AISD admits half-billion in extra debt if bond package passes

EXCLUSIVE: AISD admits half-billion in extra debt if bond package passes

The Arlington Voice has learned that the $663-million bond package for Arlington ISD is estimated to come with an additional half-billion dollars in interest and principal payments. This information was confirmed through an inquiry to AISD Financial Supervisor Cindy Powell.

But even the estimated $500 million in principal and interest payments is based on “extremely conservative assumptions,” according to Powell.

“We won’t know for certain what the total interest will be until all of the bonds are sold because interest rates fluctuate daily,” Powell wrote in an e-mail.

When combined with the $663 million in proposed spending projects, the principal and interest payments bring the estimated lifetime cost of the bond package to more than $1.1 billion.

The extra half-billion surprised Arlington resident Richard Weber, who said he attended almost all of the Capital Needs Steering Committee meetings.

“I don’t recall them ever stating how much in total interest would be paid,” Weber said. “It’s like they don’t want people to know about it.”

AISD’s website for the bond package lists the effect it would have on property taxes if passed; but it makes no reference to the interest and principal payments.

By law, AISD is required to disclose how the bond package will affect property taxes. It is not required to disclose the estimated half-billion in principal and interest payments, however.

A house bill introduced in the 83rd legislative session would have required municipalities and school districts to disclose this information, but it didn't pass.

In lieu of this law not passing, Texas State Comptroller Susan Combs established a website called TellTheTruthTexas.org, which lists debt information for school districts and cities.

According to the website, as of 2012, AISD had more than $465 million in debt. If the bond package passes, AISD’s total debt would near $1 billion – a number which does not include the $663 million in proposed spending projects.

If divided evenly amongst AISD’s estimated 64,000 students, every student would carry $14,000 in debt – double the current amount each student carries, according to the website.

Arlington First mum on half-billion

A well-funded group in-favor of the bond package called Arlington First has not disclosed the anticipated half-billion in additional debt, either. Instead, its website calls the bond package a “basic, no-frills” deal.

More than 25 percent of the package will go to establishing a career-tech center ($46 million), an indoor practice field at each high school ($60 million), a district-wide athletic center ($25 million) and a district-wide fine arts center ($32 million). The District will also renovate all career-technology and fine arts facilities, and locker rooms at each high school.

If the bond package passes, the District will raze Hutcheson Junior High to make room for the career-tech center. Hutcheson students would transfer to Workman Junior High. To handle this influx of students, the District proposes spending $7 million to add classroom capacity at Workman.

In a phone conversation on Friday, Arlington First member and former co-chair to the Capital Needs Steering Committee Chad Bates declined to explain why his group is not disclosing the half-billion in principal and interest payments.

“I don’t have time for your questions, I’m cutting the ribbon at a ceremony tonight,” Bates remarked.

Bates did not respond to the Arlington Voice's questions sent to his e-mail either.

"I don't have time for your questions, I'm cutting the ribbon at a ceremony tonight."
Arlington First member and bond committee co-chair Chad Bate's response when asked why his group is not disclosing the half-billion in interest and principal payments.

Arlington First has received more than $22,000 in political contributions to sway support for the bond package. Donors include several bond committee members who helped assemble the bond package, members of the Chamber of Commerce, School Board Trustees and other political leaders.

Weber is part of an opposition group called It’s OK To Vote NO, that has raised no money.

“Our group is made up of a handful of concerned taxpayers who just want to see common sense applied as it relates to spending,” Weber said. “The District, on the other hand, is sending paid employees like the Superintendent to schools to pump-up the bond package to teachers. How can we even compete with that?”

New apartments "not factored" in overcrowding plan

Arlington First received a $15,000 donation from a company called Arlington Commons Lands, LLC. The only identifying information readily available on the company is a mailing address – which is listed as a private mailbox at a UPS store off East Lamar Blvd.

There are plans to build a large apartment complex near the same UPS store called Arlington Commons. The developer behind it is JCKPL AC, LLC.

Although there is nothing to confirm it, Weber guesses that the $15,000 came from JCKPL President Robert Kembell.

“It’s a little ironic considering apartments are the main source of overcrowding,” Weber said.

Since February, the Arlington City Council has approved two apartment complexes that were consistently opposed by the AISD.

In each scenario, AISD Financial Supervisor Cindy Powell signed letters of opposition warning that approval of each one would "strain the capacity of schools serving the area."

"Additional multi-family units will strain the District's ability to provide adequate educational facilities for the area," Powell wrote in the letter opposing the Arlington Lofts.

Another letter sent to the city council at the end of March cautioned against approval of the Sapphire Inspired Living apartment complex.

In the letter, Powell points out that enrollment at Berry Elementary and Arlington High already "exceeds optimal capacity."

"AISD's Board of Trustees is currently considering recommendations from a capital needs steering committee that include construction of several new facilities that will help relieve overcrowding at all six AISD high schools," Powell wrote in the letter. "New multi-family developments that have not been factored into this long-range facilities plan will make it difficult to achieve the relief we are seeking."

Despite warnings from the AISD, both apartment complexes were approved.

“Why are taxpayers being asked to pay for an ‘overcrowding’ problem which is apparently being created by over-ambitious council-members and apartment developers?” Weber asked.

When asked during a presentation, Powell said the District always tries to support the City, “regardless of its decisions", and that the letters from the District were "simply sent as a formality."

"New multi-family developments ...will make it difficult to achieve the relief we are seeking."
Written in opposition letter sent from AISD to the city council opposing a large apartment complex that the District predicts will create overcrowding problems.

“If the District plans to go along with the City as it continues passing these mega-apartments, then that tells me this bond package and this extra debt is not about dealing with overcrowding at all,” Weber said. “It’s about making sure special interest buddies get taxpayer-funded contracts that are bound to pop up as a result of this package passing.”

In spite of the fact that the AISD is sending paid employees to forums, schools, and teacher's association meetings to pump up the bond package, Weber says he and his crew of unfunded residents will continue canvassing forums and board meetings with printed flyers to inform citizens to “the real facts” about the bond package.

Early voting for the bond election starts Monday, April 28. Election day is Saturday, May 10.