On bond election reforms and the upcoming Dallas ISD school bond election

Image credit: Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke/Pixabay

The year 2020 rumbles on, COVID-19 and all. I had to take something of a break from politics for the past several months, but I did receive an email from the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) complaing about a new bond referendum that is being scheduled by the Dallas ISD school board. It seems that the Dallas ISD school board is demanding approval for $3.7 billion in borrowing authority, while student enrollment is actually falling. Hearing stories like this isn’t new, as the Houston Independent School District has had stagnant or falling enrollment for years, but has kept right on borrowing money through bond referendums.

However, in reading through the TPPF summary article, I couldn’t help but smile. Why? Because the TPPF story on the bond referendum noted that the bond issue would be broken up into a $3.2 billion bond for the construction and acquisition of new school buildings and school buses. The remainder would be separate bond proposals, including $53 million for a new stadium, $33.5 million for a new natatorium, $66 million for a performing arts facility, and $270 million for a technology component. Note that each of these items – the stadium, the swimming facility, the performing arts center, and the technology component – would all have to be held on separate bond proposals. In other words, this won’t be a single bond proposal, but five bond proposals.

The fact that the DISD board is having to break this proposal down into five bond issues came about because somebody – we won’t mention who – has been campaigning for years for bond election reforms, and itemizing bond proposals was one of the objectives on the list. Ironically, the legislation that got passed on this reform, S.B. 30 passed in the 2019 Texas Legislature, was not the result of my own lobbying efforts. I really didn’t spend much time at all up in Austin during the 2019 legislative session. However, it seems that State Senator Paul Bettencourt picked up the ball on this issue, ran with it, and managed to get a bill passed. And that’s a good thing. Voters will now get a line item veto on school bond referendums.

There is still lots of work to be done on bond election reforms. Rolling polling on bond referendums was stomped out a while back, and there have been clarification mandates passed on ballot language. Ideally, I would like to see voter quorums mandated on bond referendums, and mandates on how frequently bond referendums can be held to prevent officials from calling another referendum soon after a failed election. However, I do realize that things move slowly, that you don’t often get what you want in politics, and certainly not without a battle. Yet, the fact that the Dallas ISD bond referendum is going to be fought this way should bring encouragement to grass roots activists that if you have a reasonable idea,  your idea can make it into law. I will be following the Dallas ISD bond election with great interest.