With voting underway on a $569 million school bond for the Midland Independent School District, tension between those on both sides of the proposal has grown.
The property-tax-supported debt would be spent constructing two new high schools, repurposing the former Lee High School facility, and making upgrades to other campuses. With interest, the proposal would cost local property taxpayers upwards of $880 million, bringing the district’s total debt obligations to well over $1 billion.
Actions by supporters of the bond have brought increased criticism on social media from the bond’s opponents.
Residents erupted in outrage over language in an email from a school principal to teachers that some residents say was a veiled attempt at voter coercion. The email, which was circulated on social media, urged teachers to vote in the bond election. “As district employees, we need to exercise this right,” the email read. “No one can tell us HOW to vote, but there’s a possibility an open records request will be done to see which district employees did or did not vote.”
The school district also spent thousands of taxpayers’ dollars on mailers and flyers promoting the bond, which school officials instructed children to take home to their parents. Opponents allege the flyers are exploiting a legal loophole and constitute borderline electioneering. The district maintains the material is completely legal.
In addition, local residents expressed concerns about a statement by a school official to the local Midland Democrat Party during its monthly luncheon. The official allegedly promised that if the bond passed, the district would use the opportunity to rename Lee High School.
The school is named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and its football team is known as the Lee High Rebels.
A spokesperson for Midland ISD told Texas Scorecard the facility Lee High currently occupies would be repurposed into another high school, while one of the newly constructed high school campuses would then bear the name “Lee High,” clearing up the issue.
Two rival political action committees have formed in response to the bond initiative.
The pro-bond “We Choose our Future” PAC has far outraised the opposition. The latest Texas Ethics Commission report shows a staggering $231,500 in contributions.
On the other side, state filings show $9,225 in contributions to “A Better Bond for Midland” PAC, which leads the opposition to the bond. It was formed by local businessman Brandon Hodges, who served on the original facilities committee allegedly tasked with developing the bond proposal.
However, Hodges says that the committee “didn’t design or layout what MISD is wanting to build,” referring to the bond proposal.
“We did not present anything to MISD. MISD presented us with different models for us to vote on,” Hodges stated in an online post.
The MISD website, however, states that the facilities committee began meeting in January of 2018 to “assess the district’s facility needs and make recommendations regarding future facility needs.” The website also says that the committee “delivered its recommendation” to the school board.
Voters still have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed taxpayer debt. Early voting for the bond proposal continues through November 1, with Election Day on November 5.