Deron Harrington’s letter to the FB Star
“I wanted to follow up to your recent commentary “The Importance of the FBISD Bond Election”. I appreciate you taking the time to research the issue and applaud you using the Fort Bend Star in a responsible manner to highlight the importance of this bond referendum to our community. I fully concur that this bond proposal is in the best interest of our school district and also believe it is necessary to continue to maintain the quality of life of students, residents, and business owners in Fort Bend.
I have personal knowledge surrounding this proposal. As some may know, I ran for a Board of Trustee position this last May. While I was unsuccessful in getting elected for this position, the positive aspects included gaining more insight surrounding our school district, and resulted in me visiting with numerous community members about the issues concerning FBISD. Ms. Kristin Tassin was elected for that position and she is well qualified, genuine, and a great addition to that Board. I believe collectively — this current Board of Trustees is one of the best-qualified groups of individuals this community has ever assembled and they are working very hard on the affairs of this district along with a well-qualified school administration led by Dr. Dupre.
After the election, I was asked to serve on a Bond Oversight Committee that the district assembled to serve in an advisory capacity to the District, working collaboratively and cooperatively with the Board of Trustees, Superintendent and District administration regarding the prioritization and phasing of proposed projects to be included in the November 2014 bond election. That Committee included a cross cut of very talented and knowledgeable individuals that held knowledge in construction, business, finance, engineering, and other much needed areas of expertise. I am an Attorney and Certified Public Accountant so I sought to contribute in step with my areas of expertise along with my additional insight gained as the result of the recent election and community interface. I was deeply impressed and learned a great deal in areas I have no background in — such as construction and engineering. The composition of the skills on the committee was well served for FBISD. The work of the committee was business like, at times frank, and genuine effort by all in trying to act in the best interest of our school district.
The Bond Oversight Committee collectively contributed in many respects to the final bond proposal including a recommendation that the Board of Trustees adopt specific measures to ensure that any excess bond funds can ONLY be used on facility-related needs (land, renovations, repairs, etc.). Your Board of Trustees, based this recommendation from the Bond Oversight Committee, approved a Bond Accountability Resolution squarely addressing this. In addition, that Bond Oversight Committee will serve in a post bond election capacity to ensure any bond program proceeds approved by our voters are spent as intended.
The bottom-line is this bond proposal dynamically meets real and tangible student need. Over eighty-three percent (83%) of this bond is directly tied to providing student capacity for a growing student population. Our school district has grown and is continuing to grow – independent demographic projections point to our school district adding over 12,000 new students in the next ten years. Right now – over ten percent (10%) or over 7,000 of our students are in portable classrooms for their learning environment. We have let our needs go unmet and the impact is greatly impacting our students. The primary capacity constraint the district faces is in elementary schools and without this bond approval that need cannot be met. The remaining seventeen percent (17%) deals with much needed technology enhancements, safety/security, and transportation.
As with anything proposed – there are folks who propose arguments in opposition. While I respect the right of anyone in our democracy to have differing views, I want to briefly highlight some of the more creative and interesting views in opposition, why those views are misguided and not factually based, and not in the best interest of our community. I certainly will not address some of the views in opposition that are complete embellishments and sensationalism that rivals tabloid news.
“This whole thing has been rushed.”
FACT: Nothing could be farther from the truth. Within months of our Superintendent being hired, Dr. Dupre and the Board of Trustees implemented a visionary process starting back in September 2013 to begin assessing the long needs of our school district. That process has served as the foundation for a capital plan and in turn drove this specific bond proposal. Throughout that process extensive community engagement was undertaken. This whole process has been unprecedented for FBISD, was sorely needed, and has been extremely strategic in nature by any measure.
“We need to adjust zoning/feeder patterns first”.
FACT: This “which came first – the chicken or the egg” argument has no validity. The long term facilities master plan and the capital plan driving the needed capacity assumes fully optimized zoning/feeder patterns. In other words – the capacity needs do not go away with simply adjusting zoning/feeder patterns. A simple shuffle of the deck does not create additional capacity nor eliminate the need for new capacity. Even a modified argument such as “well, how do we know where to build” is intellectually flawed because the long term facilities plan and the bond proposal seeks to address broad areas and specific sites for many of the facilities will be identified as time goes on. The Board and administration recognize the need to minimize disruption to our children and their families. To do that, any zoning/feeder patterns will be phased in. This sort of delay argument is what got FBISD into the mess it is in now – delaying much need elementary school capacity additions for more “paralysis by analysis” and more hostage takers– these delay tactics are not in the best interest of our community — it’s time to get on with it.
“This going to raise taxes”
FACT: Approving the bond proposal simply authorizes the Board of Trustees to issue bonds in the future and allows them to begin implementation of a capital plan. Our tax base has been growing around ten percent (10%) and the plan assumes a very conservative growth projection in the six to seven percent (6-7%) – (the majority of which is new tax values not tax value increases). In addition, the very timing of bond issuance and build out largely prevents us getting into a “build it and they will come” scenario. In effect, we will be paying as we go with regards to debt servicing any new bonds as we get additional revenues from a growing tax base. In addition, the current bond portfolio has ample flexibility to ever prevent a tax rate increase. It should be noted that district on a comparative basis has very modest debt ratios compared to comparable school districts and largely is in great financial shape as a school district.
Let’s not lose sight of the big picture. Dr. Dupre, his administration, and our elected school board set broad strategic vision for our district. They undertook an extensive process to vent all of this. They believe we need to increase the capacity in our facilities to meet the educational needs for our children now and in the future. They base this belief on solid data, personal first hand observation, educational training, and a long process in getting to this point. I believe they are doing exactly what they should be doing in this regard. I applaud the vision in undertaking such a comprehensive long range-planning endeavor and the courage to act. Doing such is extremely strategic in nature and the district will be well served to implement the findings this process has produced – and that includes this bond proposal.
In my opinion – there simply is no valid weakness in the bond proposal that can overcome the precision and the strengths of this bond proposal. This bond proposal is hitting the nail on the head in terms of real need. We have an obligation to provide an adequate education for our children. Facilities play a critical role in doing that. Our children need a place to sit down. There is real identified need here and this bond proposal squarely addresses that. I would encourage anyone who has question surrounding the bond proposal to visit http://www.fortbendisd.com for comprehensive and factual information surrounding this bond proposal. In addition, I would be happy to visit with anyone to discuss this and share any insight I might hold or help point you to the pace to obtain such information. I can be reached at 281-598-0313. Thank you for your consideration on this important issue for our community.
Please vote YES on the FBISD bond proposal – and help us keep Fort Bend County moving forward.
Deron Harrington, JD, CPA”
Vote for the bond.
Local control of the district is important, keep the feds and unions out of our schools. If you want to ensure we have quality education in FBISD, then get involved and volunteer.