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Oct 19 2018

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What we don’t know about the bond

The Inside Scoop

Ray Quiroga

publisher@sbnewspaper.com

OCTOBER 19-25, 2018

The biggest take away — for me, at least — from Tuesday night’s town hall, presented by the San Benito school district and pertaining to the upcoming bond election, isn’t so much what district representatives shared at the town hall, but what they didn’t share, at least not without prodding from members of the community who were on hand.

In fact, the town hall was more of sales pitch, of sorts, than an honest look at the pros and cons of the bond, and the would-be projects the $40 million bond would fund. (For more on the town hall, see story on page 1).

As a review, district officials here are asking taxpayers to approve a $40 million bond in the November election. Thirty to $31 million of that $40 million bond is set to go toward the construction of a performing arts center (PAC), with $3.5-$4 million said to facilitate a multi-sport indoor venue and $5-$5.5 million will help pay for an aquatic center.

At Tuesday evening’s town hall, which was held at the San Benito High School Cafetorium, and was the last of two scheduled town halls referencing the bond, it took some probing questions from members of the community who were on hand for the district to reveal some important facts tied to the bond, such as the fact that any remaining funds from the $40 million can be allocated towards other projects. And that question had to be asked by a member of the community a couple of different ways to illicit a somewhat cohesive response from the district representatives, which included a quorum of the board of trustees. Remember, in last week’s column, it was revealed that the Harlingen school district, with a student enrollment of 18,568, constructed a 30,000 square foot, 950-seat capacity PAC for $9,540,738. That facility, which was completed in 2013, includes an elevated stage, dressing room, classroom, practice room, catwalk, scenery room, three offices, a conference room, and a support area. So it’s hard to imagine that San Benito, with a student population of 10,512, needs a PAC so large that it’s going to cost over three times as much.  Interestingly enough, the Harlingen school district, in 2015, constructed a 40,000 square foot aquatic center for $8 million; so, again, it’s curious that SBCISD says it can be done for $5-$5.5 million some four years later.

Upon a separate inquiry from another citizen, we learned that we, as taxpayers, can find ourselves in a precarious position of paying higher taxes if the district loses students. However, in the same breath in which he provided that answer, Dustin “Dusty” Traylor, of RBC Capital Markets, a firm brought in by the district to assist in the bond process, said that the decline in the student population was highly unlikely. But I’m not sure how that can be said when, before this school year, the district had seen a decline in student enrollment in recent years and this year’s increase was less than 200 students. As of this year, the SBCISD student population stands at 10,512 compared to 10,899 in 2016. The fact is nobody really knows what the future of education will look like in 34 years, which is the time it will take the $40 million debt to mature. That added $40 million, by the way, will put the district’s total debt at an estimated $100 million, according to Traylor when the question was posed by a citizen.

And still, there are other questions taxpayers have no answers to, such as the projected cost to maintain these facilities, especially the aquatic center, which will undoubtedly need specialized staff. Other costs will no doubt include chemicals and water as well as the cost to insure these facilities.

It all begs the questions, what else aren’t we being told about the bond? What questions have we not asked?

As a reminder, early voting begins Oct. 22 at SBHS, Riverside Middle School and at the Community Building. Election Day is Nov. 6th at your respective precinct. The San Benito News will be publishing those precinct locales as Election Day approaches.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sbnewspaper.com/2018/10/19/what-we-dont-know-about-the-bond/

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