Fort Worth ISD trustees discuss how they should proceed on an item tapping a bond financial adviser during a meeting on Nov. 10, 2021. (Screen grab)

Fort Worth ISD trustees made it clear to administrators they wanted more information before moving forward with a bond financial adviser.

Nonetheless, district staff on Nov. 9 still pressed forward for a single adviser without justifying the recommendation.

“I struggle with why would we go back to one financial adviser when we had two to make sure that we are responsible for managing the taxpayers’ money,” trustee Anne Darr said.

After two deadlocked votes, the school board decided to keep the district’s existing pair of financial advisers and allow Superintendent Kent Scribner to renegotiate their contracts. The decision was 8-0.

Estrada Hinojosa & Co and RBC Capital Markets currently advise Fort Worth ISD on bond finance. This arrangement has been in place since 2017. Their current contracts ends Feb. 27, 2022.

Both companies sought to be the sole adviser. Chief Financial Officer Mike Ball decided to seek one bond finance adviser. When trustees asked why, Ball did not explain his rationale. Instead, he told the school board the two advisers, while competent, caused headaches over how their work would be coordinated.

Both companies are paid on a per-bond sale basis. The rate decreases as the total sale of bonds increases. Since 2018, RBC Capital Markets has received $564,047 and Estrada Hinojosa & Co. $549,390, according to the district.

Ball also did not tell trustees why Estrada Hinojosa & Co. was picked to be the district’s bond financial adviser. He said it was difficult to quantify the effectiveness of a financial adviser. 

The board’s vote directed administrators to determine which firm will lead and review.

The Fort Worth Report has submitted an open records request asking for the bids of all four companies that sought to be the district’s finance adviser and any documents used to review the companies. Fort Worth ISD is seeking an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office on whether it should release the documents.

Although school board members are charged with ensuring the district is fiscally responsible, several trustees said they should not micromanage staff and should go with administrators’ initial recommendation.

“We’re not financial experts, but we do hold the superintendent accountable, and the superintendent has a chief financial officer that is very astute in finance,” board Vice President Quinton Phillips said. “This is the recommendation. We should go with it.”

Phillips was part of a four-trustee bloc that initially voted against going with two firms and then agreed with letting Estrada Hinojosa & Co. be the sole adviser. The other three trustees were CJ Evans, Jacinto Ramos and Roxanne Martinez. 

The other bloc was composed of trustees Anael Luebanos, Michael Ryan, Tobi Jackson and Darr.

Ramos was the only trustee who voted against tabling the financial adviser item at the board’s Oct. 26 meeting. He said he has been demonized as a brown man for wanting to just go with a single finance adviser.

“We told this community we’re going to lean into governance,” Ramos said. “My friends, this isn’t governance.”

Jackson, the board president, said she wanted to achieve one goal after a $1.2 billion bond passed this month by 57 votes.

“I want public trust to be at the maximum,” she said.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.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.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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