Saturday, May 06, 2006

The whining begins in earnest

Is anyone besides me tired of all this bitching about the price of gasoline? Am I the only person on the planet that thinks that gasoline is a ridiculous bargain at 3.00/gallon? Consider the following:

Name another substance that can propel a 1 ton piece of steel down the highway at the speed of 60 mph for a mile for as little as $.06. I can guarantee you the $0.06 worth of food won’t move one person a mile down the road, much less a ton of people.

Or here is another analogy [stolen from The Oil Drum]. How much would you be willing to pay for a year’s worth of hard manual labor from 1 adult male in good shape? On one hand, the current market place suggests that in the US you would be unlikely to be able to buy this labor for less than $10,000 (assuming you were exploiting illegal immigrants) and probably not less than $25,000. However, if we remember our physics, we can estimate how much work can be done from the energy in a barrel of crude oil. Moreover, we can calculate that the energy in 1 barrel of oil has the capacity to be roughly translated into the equivalent of one year of hard manual labor. So since we know how much our society values a barrel of oil ($65 - $75), we now know that we have been drastically overpaying for a year of manual labor - either that or we have been drastically undervaluing crude oil.

The problem isn’t the price of oil. The problem is that we have built our whole society around the unsustainable premise of having ridiculously cheap oil forever. Up until now the price of oil has been based upon the cost to find it, get it out of the ground, and deliver it to consumers. However, it’s no longer a buyer’s market. The watch phrase now is “what the market will bear”. And we know that “addicts” will bear quite a burden to satisfy their craving.

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Vote No - to Katy Bond Proposal

It has taken me some time to digest the multitude of information available on the Katy ISD bond proposal and come to some informed, logical conclusion. My knee-jerk reaction is to vote for the thing, supposing that our school board, superintendent and bond committee know more about the needs of the district than I do. Growth must be met, schools must be built; it should be as simple as that. I don't like the idea that existing schools should be burdened with over-crowding and its adherent problems, when a simple solution is available. Vote yes, problem solved. Unfortunately, here is why I am voting no.

I have felt for some time that the Katy ISD School Board is too closed to outsiders. Oft repeated is that no incumbent has lost an election in more than a decade. That being said, I do not think that I can support either of the two candidates running for seats in this election. Both seem to have an agenda I cannot totally buy into. Last year I supported AJ Duranni, who was not elected, but I hope in the future more men and women like him vie for seats. We need trustees who have the school children, and not private motives, at heart.

My problem with the bond proposal has to do with its lack of focus on existing schools - $261.5 million for new projects and technology, with only 20% available for older schools. The district proposal makes a point of explaining why they are shifting the expenditures from operating budget to debt driven. The Robin Hood recapture plan takes money from the former, but not the latter. Think of it like your income tax; what you pay in interest you take off you taxes. Bonds are not subject to recapture, therefore, any money spent profits our district. It is a good plan, but one Katy ISD is not using to support its current schools and students.

While the bond proposal does a good job of identifing the subject of growth, it undervalues the need for capital expenditures for existing, older schools. Buildings are like homes, they are assests that need to be upkept, or they are of no value. The children in these schools deserve to be counted more than those anticipated in the future. While there is a need to plan for growth, there is a greater need to service those who already live and go to school in this district.

It should also be recognized that new home buyers shop districts as well as neighborhoods. No matter what developers say, a quick trip around the area will tell prospective buyers that this is a district that will spend money on new schools, without a thought to older ones. Prudent buyers will not be fooled into thinking it won't happen to them. In the end, more monies must be spent on existing schools before new ones are built. As much as technology and infrastructure are important, so are clean, healthy classrooms in which to learn.

Debt financing-phobes should not worry as the district is only redirecting money to pay for capital expenses. What should really be on every voters mind is the state of our students and our schools. Vote No on the bond proposal, and ask the school board to make your student his first priority.