McALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling has come out firmly in support of McAllen ISD’s proposed $297 million bond package, which voters will decide upon in this coming Saturday’s referendum.
Darling makes the case for the bond issue in an open letter to Erica de la Garza, president of the board of trustees at McAllen ISD.
“The need for capital improvements has been thoroughly reviewed and defined by many community volunteers, professionals and district staff. Unfortunately, the only real method of funding to address the challenges and needs is a bond election,” Darling wrote.
“I fully understand that $297 million dollars to provide major and minor renovations at every McAllen school is a great deal of money. I don’t like the idea of raising taxes or paying taxes for that matter. However, after learning first-hand about the condition of these aging facilities, I’m convinced the need is real.”
Darling said McAllen voters must make an investment for its community to prosper. “The need is not about the performance of our teachers and students, which is admirable. This bond election is about aging facilities and how their improvement will not only enhance the district’s performance but enhance our community.”
Darling started his letter by pointing out that he spent time with over 300 McAllen ISD students at his recent State of the City address. “I listened to their stories, what they like about McAllen, their dreams, and their goals. I was truly inspired by them. I firmly believe that as leaders of our community, it is one of our duties to provide a future for them. We need to give them every opportunity to succeed by enhancing our educational system, public infrastructure, and quality of life. We need to provide them with employment opportunities that keep them here or make them want to return. This is essential to McAllen’s economic and social vitality,” Darling wrote.
Darling said he knows from his time as mayor that it is difficult to make capital improvements from a general fund. He said it is a duty of a city administration as well as a school board to “fully evaluate not only the needs of our public entities, but also the impact it will have on our citizens, especially the most financially vulnerable ones.”
Darling told De la Garza that, like other citizens of McAllen, he was “a little surprised” with the initial proposal of a $440 million bond issue. “The primary reason for my reaction wasn’t that I doubted the need existed, but the overall cost was very high and that it was considered as a one time, one shot, yes or no to the voters.” He said he was pleased MISD’s board of trustees listened to the citizens and business community.
Darling said he was “comforted” that the MISD Board “heard, understood and responded” to the message of those citizens who were concerned with the tax impact of a $440 million bond issue. He said that by reducing the amount requested as a total bond issue to $297 million and passing a resolution that among other things, commits the Board to breaking the bond issue into three loans tentatively set for 2015, 2017 and 2019, it allows the tax impact to occur incrementally instead of all at once.
In addition, Darling said, the MISD Board will have a second election for a Tax Ratification Election (TRE) that authorizes the Board to raise the tax rate to make the balance of the improvements and also begin a “depreciation” fund of sorts to allow the Board to take care of future needs as they arise.
“These important commitments give the citizens opportunities, on more than one occasion, to decide whether to vote for or against these propositions. In other words, it gives them options,” Darling wrote. “I would suggest that you place the two items on the ballot no closer than twelve months apart. This will allow you time to ramp up the design of the necessary facilities and separate the first two tax increments in order they not occur in the same tax year.”
Darling said the improvements contemplated in the bond issue are “necessary to ensure that our children have an environment of learning and gives them great sense of pride that only McAllen has.” Darling said the community must always be committed to providing future generations the facilities conducive for success.
“While we cannot guarantee that all students will reach the highest potential possible, we can provide them an environment that promotes a desire to achieve superior goals. I am a firm believer that education equals economic prosperity. Underlying most every measure of our community’s future economic success is the expectation that our school district will prepare our young people for jobs and opportunities, including those that don’t yet exist. The success of our school district is vital to the success of McAllen. Our employers and our region need a well trained workforce.”
Darling said that when he arrived in McAllen in 1978, he remembered how much pride then Mayor Othal Brand had in McAllen ISD. “Working with him for over 20 years, and later with two other mayors, I have a definite connection with the past and present. McAllen was built on MISD’s leadership in education,” Darling wrote.
Darling said McAllen schools have produced many of the leaders in the Rio Grande Valley’s retail and business industries. He said that for years, new residents coming to McAllen for retail and manufacturing opportunities had located there because of the local schools. He said that has changed somewhat primarily because McAllen ISD is ‘landlocked’ and new population growth – and the new schools that go with that growth – are in other school districts.
“Both the aesthetics and learning environments of our facilities must be modernized to compete with surrounding cities and school districts,” Darling wrote. “New families will demand clean, modern, well equipped schools that are safe. Good schools create good communities.”
Darling said that while he is still proud of McAllen ISD, “there is not much to boast about regarding the condition of our older schools, especially McHi and Memorial.” He said that while the school district has great teachers, curriculums, and programs that produce a quality education, “our schools lack the latest in Career Technology Education spaces, science labs, fine arts, athletics, technology, agricultural farming, and security. Many of our neighboring school districts do possess these modern educational amenities,” Darling wrote.
“I believe that McAllen deserves better. I know that we, as a community, can provide better. I don’t want us to have to catch up to our neighboring school districts. We need to leap ahead with modern facilities that will give our kids and teachers every opportunity to succeed and to generate community pride, but do so in a reasonable, responsible manner. We need to ensure that families will want to remain in and relocate to McAllen so our City’s prosperity continues to follow those rooftops.”
For these reasons, Darling said, he supports the McAllen ISD bond issue. He said he trusts the board of trustees will carry out the projects in the manner it has promised.
“On a final note, please encourage everyone to vote, whether you are for or against the bond issue or any election issue; letting a few decide for the many is not the way we should decide our future,” Darling concluded.