The DMN’s look at the DISD Bond Was Fundamentally Flawed

Yes, you should count replacements as repair

As expected, the Dallas Morning News ran its package of stories on the DISD bond. (Early vote now, you lazy good-for-nothings!) The central piece was this one, which tried to frame this vote as one where you’re deciding whether to pay for new schools or to fix old ones. I found that a silly suggestion, one that the paper tried hard to make stick. In doing so, it buttressed its premise with a few fundamentally flawed notions.

From the article:

“A proposed $1.6 billion bond program to be decided by voters Nov. 3 would pay for some of the repairs. But less than one-third of the package is earmarked for repairing schools, and of that, only $280 million would help fix the schools in worst shape.

Instead, most of the bond program is focused on opening new campuses, repurposing others for specialized programs and adding wings at crowded schools. It includes six new schools, three replacement schools, 286 additional classrooms, an expanded pre-K program, more science labs and bigger cafeterias.”

Let’s examine this assertion, which says that the majority of money in the bond is NOT for repairing schools.

From the capital plan summary, first page:

• $500M is for “Facilities Functional Equity.” That is “repairs.” That is less than one-third of the total.

But wait, there’s more.

• $464.8M is for new schools. Well, that must be the competition between new schools and repairs, right? Except most of this money is not for “new” schools. Most of this is for “replacement” schools, where the old school, in desperate need of repairs, is just being torn down and replaced with a new building. This is a distinction without a difference, especially when you consider the opponents of “new buildings” are most worried about a new site being picked for said school, which is not happening here.

How much of this money is for replacement schools? Here’s a list of the replacements where the plan calls for eliminating the pre-existing building:

  • Jill Stone – torn down, replaced with bigger building to also provide capacity relief at Hotchkiss: $29.51M
  • LG Pinkston – torn down, replaced with building with specialized career and tech options: $130.3M
  • Rosemont – the campus for older kids, originally built in 1922 for younger kids, replaced with age-appropriate layout: $41.5M
  • Rhoads – replacement of existing JJ Rhoads at Pearl C Anderson site: $29.51M
  • Roosevelt – tear down part of the building, new distinct building on the same site; calling this a new school at all is a bit of a stretch: $45M
  • West Dallas – tearing down one or more campuses and replacing with a K-8; specifics may change, but this is a replacement under any scenario: $65M

So this would be $340.82M in replacement schools that are effectively repairs to old buildings. For some reason, the DMN doesn’t count this as repairs in its bid to craft a narrative of “repairs vs new” story.

But wait, there’s more. There is another category the paper doesn’t think of as repairs. In the “Educational Adequacy Improvements,” there is money set aside to renovate things like cafeterias, libraries, gyms, choir rooms, etc. There is no reason in earth why the newsroom doesn’t think of these kinds of projects as renovating terrible spaces. (I talked to both co-chairs of the Future Facilities Task Force committee, the group that spent a year working on the proposal that became the bond, and they too were confused.) I say newsroom because the DMN editorial team has covered this problem in the past, and they did consider this renovation work. For example, here’s a May 2015 story that features photos of a theater room at WT White HS (image six of 17). If renovating a terrible theater room isn’t a repair, well, then, I guess I’m confused.

Sure, some of the money in the “Educational Adequacy Improvements” section is for renovations that also expand rather than just repair. So if you believe this is an important distinction (spoiler alert: it’s not), we’ll make a guesstimate to separate that out. I’ll be conservative and say the totals for repair in this section are $65M.

Then there’s a final section of projects, which earmark money for demolition of portables and land acquisition for some of these replacement campuses. The totals also include money for some of the new schools, and it isn’t split out. But it’s clear there’s a bit more funds under the broad heading of “repair.”

So the total for repairs in the bond proposal, being conservative: $905.82. The paper reports “less than one-third.” The actual number is “more than one half.”

Another fundamental problem is found in this sentence:

 

For example, some campuses would get new wings, even though the district hasn’t conducted a comprehensive review of whether changing attendance boundaries could relieve crowding.

This has been one of the central gripes from Joyce Foreman and Her Traveling Clown Show of education anarchists: that a review of attendance boundaries has not been done to see if these repairs/replacements/new buildings are even necessary.

Two crucial pieces of information about this assertion should be included in every story that mentions it:

  1. Attendance boundary information absolutely was considered by the Future Facilities Task Force in preparing its recommendations. A demographer from the district was at the meetings to answer questions and explain what would happen if a school was built here versus there, or how changing neighborhood dynamics would affect attendance. It was considered throughout the process, and no one on the task force itself at the time complained that they weren’t taking such information into account, according to both co-chairs.
  2. This is the exact same process that was used for both the 2002 and 2008 DISD bonds. In each instance, a comprehensive review was done after approval of the bond. That’s because this allows boundary changes to take into consideration possible new schools (like the new school in Wilmer and the new school near Titche/Blanton). Ignoring that bit of context when reporting on this is completely irresponsible. Anytime Foreman or anyone else complains, a reporter is not doing his or her job if the follow-up question isn’t, “Why is this a problem with this bond but not with the past two?” (Spoiler alert: it’s not a problem; it’s a convenient gripe to derail a process for self-satisfaction — destruction for its own sake.)

The article has a other problems — e.g., allowing the suggestion to stand that it’s not a dire need to address severe overcrowding at schools. It’s a tremendous problem when lunch is served at 10:15 for some students and as late as 1:30 for others, or when there are so many kids in buildings that closets have been turned into classrooms and building permits for more portables can’t even be obtained. But my biggest problem remains the narrative it tried to support: that there is some sort of real debate between repair/replace/build. The bond does exactly what a bond is supposed to do and what prior DISD bonds have done: – fix old building, replace old buildings, and expand buildings that are over capacity. Any other suggestion is simply the clown show honking on their tricycles.

 

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