Katy ISD School Board of Trustees unanimously voted last month to place a $750 million bond referendum on the November ballot, despite community requests to bifurcate the package giving voters more freedom over the fiscal decisions of their school district.
The calls to split the bond package stem from the inclusion of a widely unpopular football stadium with more essential needs . The proposed stadium, designed by the notorious PBK Engineering, after modest downsizing, has returned to the ballot after being handily shot down by voters in 2013.
Allowing voters to separately approve individual components of a proposed debt increase would inherently improve the responsiveness of entities with bonding authority to their voters. Along with other accountability and transparency-minded reforms to the bonding process, requiring separate propositions for large-scale projects (like what Katy ISD voters have asked for) is featured in the platform of the Center for Local Governance Coalition, a cooperative effort of grassroots groups who seek stewardship and transparency in local government. (Click here to read more about the Coalition’s suggested reforms and local debt in Texas.)
However, despite community support for splitting the massive bond package, the Katy ISD school board voted unanimously to keep the bond as one. Why? This way, they can hold the legitimate needs of the district hostage to the Board’s wants, using racially charged rhetoric in the process. In a thirty minute diatribe, Superintendent Alton Frailey railed against the idea of splitting the package, urging the board not to “segregate” students unfairly.
A rapidly growing region in the state, little argument can be made that Katy ISD is not in need of some updates to its current infrastructure. However, it seems as though officials saw an opportunity to get what they’ve wanted for some time now. By tying what they knew was an unpopular measure to community needs, they have assembled an all-or-nothing, do-or-die bond package for their voters. One could scarcely call that much of an option.
In our form of government, citizens are meant to hold the power. In light of practices such as “rolling polling” and stacked bond committees, it comes as little surprise that local officials would oppose relinquishing decision-making authority over to the people. With local debt per-capita in Texas ranking second in the nation, the necessity of local bonding reform in order to safeguard Texans’ financial future is all the more apparent.