The numbers behind the bond

The Inside Scoop

Ray Quiroga

OCTOBER 12-18, 2018

In a column two weeks ago, I addressed a number of concerns pertaining to the proposed San Benito school district bond, which is on the ballot this coming election and which the voting public will determine its fate.

As expected, I received some push back from a number of bond proponents who read the column. I’ve also received a number of comments from those who oppose the bond, all of which were welcomed. But curious and eager to learn of any logical reasoning as to why the community should be strapped with what will amount to over $40 million in debt for what can only be described as non-essential amenities, I was especially curious in hearing the criticism from those who support the bond. Alas, most of those who were in favor of the bond offered only hyperboles such as, “Our kids deserve it.” “San Benito lags behind,” and the popular go-to, “We’re losing students to other districts and this is a way to retain them.”

But again, to make such a statement for such a large amount of debt, one would think the district would have commissioned some sort of study that not only supported that claim, but also supported the actual need for the proposed facilities which would be funded by this bond.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve never turned to my wife and said, “I don’t know, dear, but I think we may have to pull Junior out of the district because it doesn’t have a $30 million performing arts center (PAC) or a $3.5 million aquatic center; or, Lord forbid, a $5 million indoor athletic center.” No, I’m looking at student success, test scores, safety, technology, and diversity of its curriculum. You know, things dealing with the actual education of the child.

But now that I’ve touched on price tags, understand that when the district was first exploring the possibility of issuing a bond for these facilities, the price range was more around $26 million, which is already lofty. Somewhere down the line, the price tag grew to $40 million with a PAC coming in at a whopping $30-$31 million. By comparison, in 2013, Harlingen CISD, with a student enrollment of 18,568, constructed an impressive PAC seating nearly 1,000 for just under $10 million. Even adjusting for inflation, that’s nowhere near the $30-$31 million proposed by the San Benito CISD, which currently boasts a student population of 10,512.

On a side note, Harlingen CISD’s aquatic center, which features a competition-sized pool and a mandatory ADA compliant “therapy” pool, was constructed for around $8 million. That facility was also completed in 2015.

So a taxpayer has to ask, “What’s with the exorbitant price tag for the PAC?” That answer may lie in the superintendent’s comments last week. When pressed with that question by one of our more vigilant members of the community during a presentation to a local civic group, the superintendent insinuated that remaining funds from the bond could be used for other projects.

But there are other factors proponents of the bond simply aren’t considering, such as the bond’s interest rate, which we won’t know until later in the processes, should the bond pass. That interest rate will likely bring the payoff closer to $55-$60 million on what could very well be a 30-year term. This all begs the question on whether or not other funding options were explored. For example, why not reach out to a corporate sponsor (or sponsors) and propose a joint effort where the district would donate the land and a portion of the materials if that Fortune 500 Corporation constructed the actual facilities. In the end, we’d be happy to slap their company’s name on the front of the building, in perpetuity.

But, no, the easiest route is seemingly to saddle the public with what no doubt can be described as generational debt. Remember, as of today, the district is no less than four bonds deep in debt. According to data compiled by the Texas Comptroller, based on figures from 2016, San Benito CISD tax-supported debt, at that time, stood at $105 million. That was $9,634 per student when the student population was at 10,899. That was an increase of 14% from the 2007-2008 to 2015-2016 school years, again, according to the Texas Comptroller.

Just a reminder, the last of the two town halls hosted by the district will be held this coming Monday, October 15th at 6:30 p.m. at San Benito High School on Williams Road. District officials and school board members will be on hand to provide a presentation about the bond and these proposed projects. Early voting begins Oct. 22 at SBHS, Riverside Middle School and at the Community Building. Election Day is Nov. 6th

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