Weatherford Democrat

May 2, 2013

VIEWPOINT: Dispelling myths, misstatements about WISD’s bond proposal


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRANDON GARRETT

There has been a lot of political rhetoric surrounding the 2013 WISD bond, and I think it is important to revisit the facts.

I do not like to focus on the negative issues but, unfortunately, a fair share of the discussion that has surrounded this bond either online, in the paper, or on social media networks has been very negative. The problem with blogs and social media is that it largely goes “unchecked” – meaning people read it and believe it regardless of its validity.

The official opposition to this bond has found a way to portray just about each and every issue in a negative light. And while some of their concerns may have merit, the majority of their claims are half-truths. Maybe they aren’t downright lies, but they are intentionally spun to appeal to their cause. There has not been a successful medium to address any of the following issues since the opposition has not held an official public forum, so as an informed citizen, I feel it is my duty to make sure that the citizens of Weatherford are armed with the facts.

In regards to the idea of a bond in general, a common opposing argument is that we already have outstanding bond debt from a previous issue and that the school district “shouldn’t spend money that it doesn’t have.” Yes, we are still servicing the bond from the last election. It is not uncommon for some of the high growth school districts to plan for a bond every two to three years. The last WISD bond was 14 years ago. To act like this is outrageous or imprudent is a bit hyperbolic. The bonds are “too big” or “too often” relative to what? Your own personal spending or how a growing public school district must operate? The two are very different. As impressive as it would be, the WISD cannot operate on a Dave Ramsey “envelope budget.” 

I know this has been pointed out before, but let me re-emphasize that bonds cannot be used for salaries. Yes, it is a noble idea to increase teacher salaries (and WISD has this year – twice: once with a pay raise and once with a one-time lump-sum payment), but people are missing the forest for the trees on this one. Salaries have nothing to do with the capital improvements that this bond represents. Furthermore, it is actually ILLEGAL for bonds of this nature to be used for salaries. The people opposing the bond will say that they never actually said that the bond could increase salaries (and technically they didn’t), but they did succeed in misleading people to believe this by a generalized statement. Many people have asked why there is nothing in this bond for teacher salaries. When asked why they thought there should be salary increases with the bond, they cited the ad against the bond. This was undoubtedly an intended result of the vague wording of that ad

This should be common knowledge by now and has been addressed in previous letters by others, but for whatever reason many people still do not understand this or just refuse to believe it. If you are age 65 or over and have a homestead exemption, your taxes WILL NOT increase because of this bond. Can your taxes still increase? YES, if you improve your home, but that is an entirely different issue unrelated to this bond. If you are over 65 and are not planning on putting in a pool or adding on a game room anytime soon, I think it is safe to say that your taxes will not increase because of this bond. Again, this is a prime example of the opposition twisting the facts. Do you really think that someone that improves their home and increases its value wouldn’t expect their home value to increase for property tax purposes?

The other exceptions to the homestead exemption: if you have more than one home or if you move from your current homestead. Again, this applies to a very small part of the 65-plus population, but the opposition portrays it as if the WISD administration is lying and deceptively misrepresenting the homestead exemption. That is simply untrue. (By the way, you can look up the facts for yourself on the State of Texas website if you still have concerns).

In regards to the athletic facilities, this is not so we can have a shiny new ballpark. I agree that education should come first while extracurricular activities should come second. But the purpose of the improvements is so our student athletes do not have to commute back and forth to the Ninth Grade Center. The current arrangement is dangerous and wasteful.

Pardon my cynicism, but is there a portion of our community that is suffering from short-term memory loss? There is a street near the high school named after one of our more accomplished student athletes. If you would have told me 10 years ago that we would have a street named after BB Fielder, I would have been 100 percent certain that it would be because he went on to play in the NFL, or run track for Team USA in the Olympics, or maybe even sing in a world-class choir – he was a heck of a singer! Unfortunately, it is because he was killed in a traffic accident while driving to track practice. Let me say that again, one of Weatherford’s most promising athletes was killed while traveling to track practice because of the current campus arrangement.

And people are upset that we are considering adding some fields and a practice track to the high school to make it self-contained? With that said, let me rephrase my previous assertion: in my opinion, student safety comes first, then education and then extracurricular activities.

While we are on emotional subjects, another claim that has been made is that the administration is using recent events and tragedies to push security improvements. Security is always an issue, and this bond was conceived months before the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred.

