times (2016, 2018 and 2020) spaced two years apart. The bond will also be paid off in 20 years instead of the traditional 30, potentially saving the district $500 million in interest.  The package also allows for reimbursement of $40 million of the Bridge Plan Project initiatives.

“The goal of the board is to keep taxes static,” Morath said at last night’s town hall. It’s also a good time to propose a new bond series because the district has some of its best financial ratings in recent history.

“Due to its strong financial position, the three major bond rating agencies have given the District strong bond ratings,” Micciche said in the same Facebook post. “The ratings are important because they enable Dallas ISD to receive financing at reduced interest rates, saving the district valuable resources when using bonds.”

The $1.6 billion will be split six ways: $500 million for facilities needs like HVAC and plumbing, $465 million for new and replacement schools, $233 million for things like improved libraries and science labs, $195 million for additional classrooms, $105 million for land acquisition and $93 million for new educational programs. In addition, boundaries for some attendance zones could be redrawn.

Proposed new or replacement schools include: Relief/Replacement for Stone and Hotchkiss elementary schools; relief on an existing site for Wilmer Elementary; relief on a new site for Titche and Blanton elementary schools; a new school serving Pre-K through 8th in North Dallas – site TBD; replacement for Pinkston High in west Dallas on a new TBD site; replacing Rosemont’s upper 3-8 school on the same site; replacing JJ Rhoads and adding an extra Pre-K on the existing site; partial replacement of Roosevelt High, plus new academic community program; and community conversations about a possible K-8 model in West Dallas.

Molina, Woodrow Wilson, Hillcrest, Bryan Adams, Jefferson and Seagoville high schools will get additional classrooms, as will Long and Marsh middle schools and Sanger, Hexter, Conner, Macon, Highland Meadow, Central, Dorsey, Silberstein, Jordan and Rowe elementary schools, for a total of 294 new classrooms throughout Dallas public schools.

The bond package would also include funding for repurposing buildings for Oak Cliff Transformational schools, reopening the H.S. Thompson campus as a possible Montessori magnet (relieving pressure on Dealey and Harry Stone), and renovating the Miller ES site.

There are seven boundary change recommendations, including changes for Preston Hollow Elementary and Kramer Elementary.

Last night’s meeting did get a little contentious at points – one citizen loudly questioned Flores and Micciche several times, even once intimating that perhaps some on the 27-member FFTF stood to benefit from the bond project, a conjecture that was quickly shut down by Morath and Flores.

The crowd had specific questions about how the money from the 2008 bond was used (it’s outlined here), and the LEED ratings for the proposed projects (projects are planned with an eye to Texas schools and Texas weather, Flores said).

But a lot of the questions had to do with finding a new superintendent. Flores said he was somewhat dissatisfied with the usual search method of hiring a search firm and interviewing many candidates often, as he said, for an hour here and there.

“Do we want a different model this time?” he said, pointing to Houston and other districts that build and grow their leadership from within with an eye to cultivating candidates that are both intimately familiar with the issues of the district, but also well-known to the public.

Current interim Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is on a month-to-month contract, Flores said. “He has said he will stay here for 10 days, 10 weeks or 10 years – however long we want him and need him,” he added.

“So are you saying right now that you’d like Hinojosa to be the next superintendent?” someone from the crowd demanded.

“I’m saying we could let him continue to do this job, and have him start building that bench and training his successor,” Flores countered, to some grumbles about re-hiring Hinojosa permanently, as well as the potential for a “good old boy” system.

“Meeting someone for an hour twice is not a good way to pick a superintendent,” Flores said.

“I tend to agree with Trustee Flores on growing our own,” Morath added, but said he would want “certain things to happen first.”

Another questioned as to the size of the district. “It is so big, maybe too big,” she said. “Has there been any thought to dividing it?”

“There are ways to do that,” Morath answered, “but neither way is practical.”

Morath said that there are two ways to accomplish that – detachment, which requires a vote by both the school board and the electorate; or by legislative action. Dividing districts is so rare that he wasn’t even sure the provisions had been really used in Texas.

For more information about the bond election and the FFTF’s reports, as well as handouts from the town halls the district held to explain the program, click here.  Want to weigh in on the bond election? Dallas Kids First is conducting a survey.

And here is a basket of cute kittens.

4 Comment

  • Hello Dallas taxpayers!
    This is a stick-up.

  • It’s a sour pill, but someone has to mention the elephant in the room.

    Read the sports section of the Dallas Morning News. When they rate the high schools for each division in sports competition, you see more and more private schools. TAPPS was once only about 4 schools. Now, there are many, many more, with more schools in each ‘division. Almost any family living within the Dallas school system that can possibly afford – or get financial aid, or sacrifice other things in order to send their children to a private school — does so. This flight to non-government education grows yearly,

    So – the question must arise? Why do we pay taxes for a system that is dysfunctional, can’t retain a superintendent to run it (would YOU???), can’t graduate many of their kids without ‘social’ promotion, can’t keep teachers, can’t hire BETTER teachers…. oh, I could keep going, but you all know this scene too well. I’m not sure they can get citizens to support a broken system. The DISD must change if it expects support. Just sayin’……..

    • There are a lot of misconceptions regarding DISD, including it’s promotion practices and its growth rate. Here are my go-to references for to clear that up (spoiler alert, it’s growing, albeit slowly):
      http://www.dallasisd.org/site/handlers/filedownload.ashx?moduleinstanceid=44804&dataid=49014&FileName=Student%20Demographics.pdf

      http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Download/361?filename=EIE(LOCAL).pdf

      At the very least, we should demand accountability from our trustees, and vote. Did you know that there are 113,427 voting age folks in each trustee district, but the average number of votes each candidate gets in school board elections is 891 votes, and the winner on average wins by 259 votes? Last election, some won by even smaller margins.
      But the situation isn’t as dire as it is often made out to be. Graduation rates are rising. More focus is on real-world readiness, which recognizes that college-readiness isn’t always going to be the goal, but some sort of post-secondary education is. More students than ever are attempting the ACT and SAT, which signals that more students than ever are contemplating not only graduation but secondary education. And if you drill down to the individual student, that can really be a miracle when you consider about 90 percent of students in DISD qualify for free and reduced lunch, there are 3,000 or more homeless students (conventional wisdom says that for every reported student, you probably have 2 or 3 more), and many students are coming from generational poverty or even refugee situations. If DISD was truly at the “wash our hands of it” stage of mess that some say it is, it would be shut down, for there are laws and mechanisms in place for that.

      A recent survey of voters revealed that at least 69 percent of them would vote yes for a bond election if it meant no new taxes.