[From 590AM KLBJ]
Austin Independent School District trustees should finalize their proposal to borrow just under a billion dollars from you for a laundry list of upgrades to schools throughout the city. Bond Watchdog Roger Falk of the Travis County Taxpayers Union says schools don’t get to borrow money for free, so be leery of what AISD says the tax impact of this would be. “We estimate that that bond that’s shy of a billion dollars to cost taxpayers about six and a half cents per hundred thousand dollar valuation.” He continues “It will go up by about $65 per year. By Falk’s estimate, taxes on a three hundred thousand dollar home would go up $195 if the bond passes.
AISD has said there would be little to no impact on the tax rate but Falk says that doesn’t matter because your property appraisal values will undoubtedly go up no matter what the tax rate is on the loan they’re asking for. “Which gives political cover for our leadership out here to claim they’re cutting taxes when in fact they are actually raising it.” Falk says the district could do what it needs to for a lot less than they’re proposing.
TCTU asks the Austin ISD Board of Trustees to halt the demolition plans for T.A. Brown Elementary, makes new PIR
June 15, 2017
AUSTIN, Tx —
The Travis County Taxpayers Union (TCTU) has asked the Austin ISD Board of Trustees to immediately halt the demolition plans for T.A. Brown Elementary pending a second opinion on the structural condition of the foundation.
“We have issued an extensive Public Information Request (PIR) for AECOM contractual obligations and detailed ‘engineering studies’ which AISD staff claims justifies demolition of the building”, says Don Zimmerman, Director of TCTU. “We suspect there was political motivation behind the press conference and exaggerated claims of irreparable damage, and the sudden closure of the school, to build political support for the demolition and around $30 million dollar reconstruction of the school, as part of the exorbitant $986 million Bond this November”.
June 15, 2017
TO: Austin ISD Board of Trustees
FROM: Travis County Taxpayers Union
We have reason to suspect that “engineering studies”, generated by sole-source consultant group AECOM, exaggerated claims of structural deterioration at T.A. Brown Elementary, and possibly other facilities, for the political motivation of gaining voter sympathy and support for the exorbitant $1 billion Bond contemplated for Nov. 2017.
We ask the AISD Board to execute these steps immediately:
* Prioritize fulfillment of the Public Information Request for T.A. Brown School
* Immediately HALT demolition plans for T.A. Brown Elementary
* Request a separate structural inspection, from a separate structural engineering consultant (not affiliated with AECOM and its subcontractors), who answers solely to the AISD Board of Trustees.
June 15, 2017
TO: Austin ISD Public Information Office
FROM: Don Zimmerman, Travis County Taxpayer’s Union
RE: Six detailed Public Information Requests for AECOM contract origin and certain deliverables for T. A. Brown Elementary School
- We request the Condition Assessment Reports for T.A. Brown Elementary School (School), which were produced by AECOM, and all subcontractors operating in conjunction with or under the direction of AECOM, and other consultants paid by Austin ISD in conjunction with the School assessment (collectively, “subcontractors”);
- We request the School Structural Investigation engineering reports provided to Austin ISD by AECOM and subcontractors, including Existing Conditions, Engineering Analysis, Recommendations, and Probable Cause, and especially, the “engineering report” which led to the sudden “cancellation” and removal of students from the school, per the media stories below (Nov-3, 2016):
http://kxan.com/2016/11/03/structural-concerns-force-friday-cancellation-at-brown-elementary/ http://www.fox7austin.com/news/local-news/215420399-story http://www.kvue.com/news/education/classes-canceled-at-ta-brown-elementary-due-to-structural-issues/347482745
- We request e-mails and written communications between Austin ISD staff and AECOM (and subcontractors) staff which led to widespread media reports, and Austin ISD media announcements supporting statements like “ The supports that hold up the floor in classroom wings and the cafeteria have deteriorated so badly that structural engineers and district leaders fear a portion of the floor could collapse.” Source: http://www.mystatesman.com/news/local/austin-brown-elementary-stay-shuttered-because-unstable-floor/q9lx8UTDyZT4GTBO2wY1SI/
- We request all e-mails and written communication between Austin ISD staff and the engineer “Anna Boenig”, who was publicly identified on TV news story, in a press conference organized and attended by Austin ISD staff, as making this statement: “We do not recommend this be repaired at all. It would not be feasible. The damage is to every single beam in some areas affected. It would be a hazard for any contractor to work under there,” said Anna Boenig, P.E. Source: http://www.fox7austin.com/news/local-news/215420399-story
- We request all e-mails and written communication between Austin ISD staff and AECOM engineers and consultants regarding the preparation of the press conference, including the decisions regarding which photos to publicly display, where the public presentation of the School structural issues were raised.
