Vote should spark conversations, review of plan

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 11, 2017 at 4 p.m.

By voting down the Victoria school district bond proposal, district residents lost on an opportunity to increase teachers' pay, while giving students vastly better buildings in which to learn.

If the proposal had passed, it would have led to better education for all students, but somehow most residents didn't get that message. School board members will need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to better connect with the community.

Tuesday, voters soundly said no to the proposed $141.2 million bond package that would have replaced four school buildings, made improvements to other campuses and improved athletic facilities.

The reasons for the failure vary from it was too soon after Hurricane Harvey to the district did not include the public enough in its planning. Of course, a big reason for voting no always is the concern that taxes already are too high.

While these concerns have merit, it is fair to say one of the concerns was beyond the district's control. No one expected - or ever wanted - a hurricane. The bond election had already been called by the time the storm hit. There was no turning back at that point.

The need for the bond remains. Many of the district's buildings are at least 50 years old and badly in need of replacement or major renovation. The community was shortsighted in voting down the proposal, but school board members and their supporters must accept that somehow they didn't sufficiently share the school district's vision for the future.

The district had identified four campuses that needed to be rebuilt. This would have given students modern, safer places to learn. The bond also would have created a multi-activity center for football, band, baseball, softball and track. This athletics component of the bond seemed to be a focus of much of the opposition.

Although there was no organized opposition to the bond, much of the community conversation against the bond occurred on Facebook. There, people posted many half-truths and unfounded theories about why to vote no.

Meanwhile, bond supporters used a traditional campaign of community meetings, mailed fliers, yard signs and other advertising. Some tried to engage opponents on Facebook, but this didn't happen frequently or consistently enough to make a difference.

Victoria is fortunate to have one of the best superintendents in the state in Robert Jaklich. He already has begun rallying the district to recover from this defeat. In a statement to the community, he wrote, "Upon visiting with many individuals this morning, we learned that we must do a much better job of informing our community about the issues we face as a school district, and we must provide more opportunities for our community members to be involved in the decision-making process."

He is exactly right. The district needs to reach out more often and more effectively to the community. This effort has to go beyond scheduling community meetings that are sparsely attended. School board members need to go to wherever residents want to have the conversations.

Of course, we urge the public to do its part as well and be an active part of constructive conversations.

This process likely will take a couple of years for school board members to truly listen to what people are saying about their schools and then reshape a new bond proposal to bring back to the voters. Unfortunately, the need and the cost for the building projects will only rise during that time.

The community showed in 2007 that it would support a bond proposal if given a reason as clear as fixing the mess of high school consolidation. The new campaign will have to find a similarly clear pitch. The search for that starts with the school board and their supporters going out into the community to listen.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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