Two weeks from today, Dallas voters decide on a $1.6 billion school bond package. KERA is exploring what opponents and supporters are saying about the record-setting proposal.
Welcome to the League of Women Voters school bond town hall meeting, where only a dozen or so of the most dedicated voters turn out.
“I would like to extend a very warm welcome to everybody,” says Susybelle Gosslee with the League of Women Voters. “You are making democracy work. That is what informed citizens do.”
League Vice President Gosslee opens the North Dallas meeting with trustee Edwin Flores, who's ready to answer questions. He supports the plan because it replaces or repairs many old structures and improves educational offerings. Plus, he says $1.6 billion can be fiscally conservative.
“It’s tax-increase free. It’s what we need to take Dallas ISD to the next level,” Flores says. “It’s built around programs. It’s not just about buildings. It’s also about focusing on early childhood, about career and technology and around school choice.”
No one here challenges the goals. Audrey Pinkerton, though, has a problem with the financing.
“What they’re proposing for the future is a balloon payment,” Pinkerton warns. “We don’t pay any of the principal back until the last three years or so. The plan calls for no tax rate increase today but what’ll happen in six or eight years is we’ll get to a point where we can’t increase taxes enough to cover the debt that the district has at that time.”
Pinkerton attended Dallas schools and now her kids do. But she won’t back this plan.
Randy Mulry, who also has kids in the district, does not share Pinkerton’s worries. He trusts Jim Terry, the school’s chief financial officer.
“His reputation stakes on this, so I’m not concerned about that,” Mulry says. “The longer we wait, the more it’ll cost because we’re going to have interest rates go up. And I think it needs to happen now. I don’t think it needs to happen next year.”
Former trustee Elizabeth Jones is troubled by the plan. She points out that under-populated Pinkston High will get a brand new school. A few miles away, she says Skyline High is bursting, but gets only some improvements. She’s leaning against the bond.
“It would be horrible if we went and voted $1.6 billion only to find out that there would be no more money in the future and we didn’t’ do enough with this money to address the highest need priorities and things that we need to do to take care of schools we have here and now,” Jones says.
Bond backers say money for a new Pinkston High will improve it by including career and technology upgrades kids need to be ready for the world after graduating.
There are other critics, including Reverend Ronald Wright, who opposes this plan in part because it came together under the previous superintendent.
“This was a Mike Miles bond,” Wright says, “so if the superintendent is gone the bond should have gone with him.”
Wright is referring to Miles, the former Dallas ISD superintendent. Miles’ successor, Michael Hinojosa, has been a vocal advocate of this package. During his first round on the job, he helped convince voters to back the 2008 bond. It came in under budget.
Trustee Miguel Solis like the plan. He says it won’t even cover half of what’s needed in the district.
“We have deferred maintenance on many of our campuses that need to be addressed,” Solis says, “and we’ve waited seven years and honestly can wait no longer. "
Solis is joined by several other trustees, including Eric Cowan and Nancy Bingham, but not all. Joyce Foreman and Bernadette Nutall, for example, oppose the plan. Early voting started Monday and wraps up Oct. 30.