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Who's counting the nickels and dimes? Texarkana ISD massive $200 million bond proposal faces new controversy after comments surface

Aug 15, 2022

Eagle-eyed skeptics of Texarkana ISD's almost $200 million bond election have been discussing past comments from TISD's Long Range Planning Committee chairperson that appear to blow up the school district's narrative surrounding its ambitious building plans.

Shreveport lawyer and co-owner of Wiggins Eye Center, Rendi Wiggins, seemed to admit that financial constraints were not essential to her committee's work during a presentation at the TISD Board of Trustees meeting in June. 

An early summer press report quoted Wiggins' defense of her committee's extravagant spending request of almost $200 million. Vice-chair Derrick McGary, a State Farm Insurance agency owner, also lent his support at the meeting.

Wiggins said: "That's a big number, and we understood it not to be our task to go through and nickel and dime what we needed. So this is what we came to, but ultimately, it will be up to the Board which ones need to go into the bond."

In August 2022, these words from June have come back to haunt the district's bond proposal as citizens have been discussing them over the weekend. 

That's because some residents are concerned decision-makers may not have even troubled themselves with "hundreds" or "thousands" - and just considered millions.

Say what, Rendi Wiggins?

Let's think about what Wiggins said. 

First, she stated that the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) "understood" that it wasn't their job "to go through and nickel and dime what we needed."

If not through the committee members, how will citizens have a voice to ensure that nickels and dimes and "value for money" have been fully considered? It appears to only be their votes in November.

At the same time, Wiggins said her committee was recommending $187 million in spending - and that the committee would trust the Board to pick and choose the final projects to go before the public. 

A lower number was expected

It seems some committee and community members believed the Board was likely to significantly slim down the number of projects and the total cost - just like the Board in Fort Smith, Arkansas, did when Doug Brubaker was superintendent there.

In fact, the Fort Smith School Board decreased its Long Range Planning Committee's spending request by more than 80% for it's millage increase election. Click here to read more.

But the selfish Texarkana ISD Board of Trustees and superintendent actually INCREASED the amount Rendi Wiggins proposed on behalf of the Long Range Planning Committee on June 29 to a whopping $189 million.

This is not normal

The highest ever TISD bond issue was $29 million in 2014. Two other TISD bond elections passed in 2007 and 1997 for $27 million each, and a TISD bond election for $29 million failed in 2010. So, as you can see, a bond proposal of almost $200 million is outside the norm and incredible. But, at least now we know why.

According to Rendi Wiggins' statement, the Long Range Planning Committee did not feel especially restrained by cost - as she said committee members did not feel compelled to "nickel and dime" the proposals Superintendent Brubaker put forth.

Citizens are struggling

In today's recessionary economy in Texarkana, Texas, the overwhelming majority don't defend doctors against malpractice suits from patients like chairperson Rendi Wiggins or own their own insurance agency, such as vice-chair Derrick McGary.

Right now, most people are forced to actually count their nickels and dimes to pay for essentials like mortgage payments, rent, air conditioning, school clothes, gas, and food. 

And, now, after property taxes have already increased dramatically, the Board of Trustees announced they want about $200 million more? Click here to read the full story.

Out of touch

Everyone involved in the decision-making process seems somewhat out of touch with the financial realities of average Texarkana citizens.

But we don't pin the blame for the outrageous $200 million bond proposal on the handpicked committee, its chairman, or vice-chair. 

Superintendent Doug Brubaker brought the projects and plans to the committee. And it was the Board of Trustees that ultimately sent the propositions to voters, who will decide on November 8, 20222 - with early voting starting on October 24, 2022.

And it must be noted that the Long Range Planning Committee only met four times from May to June 2022, according to TISD's Long Range Planning website. The meetings happened from 5 pm to 8:30 pm. Thirty minutes of that time was set aside for dinner.

So if TISD's information portal is correct, the Long Range Planning Committee only met for 12 hours over 2 months - which equates to almost $50 million in spending recommendations per meeting - or about $16 million in spending for each hour the committee met.

Maybe we should be thankful they didn't meet more often.

Not enough time

It is also clear that committee members did not have time to "study" much of anything in just 12 hours of total meeting time, as confirmed by the agenda documents on the TISD website. During each meeting, the committee was basically given a one-sided argument to justify each project, which probably included a lot of glad-handing.

Plus, we have already discussed that the voting system for the committee put forth by the superintendent was essentially rigged for a desired big-dollar bond issue with three ways to vote "yes," four ways to abstain, and just one way to vote "no."

What it all means

It is not surprising that concerned citizens are talking to friends and neighbors about how such costly plans could just be dropped from the sky. And it is clear many voters who have stayed silent are also confused. Citizens generally want to support the district, but the amounts of money involved are almost too significant to comprehend - much less support with their votes.

Walking around your neighborhood or seeing friends in restaurants or stores, you will hear stories of many Texarkana residents who have had to put off home repairs, vacations, and more. Yet, at the same time, Texarkana ISD's bond proposal seems to spare no expense - no nickel and dime counting here - as they try to fulfill every wish and suck every penny out of the public.

So the question for voters of this almost $200 million bond issue is: Who counted the nickels and dimes for the proposed bond election?

Sadly, we found out the answer: probably, no one.

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