- We request a copy of the contract with AECOM, and billings and payments so far for work done on the School,
- We request electronic and written communications between Nicole Conley and AECOM staff regarding the School, for the 6 months prior to the November 2017 media reports listed above.
- We request copy of the School demolition permit, and the technical documentation supporting that demolition permit application.
# # #
“They are not looking out for the taxpayer. They are looking out for themselves,” says Don Zimmerman with the Travis County Taxpayers Union. “The purpose of our school taxes is supposed to be to educate kids. Not to build buildings, and what we’ve seen out of the districts is exorbitant and wasteful expenditures on infrastructure and they starve the classrooms,” adds Zimmerman.
In photo from left: Pam Oldham, Paul Matthews, Patrick McGuinness, John Gordon, Don Zimmerman, Dave Schmidt.
A remarkable coalition of grass roots forces, from conservative-libertarian to progressive-democrat, (a fiscally conservative “Union” if you will) combined efforts to defeat not just Round Rock ISD District political forces but the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber contributed at least $10,000 to the pro-Bond PAC) and the usual subsidized-growth interests. THANK YOU to activists and voters, and especially Patrick McGuinness and Ed Buckley of “Round Rock Parents and Taxpayers Association” – that is, “there’s a new PTA in District”.
Also thanks to Williamson County (John Gordon) GOP, and Travis County GOP (James Dickey) for getting Resolutions passed opposing the RR ISD Bonds.
CITIZENS BOND COMMITTEE MEMBERS COME OUT AGAINST THE Round Rock ISD BOND PROPS for $572,000,000: NOT THIS BOND
“I read all the information available on the RRISD web page. According to the District, the Citizens Bond Committee recommended the bond sale. Is that not true?”
While the CBC has done so, there are quite a few individuals who served on the Citizens Bond Committee (CBC) who are opposing the bond. Here’s why: The CBC process was a process that was not truly citizen-driven but driven by he RRISD administration to get what they wanted, The projects were not defined by the CBC, but the administration. Most all of the CBC did not even get to see input from principals at the schools. They held only a few meetings (three total meetings for one participant) and did not seriously vet projects. In many cases cost estimates were SWAGs rather than based on rigorous engineering-based cost-estimation.
One of the observations made was how the CBC committees had a lot of administration people involved, how Round Rock chamber-tied people were leading committees, etc. When the CBC ‘recommended’ this, a hand-picked stacked deck was rubber-stamping an administration plan. With a sham process done for PR not decision-making, the result was a very flawed product on many level. Many CBC members are saying “Not This Bond” in response to a process that has gone off the rails.
“I served on the Citizen’s Bond Committee this year and have first hand experience as to details and unanswered questions for this bond ask. I will vote “NO” without hesitation on all three propositions.” – Ruth Ann Dickensheets, former PTA President, CBC member
“I served on this citizen’s bond committee … Those of us on the committee had difficulty getting answers, answers changed on a whim, emails were not returned, and many of us generally felt as though the various projects were hastily evaluated. I have serious concerns about the process by which these projects were vetted and how the district came up with the numbers.” – Tracy Armstrong, CBC member
“I am a huge supporter of public education and have always worked hard to support bonds; however, I cannot support this bond. This is not a decision that I came to lightly and not a decision I made without doing lots and lots of homework and research (I have attended 3 public presentations). For those of you that don’t know, I chaired the elementary sub committee on the 2008/2014 bonds, sat on the boundary committee, and have served in various leadership positions in my kiddos elementary, middle and high schools. … Several CBC members, some who I know and others that I don’t, but whose judgement I respect are not supporting the bond. They raised red flags regarding the process to the school administration and to the board and those concerns were ignored. … There are serious needs in the district and much work to be done but the district needs to go back to the table, properly engage the community, and bring back something that makes sense to all the stakeholders in our communities. No one is saying no to bonds, we are saying NOT THIS BOND.” – Kellyn Bradford, Round Rock ISD Council of PTAs.
Vote NO on Natatorium in RRISD Bond Proposal #3 (May 6th, 2017 Round Rock ISD Bond Election)
The City of Round Rock should take the lead role to construct, operate and maintain the indoor aquatic center (natatorium) if it is needed at all. It is NOT the proper role of RRISD to fund this project at a cost of $22 million, much less to pay annual operating and maintenance costs of $500,000. The natatorium is bundled in RRISD Bond Proposition #3 and just one of several reasons to vote it down.
