This blog first brought up the issue of funding Dallas ISD facility needs with a Public Facility Corporation which would issue bonds repaid by general operating funds of the district as part of a lease purchase agreement. These bonds would neither be guaranteed by the state nor voter approved. The bylaws of this Corporation are shot with loopholes and the Articles of Incorporation do not mention some of the more troubling aspects of this scheme found in the law that authorizes those entities.
Talk about upsetting the apple cart!
The Dallas Morning News, Jim Schutze, Todd Williams, and probably even the paid shill over at D magazine have come to the rescue of DISD with editorials and emails denouncing those who dare to question this Corporation setup as evil doers poisoning the waters of public opinion, protecting bad teachers, and in general haters of children, particularly poor kids.
Apparently transparency and honest discussion are trumped by little children. Especially little poor children.
We are asked to support every initiative the district proposes without question because, of course, lack of student success can be overcome with the right program, the right school, the right teacher. Never mind that the Broad Foundation discontinued its annual contest for the best urban school district because, frankly, there just aren’t any, not even after years of Broad driven reform ideas. The Gates Foundation has funded a never ending stream of reforms, from Small Learning Communities to the current Personalized Learning. How many of these initiatives have lasted more than 3-4 years?
Gosh, even the Dallas Morning News, in an apparent lapse of editorial judgment, said “Dallas and other major districts have failed to distinguish themselves for reasons that go beyond effective teaching in the classroom. Poverty is a consistent culprit here, which is why schools in Dallas’ poorest neighborhoods, including those south of Interstate 30 and the Trinity River, post disappointing performance results.”
Really? I could have sworn that the DMN, Todd!, Mayor Rawlings, Ken Barth, et al, have been telling us that BAD TEACHERS are the reason our kids are not succeeding. That a child’s ZIP code should not determine their destiny. That all children can learn, regardless of their SES background. It’s the teachers’ fault if the kid does not achieve!
Which brings us to what to do about those poor kids and their educational opportunities.
The district is asking the Board of Trustees to approve $172 million in debt, $107 million of that funded by the Public Facility Corporation. The next step, apparently, is to ask voters to approve a permanent tax rate hike, to the allowable $1.17 per $100.
This is to fund the “recommendations” of the Future Facilities Task Force. The Task Force has been meeting since October, yet from a review of their agendas it looks like they have mostly been listening, not discussing. There is mention in recent news releases from the district of “community input” but that has yet to happen. In fact, the final report has not even been drafted, and the Task Force has not finished its job. I’m not sure Task Force members even saw the draft report before it was released this week.
The Parson’s Facility Report, released in 2013, is the basis for much of the facility renovation recommendations. Houston ISD also contracted with Parson’s for their facility report, and many were shocked when it was revealed that the figures were not based totally on site visits but also used computer modeling.
Was this how Dallas ISD’s $2.6 billion in needs was calculated?
So trustees are being asked now to approve funding for a major overhaul of district facilities before a final report has even been made. The district has proposed creating a Public Facility Corporation, which will issue debt repaid from General Operating Funds. Payments on the proposed $105.7 million initial debt will be $2.7 million a year for 5 years, with payments increasing afterwards and due in 25 years for a total of $267 million. This will fund a portion of the facilities plan before the district presents a comprehensive plan for the whole $1.5 billion proposal.
While explaining the necessity of this scheme to the board,we were warned we must buy now, as the price will go up! This scare tactic falls short on facts; there is little chance the higher interest rate a PFC would have to pay would be matched by rising rates on General Obligation Bonds issued after next November, especially considering the PFC must wait 60 days for public comment before issuing debt. And of course we are warned construction costs will go up.
As Trustee Foreman said, “We will always have needs.” What’s the rush?
In all of this talk about the future, trustees have not been asked to consider, or even allowed to have a discussion on, the ramifications of a Tax Ratification Election.
The Citizen Budget Review Commission discussed tax hikes during a budget discussion in October 2012. Chief Financial Officer Jim Terry led the discussion and Chief of Staff Alan King participated.
Terry explained the complexities of school finance in a presentation using “buckets” and “pennies”. Long story short, Dallas is a property wealthy district, and, until current law changes, is subject to “recapture” on tax rates above $1.06 per $100.
Terry explained, and these are 2012 numbers so this may have changed, that for every penny above our current rate of $1.04, the district would raise $11.9 million for pennies $1.05 and $1.06; but for pennies $1.07 through $1.17, we would only keep $6.3 million per penny, and would have to send the rest back to the state.
For example, of the extra $130 per $100,000 in taxes you might pay on your home after the proposed TRE, almost $52 will go to other districts.
So say the value of your North Dallas home is $400,000. You will pay an extra $520 per year in taxes, but our children keep $312 and $208 goes to the state. Appraisals are higher now than in 2012 so this number may not be the same today, but you get the idea.
Has this part of a tax hike been made public and discussed? Is this a reasonable, efficient way to fund facilities? It has already been outed that Corporation bonds carry higher interest rates than General Obligation Bonds. Now we want to possibly fund future facilities with tax dollars that we only get to keep a portion of?
Is this the best way? Have we had the discussion?
This is not about upsetting the apple cart, this is about putting the cart before the horse!
Trustees, and taxpayers, should demand full disclosure on the future plans and funding before being asked to approve any part of it. Transparency and common sense demand that we have all the facts before we commit funds to this plan, funds that belong to the children.
Let’s start discussion of our future plans with an honest, detailed analysis of the data, at a child level. Pie charts showing the achievement gap and graphs of income levels don’t tell us what to do in a classroom of 3rd graders. We have the knowledge and the resources to do it the right way; let’s give our children support based on their individual needs and the needs of their community. If the need for a new school or a new classroom becomes apparent after that discussion then let’s find the best way to build it.