For $1.6 billion, Dallas ISD says it will build nine new and replacement schools, add almost 300 more classrooms, expand space for pre-K, as well as new science and technology labs. But before that can happen, the district has to sell everyone on a bond election to raise the money.
I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but I’ll tell you how I’m going to vote in the November 3 bond election for Dallas public schools. And furthermore, I’ll tell you why.
A few months ago, I literally drove from one end of the district to the other. I stopped at schools in every single feeder pattern and noticed a common thing – portable buildings. Have you ever been inside one? They’re often nearly windowless, they’re completely devoid of charm, and we also subject our elementary students to walking to them in all the elements.
Almost every single campus has ‘em. One campus has almost 20. And no, this bond election won’t end the scourge of portable buildings, but it will give some feeder patterns and schools some much-needed breathing room through re-opening and building new schools and renovating and adding on to existing schools. It will make sure that students have the opportunity to learn STEM skills in cutting-edge labs. It will make sure that we have enough space to address the ever-growing need for pre-K space.
And the latter, I promise, is something we need to invest in especially. Want to see test scores go up? Improve early education. You’ll have to pack your patience, but when the reading and knowledge gaps are addressed early and kids are reading at grade level by third grade, organically test scores can improve. It’s not rocket science, it’s simply putting the cart and the horse in the appropriate places.
This bond election won’t add one red cent to your tax bill. Not one. And it won’t take away any homestead exemptions. It is fiscally responsible, opting for 20-year financing instead of 30, saving the district half a billion dollars. The bonds will be sold in three installments. And if you want a real indicator of how fiscally conservative this bond package is, the original Parsons’ report on district facilities forecasted a need of $4 billion and change. But the district bean counters and trustees felt more comfortable that $1.6 billion could be repaid safely.
And it comes at a time when the Dallas public schools are in the absolute best financial shape that they’ve been in probably forever. Maybe forever and a day. The district just won the highest distinction a district can earn from the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle. That Platinum level honor (along with several other nods and accolades the district has gotten regarding its financial state, including an AA+ bond rating from Fitch), should ease folks minds. Also, at the end of last year, the district closed the school year with a $330 million reserve fund balance, which is actually more than the state recommends – another sign that the folks on Ross Avenue are carefully watching expenditures.
So yes, I’m voting for the bond package. I’m voting for giving Dallas students (which, yes, will include my son) the best opportunities for success. I’m voting for something that has been transparently laid out by the district so that anyone and everyone can do their homework (in fact, if you want more homework, you can even go to any one of these forums). I’m voting for a bond package that is a good step in the right direction – maybe not the most adventurous step, maybe not the step everyone loves every part of, but a step that does a good deal to address vital needs for the district.