(Bloomberg) — US voters gave an emphatic thumbs down to spending tax dollars on school sports facilities while greenlighting many academic or technology upgrades as higher interest rates drove taxpayers to recalibrate their priorities.
Of the roughly $1 billion spread across about 40 bond proposals to build new or repair existing athletic facilities, swimming pools and recreational facilities, most of the measures failed, according to a Bloomberg analysis of data from S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Global Markets Group and the Texas Bond Review Board. That contrasts with the more than $27 billion of bonding proposals for other types of public work projects that were green lit by voters this month, the data show.
“There is a bit of push-back from taxpayers when it comes to funding athletic facilities or non-academic related projects,” said Jeffery Timlin, managing director Sage Advisory Services. “Voters tend to value education initiatives and are willing to pay for it, but athletic facilities don’t fall within that category.”
With some strategists calling for a recession as early as next year, residents are prioritizing essential projects like new school buildings while forgoing less critical ballot items like upgrading football fields.
“I voted on my conscience for what my neighbor’s children need,” said Joe Leonard whose kids have now graduated from high school in the Lewisville Independent School District, outside of Dallas, which had asked voters to approve multiple referendums for various projects across campuses. The proposals that passed included $961 million to refurbish campuses and update safety equipment, while those that failed focused on funds for renovations at stadiums, aquatic centers and locker rooms, among other projects.
“Football spending far outstrips its usefulness to the students of Texas,” Leonard said. “It’s just time to put the priorities where they pay.”
Friday Night Lights
Texas requires districts to separate out sports complexes from school buildings in its bond proposals.
“The requirement for separate propositions allows voters to approve new buildings, safety improvements, technology, etc. while saying no to stadiums and/or event centers,” said Leslie Martin, a Texas-based portfolio manager for Cavanal Hill.
Other states including Iowa, Minnesota and Washington, also had bonds that included athletic facilities on the ballot. Voters outside of Tacoma, Washington, denied a $204 million bond proposal for upgrades to Fife High School which included new indoor and outdoor athletic facilities, while those in western Minnesota rejected a plea for $10.8 million of debt for new fields.
Among Texas’ more notable rejections: Ratliff Stadium in Ector County, the backdrop of the 1990 book Friday Night Lights, saw its $8 million stadium improvements bond proposal flop. A representative of the district said that around Texas, “smaller, auxiliary propositions are more difficult to pass.”
And voters in Prosper — a Dallas suburb — put an end to what would have been the state’s most expensive school stadium at $94 million, although they approved $2.7 billion for other projects in the district.
Read more: Texas Voters Balk at Borrowing $94 Million for Football Stadium
“Ultimately it’s a huge victory for the ISD, and unfortunately for families like mine, the impact to our pocketbook is going to be felt in future assessments,” said Emily Cochrane, a homeowner in Prosper who voted against the proposals.
Rachel Trotter, chief communications officer for Prosper ISD, said the district will conduct a poll to find out why voters rejected the stadium bonds before presenting the proposal again.
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