Public discussion regarding a natatorium started in spring 2015 with two options under consideration. Option 1 consisted of a facility to seat up to 1500 spectators and included an 8-lane x 50 meter pool, a warm up/down pool, a 25 meter dive pool and dive spa. Option 1 had a construction cost of $31 million (excluding land purchase) and estimated operating/maintenance costs of $750,000/year. Option 2 removed the dive pool and spa and reduced seating to 600-800 spectators. Option 2 had a construction cost of $24 million and estimated operating/maintenance costs of $500,000/year. The following article provides an overview:
The City of Round Rock initially took the lead on the natatorium because a major part of the justification is the economic benefit to local businesses from attracting outside events (which requires a large facility plus marketing efforts). The natatorium will be used by private swim clubs, adults and others besides RRISD. And given the natatorium’s location, the natatorium is unlikely likely to be of benefit to adults or businesses in western areas of RRISD, particularly Austin. For some unexplained reason, RRISD’s Citizen Bond Committee (CBC) stepped in to take the lead on the project in October 2016. It went from being a city-led project that would benefit RRISD (among other paying clients) to a RRISD-led project that would also benefit private swim clubs, individuals and local
businesses. The shift in approach was probably because natatorium supporters realized that it would be easier to get funding by bundling the project into an education bond. Saying “it’s for the kids” is easier than justifying the natatorium on its own merits. Natatorium supporters claim that it will be used for high school swim team practices, which is not logistically feasible in terms of drive times and practice schedules. With just 8 lanes, the facility cannot practically be used as a practice facility for more than 2 teams concurrently. It will be of little to no use as a practice facility for Westwood, McNeil or the 6th high school (if it is built). RRISD could host 6 high school swim meets per year plus the District 11 Championship currently held at Jamail Swim Center at UT. But is it really worthwhile to invest $22 million and pay $500,000/year to host 7 meets per year?
The City of Round Rock has pledged to support the facility but has not quantified that support in dollar terms. If RRISD goes it alone, taxpayers should not be surprised if RRISD comes back in a couple of years with another bond proposal to expand the natatorium. If the project is not pursued, RRISD’s Board of Trustees can redirect the $22 million wherever they like. It could be used to fund some other project without seeking voter approval. In my opinion, RRISD will not be the primary beneficiary of the natarorium. If such a facility is needed, the City of Round Rock should build and operate it. The City can then charge RRISD and other users for its use.
Marshall Sprigg 4-17-2017
RRISD Bonds Deserve an “F”
The RRISD Bond Propositions contain many worthwhile projects, but as I have explained in previous posts, at least 40% of the $572 million is earmarked for projects of questionable need, that could bedeferred, or that have excessive price tags. RRISD may have gotten it 60% right, but that is still a failing grade.
Recognizing that most voters do not have time to peel back the layers of the onion, I have done a lot of research and posted multiple threads to explain why the 3 Bond Propositions should be voted down. For your convenience, I am summarizing them here and providing links to documents with more detail. The first document is a 5-page summary of reasons to vote “NO” on the bonds. It explains why some projects are not justified by RRISD’s own enrollment projections, how nice-to-have projects are bundled with other projects to force the hand of voters, how RRISD’s track poor track record of managing operating expense raises doubts about its ability to spend bond money efficiently, and why voters should focus on debt service payments rather than incremental tax rates.
The second document goes into more depth on why RRISD’s efforts to focus on incremental tax rates is like looking at the tip of an iceberg while ignoring what is below the surface.
The third document shows why High School #6 in Proposition #1 is not needed in the near future, especially after spending $64 million to expand Round Rock HS. Even if HS #6 is needed at some point, the $150 million price tag will make it the most expensive high school in the history of Texas, even after adjusting for inflation. By reducing its physical size to match Cedar Ridge, RRISD could reduce the cost by at least $33 million.
The fourth document shows why conversion of CD Fulkes Middle to a visual and performing arts center in Proposition #2 is not a wise decision. The total cost to build the academy is $51 million ($6 million from 2014 bonds + $45 million from 2017 bonds) versus $15.5 million to renovate/upgrade existing facilities at CD Fulkes. The $36 million premium will not result in higher enrollment, so it has nothing to do with growth.
The fifth document shows why the Indoor Aquatic Center ($22 million) in Proposition #3 is a project of questionable value, and if pursued at all, should be built and operated by the City of Round Rock, not RRISD.
The final document discusses RRISD’s elusive goal of becoming a “destination” school district and how this fuels its unending appetite for spending.
Marshall Sprigg 4-25-2017
Early voting against Round Rock ISD Unaffordable, Wasteful and Dishonest Bond starts TODAY (24-Apr-2017), and there is news about our Ethics Complaint against the Pro-Bond corporate PAC forces. It appears that a “corporate” contribution of $7,536.75 was made by a PAC which dissolved itself 2 months before making the contribution, in violation of Texas Election Code Title 15, 253.031(b):
A political action committee supporting the Round Rock school district’s $572 million bond proposal made an illegal contribution to another PAC after it was dissolved, according to the state ethics commission. (Austin American-Statesman)