May elections in the local jurisdictions conducting them are prime time for bureaucrats and local entities to load up the ballot with bond debt, hopefully passing it with little fanfare and even less turnout.

Goose Creek CISD in Baytown is no exception.

As of August, the district had just under $640 million in outstanding bond debt, with the expected payoff in 2041. With such a steep debt burden, passage of their latest proposal will ensure the mid-size district of just 25,000 students will be well over a billion dollars in bond debt.

The $437.5 million May bond election, which only has polling locations at GCCISD campuses, is targeting the lofty goals typically claimed in school bond elections across the state. They want to improve the educational environment for teachers and students, and facilitate future growth, but as usual, they have the bonds loaded with things like money for new mobile devices, upgrades to teachers’ desktops and laptops, turf installations at all high schools, a sports stadium, and even locker rooms for referees. Also included is a full-scale 6,000 square foot robotic practice arena with a location to be determined, as laid out in the district’s presentation.

According to the district, a home of about $100,000, which is less than the median home value in Baytown, would see a $10 per month increase in their school taxes. GCCISD also claims that the multi-purpose center would be able to pay down some of its own debt by renting it out for various events.

The same promises are made by every district trying to justify unnecessary bond projects.

GCCISD’s bond debt has been steadily increasing since 2012. In 2016, it reached an all-time high of over $30,000 per student according to the Texas Comptroller.

That same year it also had one of the highest levels of outstanding overall bond debt and bond debt per student out of districts similar in size across Texas. As a matter of fact, if these proposals pass, GCCISD will be in the top 15 Texas school districts with the highest debt.

With the two bond proposals, GCCISD is appearing to give taxpayers the option to choose which projects they want to pay for. But Proposition 1 is loaded up with construction, upgrades, technology, and athletics, while Proposition 2 is the standalone multi-purpose center. Make no mistake, Prop 1 is an all-or-nothing proposal.

The district is currently using portable buildings to accommodate their current student population. Their primary claim is they need a bond to accommodate future enrollment, but they admit in their bond information that the passage of the bond won’t do away with the need to use portable buildings. Less than 30 percent of the funding would go to new schools.

Byron Schrimbeck has been a vocal opponent of the bonds and wrote in the Baytown Sun, “In fact over $95 million is allocated for sports spending alone while they tell us it’s about accommodating growth.” Most of that is from the Proposition 2 proposal, which is dubbed as a multi-purpose center but is no more than a sports stadium. He continued, “Even if the bonds pass, they admit students will still be educated in temporary buildings.”

GCCISD is only now wrapping up with projects from its 2013 bond referendum. Taxpayers in the district can expect them to come back asking for another bond approval in just a few years if they continue to allow this unnecessary spending.

Schirmbeck concluded in his op-ed, “I hope we say no to the billion dollars in debt and the board comes back in November with a clean proposal with what they really need instead of what they think they can get away with.” He’s right. GCCISD taxpayers should say “No!”

An unofficial poll on the Baytown Sun website shows bond opponents winning, but an online poll isn’t going to count come May 5. With a low-turnout election, polling locations exclusively at schools, and the government entity all but campaigning for the bond, it takes a concerted effort to inform others of the pitfalls of this bond and bring them to the polls to vote against it. Schirmbeck and others have put together a group, the Baytown Better Bond Committee, to do just that.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.