Despite severe warnings about heavy debt from the state’s comptroller, cities and schools have responded by proposing more of the same. Studies from the Texas Public Policy Foundation and elsewhere find that Texans face a local-debt epidemic, driven by local school district bond propositions adopted in elections with single-digit voter turnout.
Education spending has become a costly, sacred cow for Texans. Cries from edu-crats warn that teachers will be laid off and children will starve, if the spending binge ceases. The facts contradict their claim. In the last decade, total spending rose nearly five times as fast as enrollment, while spending per student rose by 63 percent over the same period. And for every teacher in classrooms, there is now one non-instructional staff member, on average.
This staffing surge was highlighted in a two-part report by the Friedman Foundation which found that, if staffing levels since 1992 grew proportionally, or at the same pace as the student population, Texas taxpayers today would save over $6.3 billion annually on payroll alone (page 6 of report)!
In recent years, Fort Worth ISD has joined the borrowing binge. In 2007, $593 million in bonds were approved, passing with only 5 percent voter turnout.
Even worse, school boards are spending your money on propaganda to convince you to let them borrow more. In Cedar Hill, the PAC promoting an ISD bond spent over $180,000 in taxpayer money. What a scam?
Bonds are typically issued to pay for new schools to accommodate for growth, although many districts spend the funds on athletic complexes, renovations, maintenance, buses, technology and new furniture. And expenditures for schools have varied widely, ranging from $80 to as high as $250 per square foot.
The total debt of FWISD residents is quickly approaching $1 billion, or $11,700 per child. If the upcoming $490 million proposition passes, the debt per student will exceed $17,500, or 30 percent higher than the state average. And when interest is included, the actual cost to taxpayers over time will likely approach $1 billion, in addition to the debt already on the books.
Interest expense is a huge cost that won’t be included on the ballot for voters to consider, nor is it emphasized in town halls conducted by district staff that will be living off taxpayer provided pensions by the time voters realize what hit them.
Massive borrowing eventually hurts more than just taxpayers; it affects students and teachers too.
As illustrated in a previous article highlighting Plano ISD’s budget crisis and consequent tax increase, the debt services of districts across Texas are beginning to cannibalize their budgets, reducing operating cash needed for student resources and teacher’s pay, putting more pressure on the state budget, and all but guaranteeing higher property tax rates for Texans now and in the future.
The FWISD bond proposition will be placed on the November 5 ballot, along with ten State constitutional amendments, less than 60 days from now.