'Grassroots' urges vote against TISD bond

Released by: Grassroots America, JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director

TYLER, TX Grassroots America Executive Director JoAnn Fleming today announced the organization's opposition to Tyler ISD's proposed $89.8 million bond on the upcoming November 2 ballot.

Fleming says after a careful review of the bond package details, the Grassroots Board of Directors and Watchdog Committee found the bond package lacking in details necessary to ensure taxpayers the wisest long-term use of tax dollars.

In good faith, we invited TISD officials to make their presentation to us last week. We spent more than two hours viewing their plans and asking questions. Bottom line – the district is not ready for this. There are just too many unanswered questions for taxpayers to take a $90 million risk and hope the district figures out the details later," said Fleming.

The Unknown – reasons to vote against $145 million (principal/est. interest) in local debt:

1. TISD officials say they are working on preliminary steps regarding the standing desegregation order. How will possible future lifting of this order impact attendance zones and facility needs? UNKNOWN

2. The TISD Superintendent plans alternative grade configurations – pairing and housing certain grades together. What is the plan? How will it change grade alignments/facilities/annual operating costs/academics? Will we need more facilities or fewer? UNKNOWN

3. Where will the new proposed Rice Elementary School be built? Existing site? New location? If new location, where? Is there a vacant 15-acre parcel of land in the Rice attendance zone? If not, will the district use eminent domain to secure the new site? UNKNOWN

4. TISD officials indicate there will be future opportunities to close or re-purpose some of the existing middle schools? Which ones? How soon? At what impact to long-term costs? UNKNOWN

5. How much will it cost annually to operate the proposed new middle school (teachers, staff, utilities, supplies, maintenance, etc.)? TISD officials say that "it could cost up to $2 million in additional operating costs" and state "it is difficult to know how much it will cost until boundaries are determined and enrollments and staffing can be calculated." UNKNOWN

6. How will the added cost of operating the proposed new middle school be funded since the District's maintenance and operating portion of the tax rate is at the cap, and the 2010-2011 budget is currently balanced with $5 million in federal stimulus funds held in the State's Rainy Day fund? UNKNOWN

Fleming concluded:

• Tyler ISD has had no real conversation with the community stakeholders (parents, homeowners, business owners) to discuss and reevaluate the district needs and priorities. They still have NO public hearings posted, and we are less than 30 days away from the election.

• TISD says the bond election won't increase the tax rate. This is misleading. The truth is, when the old bonds ($221 million - principal only - from 2004 and 2008 bond elections) pay off, taxes are expected to go down. This is like paying off a huge credit card balance one day and running up a new balance the next day. Your payments might not go up, but you are still in debt! We can no longer ignore debt in this country – debt at any level of government. If the district can stuff another $90 million into the debt portion of the tax rate, this means there's enough room to reduce taxes. Keeping taxes at the higher rate is a tax increase. To say it any other way is just wrong.

With so much uncertainty in the economy as a whole – and with rising debt piled on taxpayers and future generations by federal and state government – here at the local level, taxpayers need, want, and deserve clearly-defined long-range plans. We need to know what the plans are and how much they will cost us. We need to understand what results we can expect from the plans. We need a chance to discuss it as a community before we vote to add more local debt.

Grassroots America – We the People urges voters to reject the Tyler ISD bond package. Bad planning, bad timing, too many unanswered questions = a debt risk we can't afford!

The following statement was released by Tyler ISD in response to Grassroots America's statement:

The Tyler ISD Board of Trustees has called a special election for November 2, 2010 to allow voters in the district to decide whether to authorize the Board to issue bonds for the renovation and construction of schools.  The 2010 bond proposal is designed as a continuation of the original facilities plan that resulted in the Bond Elections of 2004 and 2008.  The current bond proposal has generated interest and questions from the community and the district has provided and will continue to provide information about the election to any interested persons that request material including community groups and organizations.  It is the District's intention that through this process the voters will become well informed regarding the proposal so they can make an informed choice when they go to the polls.

By law, Tyler ISD can only provide factual information that describes the purposes of the measure and other basic objective information about the bond election.  The District cannot spend tax dollars to advocate for or against the passage of the proposal.  We respect the rights of individuals to choose whether or not to support this effort.  We will honor the will of the voters of the Tyler Independent School District.