DALLAS — After seven months of delay in issuing $49.3 million of general obligation bonds, the Waller Independent School District is asking the Texas Supreme Court to order the state attorney general to authorize the bond sale.
Attorney General Greg Abbott has refused to approve the issue because of continuing litigation. Attorneys for the district say the lawsuit has been settled by the courts and should no longer delay the issue approved by voters last May.
The Houston-area school district won in state district court and saw its victory upheld by the State Court of Appeals. However an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court and a similar lawsuit in U.S. District Court have prevented approval of the bond sale.
The significance of the delay goes beyond Waller ISD, because the same attorney who sued the district, Ty Clevenger, filed a similar suit against the Houston Independent School District on similar grounds, holding up $800 million of voter-approved bonds. Both lawsuits claim violations of the state’s open meetings law and discrimination against minority students in the planned use of the bond proceeds.
In Waller ISD, Clevenger is representing a Waller County parent and Justice of the Peace DeWayne Charleston, who claims that the district has failed to properly maintain a predominantly black elementary school while providing money for other uses, such as athletic facilities.
In Houston, Clevenger represents a group of citizens who asked him to file a similar lawsuit after reading about the Waller County case. Both the Houston and Waller ISD bonds need the attorney general’s approval before they can be issued.
Patrick W. Mizell, a Vinson & Elkins attorney representing both districts, filed a writ of mandamus, asking the Supreme Court to order the approval of the bonds.
The petition cites the state’s Public Securities Declaratory Judgment Act enacted to stop a single disgruntled taxpayer from stopping an entire bond issue by filing suit.
The attorney general’s refusal to approve the bond sale “means that the bond opponents have achieved their objective of holding the school district hostage and stopping the entire bond process — the very objective that Chapter 1205 of the Texas Government Code was designed to prevent and resolve in an expedited matter.”
“Waller ISD and other similarly situated districts (such as HISD) will not be able to proceed with voter-approved, much-needed improvements in the districts for months (or possibly not at all if the window of opportunity is lost),” Mizell’s petition reads.
Waller ISD will lose its bond guaranty from the Texas Permanent School Fund on March 14 if the bonds are not sold by then, the petition states. The Texas PSF provides triple-A ratings for districts in Texas at low cost, obviating the need for outside insurance and reducing the cost of issuance.
Complicating matters is the fact that Clevenger is also challenging the constitutionality of the Public Securities Declaratory Judgment Act, allowing a court jurisdiction over all related litigation. Under the act, both the Waller and Houston districts filed bond validation lawsuits to clear the bonds for sale.
In the Houston case, the bond validation suit was filed in Austin before any suits were filed. In the Waller case, attorneys sought court validation after Charleston lost his case in the state district court. In both cases, the courts validated the bond issues.