Another glaring misstatement: “The schools are actually under capacity.” This just shows that many of the people opposing the bond have not actually walked the halls of our schools and seen classes being held on stages and in supply rooms. This claim came about from a WISD report that showed all of the elementary schools with a 750-person capacity. Anyone who has ever been in our elementary schools knows that they vary in size and could never have the exact same capacity. The 750 number is an estimate of the maximum building occupancy. As in, they can probably cram about 750 bodies in the building before the fire marshal will come in and shut them down. Building occupancy and instructional efficiency capacity are two entirely different things. For example, we may have a special education classroom with only five students. Could 15-20 more students technically fit in there? Yes. Would they be able to effectively educate the children this way? No. If you have concerns about the capacity issues, I encourage you to visit the campuses for yourself, and while doing so, please also take note of the current security issues as well.

I also encourage those who have asserted that the ninth grade wing should have been built with the original high school structure to go back and revisit the previous bond. It was common knowledge that when we reached a certain point of student growth in 10 years or more, the high school would need to be added on to, and it has been 14 years since the previous bond was issued. That is why the infrastructure to add on to the high school is there – it was part of the plan all along!

Along those same lines, will this solve the overcrowding issue 20 years from now? No, but it is the best option given the current resources. WISD cannot afford to build another high school at this point in time as they currently do not have the annual operation and maintenance funding to add 50-100 more teachers, coaches, and staff – it’s not just about the cost of the brick and mortar, it’s about all of the ongoing costs that come along with it

Another common misunderstanding is the analogy of WISD to Weatherford College or Weatherford Regional Medical Center. Several people have stated that Weatherford College’s bond was voted down, new board members were voted in, and then voila! Problem solved! WC was able to cut their expenses and come up with the funding for all of their improvements. As if they put the pen to paper and found tens of millions of dollars lying around on the books that were being misappropriated. Wrong! Yes, they made some budget cuts and used some cash reserves, but a large portion of the funding came from private donations and indirectly from tuition increases. Can WISD raise tuition? No! Could they seek donations? Sure, but there is a small group of families that have made significant donations to our school system and community over the years. A need of this magnitude is too large for the community to run to a handful of families with hopes that they will pay for it all. At what point do we as the rest of the community reciprocate?

In regards to the hospital, it was acquired by a private company. A company that can easily increase fees for services, borrow money (without a bond), and/or subsidize expenses through other more profitable hospitals under their management. If the hospital had not been taken private, it would likely still have needed a bond for its expansion and upgrades. Voting down the hospital bond simply cannot be compared to the WISD bond.

The truth is that a fair share of those that are opposed just plain and simply don’t want their taxes to increase, and that is OK as that is their prerogative. However, the formal opposition seems reluctant to outright admit that it is all about their wallets, so they are preying on people’s fear and disgust with the current national political scene to sway them their way – attempting to paint a picture of unscrupulous administrators and rogue board members, which is not OK in my opinion. Their hatred for the current presidential administration and congress is being extrapolated to our community. This is not a game we can afford to play. Let me rephrase that, this is not a game that our children can afford for us to play. Our administration and school board isn’t full of a bunch of Washington politicians, Wall Street fat cats or corporate cronies. They are passionately involved community members that care about our children’s future. Are you?

I am well aware that there are many that will oppose this bond for various reasons unrelated to the almighty dollar. They are people that support education, our community and a brighter future, but maybe they just don’t agree 100 percent with the proposed bond. This is also OK as it is their prerogative. However, simply saying “no” gets us nowhere. Offer suggestions and ideas – please become part of the solution, not the problem. We can all agree that the capacity, technology and security issues need to be addressed, so please help address these issues by becoming involved in the discussion rather than naysaying without any constructive criticism.

We live in a period of uncertainty where we are bombarded with constant negative news media – on TV, in the paper, in e-mails, in blogs, on websites, on Facebook, etc. But, I beg of you, please look at your community through a more reverent lens. Let’s focus on the positive things that we can influence and create by doing the right things now. It is easy to get caught up in our own emotions – especially when we are under a constant barrage of information with negative political overtones (this bond opposition being no different). Sometimes it is hard to sift through the noise to find the truth.

I will admit, given the federal government’s more recent approach to taxation, it is hard to stomach the idea of another increase in taxes. However, every penny of property tax increases related to this bond stays in our community. With this bond, your hard-earned tax dollars are not buying someone an “Obama phone;” you are buying technology that will help a Crockett Elementary student learn more efficiently and be better prepared for the technology filled world that we live in. Your tax dollars are not paying for someone else’s health care; they are going towards a program at WHS that allows students to graduate high school with a certification or license in a specific trade, so they can immediately contribute to our local economy with a career occupation and have a better standard of living.

Your tax dollars aren’t going towards some government program that you have never heard of; they are going towards improving our campuses, so we can have peace of mind that our children are as safe as they could possibly be. Your tax dollars are going towards the betterment of this community – a community that has given us all so much. All that could be expected of us as property owners is that we give a little back in return.

Please join me in voting “YES!” to improve our school system and allow for the healthy and functional growth of our community.

Brandon Garrett is a lifelong Weatherford resident and a third-generation WHS alumni.