Letter prompts resident to speak up about bond

Published on Monday, 21 October 2013 23:22 - Written by KELLY GOOCH kgooch@tylerpaper.com

A letter distributed to Jacksonville ISD parents and students about the district’s upcoming bond election has prompted one longtime resident to speak out against the action.

The $22.785 million bond issue, which will go before voters on Nov. 5, would be for a new West Side Elementary School to be built off College Avenue, as well as an additional eight classrooms, a new band hall, and converting the current band hall into classroom/storage space at Nichols Intermediate School, according to the district.

In the letter, Jacksonville ISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Wardell writes that the bond “is all about safety and classrooms,” and if approved by voters, would remove the need for portable buildings at both schools.

“West Side’s 62-year-old facility would then be comparable to the other JISD elementary schools,” he writes.

The letter, which includes enrollment numbers, also addresses the tax increase the average homeowner would see if the issue is approved, which, according to the district, is $5.16 a month. The letter states that the increase does not apply to seniors whose tax bills are already frozen.

It further encourages parents to contact the district if they have questions, and to “learn about the bond proposal and participate in the American democratic process as you see fit.”

Wardell said he wrote the letter, gave it to principals, and then the principals put their campus letterhead on it and signed it, so it would be a personal letter to the recipients. He said a minimal amount of money was spent to distribute 4,900 copies of the letter.

When it comes to informing voters, he said there is always a fine line.

On the one hand, the district wants to ensure that people are informed, but at the same time, the other side is saying it wasn’t right to send the information out, he said.

Overall, though, Wardell said he would rather send information out so that voters can make an educated decision at the polls.

“That’s why (the district) sent information home. That’s why I spoke to (numerous) groups,” he said.

“It’s all been informational. It hasn’t been to vote ‘Yes.’ I’d rather have informed voters and one person upset than to have the other side (believe the district is) trying to hide stuff. I think it’s important to have information out,” he added.

But Rod Carnahan, 73, said to him, the letter was not an ethical way to distribute the bond information.

“They’re pushing the envelope, it appears to me. They’re going overboard with it to get the money,” he said.

According to the Texas Election Code, a district officer or employee “may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising.” However, it states that the rule isn’t applicable to “a communication that factually describes the purposes of a measure if the communication does not advocate passage or defeat of the measure.”

Additionally, it states that a district officer or employee “may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for a communication describing a measure if the communication contains information that the officer or employee knows is false; and is sufficiently substantial and important as to be reasonably likely to influence a voter to vote for or against the measure.”

While Carnahan weighed in on the letter, he also weighed in on the bond as a whole, saying he believes this is not the right time for the bond issue.

“With the economy right now, it’s just a bad time to be having a bond issue,” he said.

Carnahan said he is not against the bond forever, but he believes the issue should be on hold for a while.

On the other side, VoteYes4Kids, a political action committee in support of the bond, is working to get the word out through its Facebook page, the website www.jacksonvilleschoolbond.com , and other means.

VoteYes4Kids treasurer Ken Smith said the group, which formed in 2010, the year voters approved a nearly $50 million bond issue proposed by Jacksonville ISD, has received about $200 so far this year in contributions, bringing its total, including leftover monies, to about $1,200.

Kathleen Stanfill, a volunteer with VoteYes4Kids, said the group recognizes that there is a need for the bond. She said concerns with the 62-year-old West Side include the number of exterior access points. Additionally, she said, the classrooms are smaller at West Side than at the other elementary schools, and enrollment exceeds capacity.

Ms. Stanfill said she believes building new schools also enhances economic development.

As far as proposed additions for Nichols, she said she believes band is a great extracurricular activity.

In the end, “if you really want to see change in Jacksonville, the quickest way to do it is at the polls,” Ms. Stanfill said.

Wardell said anyone with questions is welcome to call the district at 903-586-6511.

More information about the bond is also available on the district’s website, www.jacksonvilleisd.org .