We agree with Kelli Moulton, superintendent of Galveston public schools, that the idea of calling two bond referendums within six months of each other isn’t necessarily madness.
It’s not ideal, perhaps, but it’s doable if district leaders do it right.
Moulton has suggested calling a relatively modest bond proposal for May, while a committee assesses district facilities with a plan to recommend a larger bond proposal for a vote on the next regular Election Day, which is in early November.
The idea caused some raised eyebrows, and it’s definitely unorthodox. Organizing a bond proposal is a lot of work and costs money. One in a year usually is more than enough.
Also, there’s some obvious risk in going to the voters twice in that short period of time.
The hard fact of the matter, however, is that the Galveston district’s situation is far from ideal and some unorthodox solutions may be unavoidable.
This plan may be the only workable one.
One problem is that some buildings in the district are showing signs of years of deferred maintenance and need about $65 million in repairs, which district officials argue must be done much sooner than next winter.
Moulton has suggested asking voters in May for about $31 million to cover the most critical of those repairs.
The plan is to pay off that debt over about 12 years, which wouldn’t require an increase in the school tax rate, officials said last week.
That’s the critical point, which, we argue, makes this idea workable. The first question most voters are going to ask about a bond proposal is how much more they’ll have to pay. If the answer is no more, it ought to be pretty easy sell.
District leaders, however, should be able to explain whether approval of a $31 million bond issue in May would affect the larger November bond issue. For example, would the first debt issue mean that taxpayers would face higher interest rates on the larger debt issue?
We’re not suggesting it might, just asking an obvious question.
The biggest question, as far as we’re concerned, isn’t whether to split the bond propositions, but what projects will be proposed in the second, and presumably much larger, bond issue.
District leaders and community volunteers serving on the assessment committee must choose those projects very carefully.
They should keep in mind that the expense of owning property on the island already is higher than it would be in many other places, because of wind and flood insurance costs, and work to keep any tax increases as low as possible.
They should limit the list to projects that are essential and directly beneficial to improving education and opportunity for district students.
Anything even remotely frivolous on the list could jeopardize the entire bond package.
Along those lines, district officials should consider doing what Texas City ISD is doing in advance of considering a May bond vote. That district has hired a firm to survey registered voters about which projects they would support and which projects they wouldn’t support.
The idea is to assemble the bond package voters are most likely to approve. Clear Creek ISD has used similar methods in the past.
For our money, it matters less whether the district calls one or two bond votes than whether the district proposes projects that are clearly essential.
• Michael A. Smith