Fort Worth ISD staff is hosting a series of townhalls to ‘inform voters’ regarding the details of a three part bond proposal totaling $490 million, set to appear on the November 5 ballot. Only six years ago, a similar proposal in size and scope was passed.
One important fact they won’t be discussing is that from 2003-2012, student enrollment increased only two percent, while total debt per student increased over forty percent, or 20 times faster.
The audience is allegedly full of district staff, disguised as members of the public, which make enthusiastic statements to encourage the support of other attendees.
Contrary to their inauspicious claim, the district is utilizing these meetings to not only promote its rosy talking points, but to avoid criticism by snuffing out any public debate or dissension.
What’s more troubling than the ruse of support is the potentially unlawful suppression scheme allegedly supervised by Superintendent Dansby. Off-duty officers, hired as security and dressed in uniform, are instructed by Dansby and staff to prevent any members of the public from handing out material on district property, citing regulations the district has refused to provide to us. The Fort Worth Star Telegram was sent the following from district attorneys.
“If the District creates a forum for the distribution of nonschool literature, the District may impose…regulations and may reserve its facilities for their intended purposes…as long as the regulation on speech is reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view.”
On October 3, Fort Worth Police forcibly removed one citizen for passing out informational flyers after the meeting ended, along with three bystanders deemed guilty by association. None were deemed disruptive by police. The police confirmed that no charges were made and no report was filed.
Why, then, were they asked to leave by police?
The officer, who was willing to speak with us, stated, “… the superintendent has asked you to leave. District policy forbids the distribution of flyers promoting either a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote”.
He also stated, “… citizens are prohibited from distributing said material while on district property. Folks are not allowed to re-enter the building until it was confirmed that all materials were left in their vehicles. The staff is asking you to leave.”
They were peacefully escorted outside by police.
We obtained a copy of their handout, which encourages voters to research the existing debt levels of the district, to consider the cost of the proposal, including the proposed principal and interest expense, and cites the same data we referenced previously by the State Comptroller, warning Texans of the local borrowing epidemic driven primarily by school debt.
The district’s website shows that $30 million are intended for “non-construction items that require periodic refreshing such as school buses, musical instruments and uniforms, furniture and fixtures.”
Issuing a 25-30 year bond to pay for items that depreciate in five to ten years is fiscally incompetent.
Perhaps Mr. Dansby is worried that questions regarding debt and transparency will raise skepticism, and potentially, a swell of public opposition to the November proposition. After digging into the dirty details, his fears are justified.
His use of Al Capone-style tactics, however, are not.