, Port Arthur, Texas

March 1, 2012

NISD should give voters a la carte choice

The Port Arthur News

— The clock is ticking down to a March 5 deadline for Nederland Independent School District trustees to call for a bond issue to take advantage of a low-interest loan to increase energy efficiency at schools in the district. The $7.3 million Qualified School Construction Bond funds would be available at very low interest rates to install energy efficient windows and lighting. That’s too good of a deal to pass up no mater what decisions are made on other bond proposals the board has been considering.

Trustees are scheduled to meet Thursday to once again consider whether to present a bond package to NISD voters. The board no doubt remembers the strong message of the voters in 2009 when  a $120 million bond package was defeated 79 percent to 21 percent by 4,105 voters. Several factors combined to bring that bond issue down, including being in the low point of the worst recession in a generation, an organized campaign against the proposal and the all-or-nothing way the bond, which included millions for athletic facilities, was presented to the public.

In addition to the $7.3 million QSCB bond, trustees this year have discussed a second proposition for $21.2 million to replace the 800 window air conditioning units currently in the district’s schools with “central heat and air” systems. We think the district’s voters will see the cost savings and other benefits of replacing the old window units and will support a bond to make the upgrade.

Some in the district oppose the plan to spend money on school buildings they see as obsolete, but we detect little appetite to fund the tax increase a massive rebuilding campaign would require. The stinging defeat of the 2009 bond and the very real need to replace the window units are good reasons to put this proposition before the public rather than proposing a much more expensive major rebuilding program.

Those who do want to rebuild schools in the district may want to test the waters with a third proposition that would spend $16 million to demolish and rebuild an elementary school. But that proposition should stand on its own and not be tied to other propositions that would fund much needed improvements to outdated windows and inefficient window units.

NISD voters spoke clearly when they turned down the $120 million bond package in 2009. The board and a facilities committee have looked at the district’s needs as opposed to its wants and have come up with some scaled down proposals that we believe the voters will support if they are provided with solid information about why the spending is needed.

An a-la-carte approach of separate propositions will allow voters to support the energy upgrades and still have a choice about rebuilding an elementary, rather than having everything fail because it is on one take-it or leave-it package. The voters took trustees to school with that lesson in 2009.