By Jim Irish
Courtesy photo and graphic
I initially looked at the figure on the latest Bastrop ISD bond package and read $32,500,000.
Then I put on my spectacles to read that it was $321,500,000 and nearly fell out of my chair.
$321,500,000. This is real money, not Monopoly money. Nearly one-third of a billion dollars.
Bastrop ISD is going for the entire enchilada here.
Only two years ago, the voters passed a $182,700,000 package, which included two new schools. This new bond package also adds two new schools.
This proposed $321,500,000 bond would be added to the current debt of $294,000,000 to expand the total debt to $615,500,000. This figure doesn't include the interest on the bonds. This is a staggering figure. Public entities, including school districts, have an insatiable appetite for taxpayer funding.
Is this current package a combination of desires and needs? All needs?
I’d love to own a late model Italian sports car such as a Lamborghini or a Maserati, but I realize that that is a desire and not a need. Until last year, I drove a 2001 Toyota Camry with 210,000 miles on the odometer. I’ve since transitioned to a 2015 Camry with more than 100,000 miles. It transports me from point A to B. Practical and efficient. It fills a need.
Is it possible that sometimes less is more?
This one-third of a billion dollars bond package includes almost $31,000,000 for capital improvements. Again, is it a desire or a need?
Also in the package is nearly $18,000,00 for construction of a Bastrop ISD police headquarters. Bastrop ISD currently employs 19 police officers, according to a district chart. When I was a student decades ago, no armed police force patrolled the halls in my school district. Administrators and teachers handled all discipline problems.
In those days, students who broke rules were placed in detention. Now, they are sent behind a fence at the Gateway Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP).
What has occurred to warrant such a dramatic increase in security? Much of it starts with the breakdown of the family i.e. divorce, neglect, and abuse. Moral absolutes — the difference between right and wrong — are no longer taught or modeled at home. As a result, children misbehave and engage in criminal behavior at school. Bastrop ISD now employs mental health counselors to deal with students who have emotional and psychological problems.
A former Bastrop coach, a huge man at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, told me that a student in his class had the temerity to question his authority in front of his friends, knowing that the teacher was limited in his response. The thug retreated when the teacher said to him, "Take your best shot." Is this disrespectful behavior now common in school?
Is there a return on investment on a school bond package? If I invest in a certificate of deposit at a bank, I receive interest. Is this the case with Bastrop ISD?
All schools in Bastrop ISD are underperforming except one, according to GreatSchools.org. Schools receive a rating between 1 and 10. Ratings at the lower end of the scale (1-4) signal that the school is “below average.”
The following are ratings for Bastrop schools: Bastrop Intermediate 2/10, Bastrop Middle 3/10, Bastrop High School 4/10, Emile Elementary 3/10, Mina Elementary 4/10, Red Rock Elementary 2/10, Cedar Creek Middle 3/10, Cedar Creek High School 3/10, Cedar Creek Intermediate 3/10, Bluebonnet Elementary 3/10, and Lost Pines Elementary 2/10.
Is it justified to spend millions and millions of dollars on underperforming schools?
With a rating of 10/10, the Colorado River Collegiate Academy is the lone school in the district that is performing at an “above average” level.
Even the highly respected academy isn't immune from political correctness, however. A couple of years ago, a female student at the academy informed her mother that teachers were required to promote Gay Pride Week with literature, posters, etc. The mother visited the superintendent's office, and the requirement was rescinded. Isn't instruction in reading, writing, and mathematics sufficient?
I’ve been fortunate to cover athletics in the school district for newspapers the past seven-plus years. The majority of athletes I encounter are highly motivated athletically and academically. But these student-athletes are a small percentage of the student population.
In the front of schools in the district are signs promoting the bond package, one in English and the other in Spanish. Once upon a time, when immigrants arrived in this country, they were thrust into total immersion in English. Today, school districts hire bilingual teachers and offer English as a Second Language (ESL). Why? This only delays assimilation into the culture.
In an ad for the bond package, the school district states that it has lowered the tax rate 19 cents in the last four years. That may be the truth, but it’s not the entire truth. As the late radio broadcaster Paul Harvey said, “Here’s the rest of the story.” While the tax rate has decreased, home appraisals have skyrocketed at an alarming rate. As a result, homeowners are paying much more in property taxes. Seniors age 65 on a fixed income have their property tax locked, but they continue to pay thousands of dollars.
The district employed a citizen advisory task force of 40 individuals from the community who “analyzed, studied, and discussed the current and future needs” of the school district.
Were these 40 citizens allowed to disagree with the spending on the bond package or were they required to rubber stamp the administration’s wishes?
Concerned citizens should ask questions about this latest bond package. No opinion should be dismissed. Honest debate should prevail. Voters will ultimately decide on May 6. Choose wisely.
Jim Irish is a freelance writer in Bastrop, Texas