We’ve previously criticized school districts for not discussing the total costs of bonds, which include interest expense. And although the total cost of Frisco ISD’s $775 million package could reach $1.3 billion, there’s serious concerns regarding the bloated costs of the individual projects themselves.
The largest components of the package outline the construction of fourteen new campuses to accommodate for growth. Shockingly, the district has proposed spending over 50 percent more than its previously spent for schools of similar size!
Since the district builds several schools each year, there’s plenty of construction data from which to make a relevant comparison. According to FISD, recent elementary schools have been built for $13,825,000 on average, or roughly $170-180 per sq/ft.
These figures exclude the cost of land, as FISD budgets those expenses separately.
According to a study conducted by the State Comptroller, that figure is relatively high. The report found the state average to be $147 per sq/ft, or 12 percent lower than FISD’s historical costs. Cyprus-Fairbanks ISD built a similar facility for $85 per sq/ft, or 57 percent lower than the state average, in part by utilizing architectural prototypes that save money and permit faster construction.
But FISD’s inflated historical figures aren’t the only concern for taxpayers.
The 2014 bond package proposes a project cost of $21,125,000 for an elementary campus with similar capacity to that of existing ones. With a price tag $7.3 million more expensive than previous schools, FISD plans to spend $274 per sq/ft, a figure 57 percent higher than historical costs, and 86 percent higher than the state average.
And even if the $274 per sq/ft number includes millions in furniture, computers, and other equipment, the proposals remain unconscionably fat with pork.
The proposals for both middle schools and high schools are also roughly 60% higher than historical construction costs, or $13.9 and $42 million more for each separate facility, respectively.
Part of the package would also pay for the expansion of an existing learning center, with plans to expand the facility by 40,000 sq/ft. With a proposed budget of $16 million, that’s $400 per sq/ft!
Keep in mind that taxpayers will pay interest on top of the raw construction costs financed with bond proceeds. For every dollar of pork wasted, taxpayers could pay an additional $1 penalty, when interest is included.
This is precisely why the issuance of debt needs to be closely scrutinized, because it’s an incredibly expensive way to finance government expenditures.
It’s important for taxpayers to know that the law does not require that districts build exactly what’s presented in town halls and in district literature. Passing propositions only authorize school districts to issue debt up to the amount listed on the ballot. Its use is not strictly limited.
Stated differently, if the district exaggerates the cost of each proposed project, they can complete construction “under budget” and have money left over for unadvertised items.
This explains why FISD had $27 million dollars “leftover” to build the “Taj Mahal” administration building, which was never proposed as a project to voters prior to approving the 2006 package.
Two PACs have formed to engage the public. Frisco Schools First is supporting the measure as proposed, while The Responsible Spending Coalition of Texas opposes the package in favor of a more reasonable proposal.
The DMN recently reported that, according to campaign finance reports, Frisco Schools First has raised $10,000, and is primarily funded by two architectural firms who stand to benefit, while the opposing group organized by the local Frisco Tea Party, has only raised $800.
There will always be special interests lobbying the government for more of your money. But taxpayers aren’t powerless. After all, most propositions pass with single-digit voter turnout.
Texans can’t continue to blame irresponsible politicians if they refuse to participate in government.
It’s incumbent upon all of us to get informed, and become engaged in our government.