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As a November 2022 bond issue looms in Texarkana: Beware the charm of TISD Superintendent Doug Brubaker

Jun 3, 2022

Education insiders within the state of Arkansas (and many in North Texas) realized that the hiring of Doug Brubaker meant that the TISD Board of Trustees wanted a bond election.

It was no secret. 

The Board did indeed pick Brubaker as the Texas-side superintendent. He was the man who took Fort Smith Schools into a $120 million millage election - and won! The success in the May 2018 election was a feat that had not been accomplished in more than 30 years.

Now, Brubaker must deliver a significant election victory in Texarkana to get his next big superintendent job in a few years. This will keep his reputation as a bond (or millage) election winner. 

The problem is that "victory" likely means a significant property tax increase for many Texarkana businesses and hardworking families.

Planning for the future

A meeting was scheduled yesterday (June 2) for the committee examining the bond issue. Two previous meetings have already happened on May 10 and May 19. You can read about them by clicking here.

Over the next few weeks and months, we will be examining the TISD bond issue - because it is almost certain that an election will happen in November 2022. And that's what Doug Brubaker and the Board want.

Fort Smith companies felt duped

Much of the $120 million for Fort Smith Schools was supposed to have been spent locally. But local businesses were frustrated that the Board made it challenging to bid and/or compete for the millage election work.

One local firm told Arkansas' Talk Business & Politics: "If anyone made waves, or if anyone considered taking their concerns to a Board member, then forget about any future work with the district. You could forget about it because it became real clear real fast that working with us [local firms] was not important."

A respected Arkansas columnist even started calling the superintendent the nickname "Brubaker & Co."

Of course, many people in Fort Smith were happy about the millage election projects and had no problem with the $120 million costs.

Playing games

Brubaker's office was accused of not being forthcoming about how much money was spent with local businesses. And people at the news outlet Talk Business & Politics were angry that they had inadvertently reported incorrect information about how much money went to local industry.

Apparently, the district told the media that Fort Smith Schools' local spending was 46.2% of $88 million (for construction-related costs). But the news outlet said it later learned that $40 million of it was paid to a company that just had a small office in Fort Smith and was headquartered elsewhere.

In a persuasive essay titled "Riff Raff: Local Problems," writer Michael Tilley said: "It is insulting and sad that Brubaker & Co. asked the Board and public to believe such a specious claim. But the School Board and public shouldn't feel special because local contractors, architects, and other firms were treated in ways that also are insulting and sad."

A high-stress task

The Texarkana committee members planning the bond proposal may not realize the importance of their job.

And maybe the handpicked members will have the courage to reject a bond issue. But that's doubtful.

Since this bond issue has likely been planned for more than a year, the committee members are being presented with massive amounts of information: charts, graphs, reports, and speakers.

These documents and materials have taken months and months to prepare. Because of this, there is no way Texarkana committee members can feel anything but overwhelmed as Brubaker & Co.'s voluminous work is presented to them. 

Likewise, many committee members would find it hard to defy the district even if they wanted to do so. Citizens' committees for school districts are usually filled with handpicked "stakeholders" - good citizens, who are often beholden to the district in some way or another, such as current employees, students, representatives from local businesses, bank officials, etc.

It's all planned this way

From the information presented in the May meetings, it appears Doug Brubaker already knows what he wants for the bond election, including millions for tech and construction projects.

After the final meeting, Brubaker will no doubt forcefully move forward with the bond issue proposal and tell us it came directly from the Long Range Planning Committee - not him. He will probably imply he is simply the vessel to deliver what the "citizens" want - even though he has likely been planning it since he came to Texarkana.

Doug Brubaker is persuasive and may very well be a nice man. But he also seems to be a big spender on school projects. The $120 million agreed to in Fort Smith was a price cut from an original amount of more than $658 million, initially proposed by the Citizens Committee in Fort Smith. 

Don't believe it? See the screenshot below taken directly from Fort Smith's "Proposed Projects and Millage Package" in 2018. The document said the projects had been reduced from 65 to 15 for "$120 million reduced from $658 million." It honestly sounds like everyone involved thought they were playing with Monopoly money.

How much will it be?

A huge price tag is likely on its way to Texarkana. And the same thing could happen here with an "ultra massive" number later being cut by 80%, as it occurred in Brubaker's previous job in Fort Smith. But you can bet that any proposal will still be enormous - unless taxpaying voters become vocal. 

Of course, the huge price cut in Fort Smith was mainly for appearance's sake to be used as ammunition against anyone who thought the final number was too big. A detractor could be told: "Hey, we cut what the citizens wanted by $538 million."

TISD is about half the size of Fort Smith Schools. So could Texarkana's final number be $60 million? Or will it be more significant with construction price increases and come to $80 million or $100 million? We have learned that information presented to committee members in Texarkana has included details about construction price increases for Texas schools being built during the pandemic.

We also discovered a one-minute video of Doug Brubaker speaking about the Citizens' Committee in Fort Smith on Feb. 2, 2018, a few months before the Fort Smith election. It is worth viewing, and you can watch the video below.

People who have attended citizen meetings in Texarkana with Brubaker will likely notice the same careful language and phrasing. That's how we know a Fort Smith-style spending spree is coming to Texarkana - courtesy of Brubaker & Co.

Hopefully, Texarkana's Long Range Planning Committee will not let us be "Brubakered" into a $60, $80, or $120 million bond election. And maybe, just maybe, there could be a frugal bond election if it is actually needed... or none at all.

Dig deeper: 

Click here to read our analysis of TISD's Imagine 2026 strategic plan.

Click here to read the secret history of the 2022 TISD bond issue.

Editor's note: Watch a video from February 2018 in which Doug Brubaker explains how the "Citizen's Committee" is making plans for Fort Smith Schools. This is the same type of citizens' committee structure used in TISD meetings right now.

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