Austin, TX, 78738, USA

Are the LTISD Trustees Open to Taxpayer Feedback?

Are the LTISD Trustees Open to Taxpayer Feedback?

Several community members spoke out at the July 20, 2022 Board of Trustee meeting asking that approval of the Long Range Facility Planning Committee recommendation be delayed. The Board of Trustees did vote later that night to defer their vote on the recommended propositions until August.
Two days later, on Friday, July 22, 2022, I sent this letter to the Board of Trustees. In this letter, I offered to prepare a formal presentation to the Board to provide them with additional considerations as they contemplate the bond recommendation and prepare for their vote. As of Saturday, July 30, 2022, I have yet to hear a reply from anyone.
To the LTISD Board of Trustees –
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at Wednesday night’s Board meeting (7/20). I appreciate that you understand the magnitude of the proposed bond amount which is being contemplated.
There were 4 statements made during “Agenda Item 6A – Consideration and Approval of an Order Calling a Bond Election to be Held by the Lake Travis Independent School District” which I would like to recap here and then comment on.
1. The amount this time includes larger ticket items than ever seen before – High School #2 plus 2 Elementary Schools. So we have looked out not only to our needs now but also in considering student growth projections which are pretty significant. 2. All of the information that has been given to the Bond Committee (the Long-Range Facilities Planning Committee) is the same information that we have seen as a Board. That information is also all available online on the District website, and I would encourage people to dig into that and take a look. That is the information that all of us have before us at this time. 3. Procedurally, delaying this vote would not allow any discussion or deliberation between now and the next time it is on the agenda. We only discuss Board business in a properly called and noticed meeting where we are together and have a quorum. So this delay would allow Mr. Norton to be part of that discussion but it would not change our process in any way in the interim. 4. It was noted that the delay does allow us more time to ask and obtain more information before we make that decision.
Please correct me if I have recapped anything inaccurately.
As I have mentioned in previous Public Comments, the Board needs to foster more due diligence, accountability, and transparency with respect to financial matters. In the future, I will be developing specific recommendations for Board consideration to increase accountability and transparency by District Administration to the community. For the moment, I want to focus on due diligence as we are about to ask the voting community to consider building LTISD debt to be close to the $1 billion mark.
As suggested in the Board meeting, I have been digging deep into what has been posted and available on the website concerning the bond items. HS #2 and the 2 Elementary Schools represent approximately ½ of the $703M bond recommendation. I believe the Board should reevaluate the need for the 2nd Elementary School at this time. Projections say that the addition of just 1 Elementary School with a capacity of 850 students would build enough capacity to carry us through to school year 2029-2030.
This would “only” reduce the $703M by about $50M.
But the larger issues I see are with the other ½ of the $703M recommendation.
A few examples, brought up publicly at the Board Meetings and on the FB page:
* District Technology plus Campus Technology (at about $40M and $15M) with no explanation was a concern. I am grateful for the PDF posting that Mike Dahlhauser posted on July 18th on the Facebook: 2022 LTISD Bond Information Page. (I’ve included that attachment here for your reference as I do not believe that information is posted on the website.) Unfortunately, this additional detail only served to yield further questions, which I posted publicly on the FB page and brought up in my Public Comments last night. Why are we estimating $2.65M in technology in a new school? (Another speaker discussed more technical questions about the same estimate category which I find valid as well.)

* How does a Baseball Concession Stand get estimated at almost $1M? That does not make sense. We were told verbally at the June Board meeting that we would be given more detail – now we are being asked to wait for Board approval. I don’t agree with that approach, especially after learning that the Committee and Board may not have this information either. Yikes.

* Why do we have $5M in millwork and $500K in miscellaneous hardware when we have $38M in Facilities Conditions Assessment allocated. Did the facilities assessment overlook the condition of door hardware and millwork? Who is reviewing the actual FCA Assessments (e.g., Findings, Recommendations, Estimates) that have the details behind the bullet points and the line item contributions to the school subtotals and the $38M total. The optics here are bad.

* Almost $5M for Special Programs – what are these? Each school is asking between $375K and $575K – what is this money for, and should it be monies that we pay interest on for x number of years? I don’t know. Someone needs to say.

* Are there non-capital project monies in here? It looks like it – athletic uniforms and curriculum as a few examples. These are not capital project needs (i.e., building / managing infrastructure assets) which is the stated intention in the draft resolution. We should not be paying up to 40 years of interest on these expenditures.

* What are the operating costs? We have hiring challenges, but let’s put that aside. If you ask for capital to build a refinery, a bakery, a restaurant – you see the capital ask, but you also are given an understanding of the revenue and expenses that the capital asset is going to yield. What is the educational value of the capital projects and how much additional operating costs are expected to be added? Like the $3M barn – how many students are going to be able to raise how many goats and livestock animals and how much additional operating cost is that going to add? Is this providing an equitable and inclusive treatment for a potentially small number of students?
My digging has led to so much more but after last night’s comments, I now have a larger concern and a suggestion / offer.
If the Committee, the Board, and the Public all have the same level of detail about the estimates, then we are facing a different issue than I thought. That is that the Committee didn’t vet the estimates as part of their process, and the Board and the Public can’t vet the estimates because that level of detail is not available. Couple that with a recommendation of having every requested line item be included…yikes. Who is making the hard choices? Today, it’s looking like only the voters will be in that role.
And if the Committee is not discussing the operating costs, no one has prepared M&O estimates for consideration in conjunction with the infrastructure increases. Yikes again.
Is the Board willing to gamble that the voters will agree to propel our debt to the $1 billion level with no one in the recommendation and approval chain of the process verifying the integrity of the numbers? In my view, the days of “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it” are gone. We owe it to voters to either vet the data to provide solid backing to the recommendation or give them the data where they have an opportunity to judge for themselves.
It was said Wednesday night that we have time now to do more review. I understand, and totally appreciate, doing board business according to policies, procedures, laws, Robert’s Rule of Order, etc. So, announce and hold a Special Meeting between now and August 17. Add me to the agenda. I will work to prepare an analysis report and recommendations with the material that we have available. I will send out a pre-read for the Board Book. If you feel comfortable, I’d like to include a few from the community as I am not a lone person. But I’m not “representing” any organization. I’m speaking out as a concerned citizen and really want the same thing you do – success in funding the HS, address the elementary growth, and improve our campuses which need capital renovations. If I would need to present alone, I am fine with that. Just know that I stand with other concerned citizens. You (and Committee Members, if appropriate) can ask questions – I / we can give you opinions. It’ll all be on the record. You can invite others to present as well. Or Committee Members for rebuttal. But at a minimum, the Board will have a second set of recommendations for closed deliberation and the like to consider before getting to the August 17 agenda and vote. The ballot deadline can still be met.
The goal here is to get to winning propositions. From what I’ve seen and heard, the recommendation on the table presents many risks for success. And with yield curves remaining inverted, I believe we are in for even harder economic times which is only going to put further pressure on getting “Yes” votes for November 3.
We have the time to change this course – let’s do it. Thank you for your consideration.
Respectfully yours,
Susan Harbin

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