Construction companies have built the financial foundation for the political action committee advocating for Fort Worth ISD’s $1.5 billion bond package.
About 78% of the Our Kids Our Future PAC’s $118,450 in contributions came from companies that work in the construction industry and that have previously worked on projects for the school district, according to a Fort Worth Report analysis of the group’s Oct. 4 campaign finance report.
Thomas Marshall, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, was not surprised to hear 28 out 38 of the PAC’s donations came from companies with a history of working with Fort Worth ISD.
“That’s a very common pattern,” Marshall said.
However, donating money to a group supporting a bond that will spur dozens of construction projects does not mean a company is guaranteed to get a contract with the school district, Marshall added. Companies have to go through a bidding process, and eventually the school board will consider awarding a contract during a regular meeting.
The Rev. Charles Johnson, who also leads Pastors for Texas Children, is the chairman of Our Kids Our Future. He expects to raise more money than the $148,315 collected in support of the 2017 bond. The PAC’s next campaign finance report is due Oct. 25.
Fort Worth-based architecture firm Huckabee has donated $15,000 to the Our Kids Our Future PAC — the largest contribution listed in the group’s campaign finance report. Huckabee designed the Western Hills High School renovations as part of the Fort Worth ISD’s 2017 bond. The company did not donate to the PAC that pushed for the 2017 bond.
Other large donations from companies that have worked for Fort Worth ISD include $11,000 from Dallas-based Satterfield & Pontikes Construction and $10,000 from Weatherford-based Imperial Construction.
Building and designing schools is a niche, Marshall said. Companies have to know state requirements and have to construct buildings that have a life expectancy past 50 years, he said.
“It is a fairly specialized niche of large contractors who will all essentially finance these campaigns,” Marshall said.
Four years ago, the pro-bond PAC rallying support for Fort Worth ISD’s $750 million proposal had a more diverse mix of contributors. The group was called Citizens for Classroom Excellence and was a specific-purpose committee organized by the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce.
Brandom Gengelbach, the chamber president, said his organization occasionally uses that tactic, one that it is currently using to push for Tarrant County’s $516 million bond also on the Nov. 2 ballot. The chamber will create the group and campaign for the bond, as well as house and deposit donations into the PAC.
Some in the business community did not want the main chamber to endorse the bond over concerns with the district’s academic performance, Gengelbach told the Fort Worth Report.
“That’s an important conversation to have, but we were very adamant about that performance issue should not be a referendum on voting for this bond,” Gengelbach said. “This bond election is not about school performance, it is about infrastructure needed to support the kids and support their development, safety, experience, their self esteem and self confidence and to learn in more state-of-the-art surroundings.”
The bond also has earned Mayor Mattie Parker’s support.
Marshall described this election as needing a more targeted campaign. A bond proposal in an off-year election featuring constitutional amendments almost guarantees low turnout.
Fort Worth ISD’s last bond election saw 17,439 ballots cast for a turnout of 7.22% of registered voters. The district’s 2013 bond saw 10.62% of registered voters showing up at the polls; 23,167 votes were cast.
More than 8,300 ballots have been cast during early voting across Tarrant County, which has more than 1.2 million registered voters. Early voting ends Oct. 29, and Election Day is Nov. 2.
Without formal opposition, the PAC and school district are betting on driving out voters who are likely to vote in favor of the bond. The best way to target those types of voters is through direct mailers or door-to-door campaigning, Marshall said.
Regardless of how much money the Our Kids Our Future PAC raises, Marshall expects voters to approve Fort Worth ISD’s four-proposition bond. In May, 58 out of 64 school districts successfully passed their bond packages. Last November, 37 school districts had bond elections — 27 had at least one bond measure pass.
“It’s pretty hard to screw up a school bond election in a reasonably prosperous economy,” Marshall said. “Occasionally, you’ll see one that fails, but that is very rare. Mostly they’re passed.”
Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.