Judson ISD to hire research firm to survey community after failed bond issues


Following the failure of its bond issues, the Judson Independent School District is looking to hire a company to conduct an extensive telephone and online survey of Judson voters.

At their March 24 board meeting, directors voted 5-2 to open a bidding process and rejected an administrative request for $60,000 to hire a research firm already doing business with the district.

Administrator Rafael Diaz Jr. offered to turn down the $60,000 contract with Audience Research and Development (AR&D), a Fort Worth-based company with an office in the San Antonio area.

AR&D was previously hired by the district to help improve branding, marketing, and public relations strategies to attract and retain students in the face of growing trends toward charter and free-attendance schools.

But several trustees had problems with the contract offer without engaging in a bidding process.

Diaz questioned why the job hadn’t gone through a competitive bidding process.

Superintendent Jeanette Ball said the district “appreciated the work that (AR&D) was doing with us and we wanted to move in that direction as quickly as possible to get more information.”

Administrator Jose Macias said he believed a tendering process could bring a supplier to a much lower price.

“If we just survey people, I would feel better knowing that we have a competitive process for this service,” Macias said. “”At some point, we have to go out for another obligation. In that case, I think $60,000 is too high…I think we can get it for half price.

“But what I want to be careful about is just picking a supplier because they’re there. And that’s what it seemed to me, with AR&D,” he added.

Voters turned down three bond issues totaling $302.5 million in November 2021:

Proposal A was to fund $252.3 million for school renovations and the purchase of land for a new elementary school and a new middle school. Proposal B proposed $14.9 million in updates to sports and recreation facilities. The third proposal was to set aside $35.3 million for technology upgrades throughout the district.

The administration recognized the work AR&D was doing to help promote the neighborhood and sought to expand its reach with the new contract.

“The specific data this can give us is much more specific. That’s one of the key things that’s so important is to really have that data,” Ball said. “That would give us the data to dig even deeper to find out what we think we know.”

Administrators kept talking about a “time crunch” necessitating the bid to extend the new scope of work to R&D without going out to tender.

“My lack of time is an inner crisis,” Ball said, “of wanting to meet the needs of our teachers and our students and being able to provide more options at an ever-increasing pace.”

But Administrator Debra Eaton separated Ball’s desire to “meet the needs” of the district from the council’s job at hand — a telephone and online survey of 78,000 voters in the district.

“I think we’re talking about two different things here,” Eaton said. “The survey is trying to ask people, ‘how did you vote on the bond,’ and all that. Teachers and all spatial issues, that’s a separate issue at the moment.

“I’m just concerned about spending $60,000 to have someone make these phone calls,” she added. “If it’s not something we need in the next two months…we could at least offer it to see if we can do it for less than $60,000.”

JISD Chief Buying Officer JJ McQuade spoke about AR&D compiling JISD data before the time crunch with the goal of possibly proposing a bond issue.

“He already has a lot of information, he already has a lot of data to work with,” McQuade said.

He said the arrival of a new company could delay Judson’s data collection effort by another six to eight weeks.

“It gives us better value to maintain a relationship with this vendor and keep moving forward so we don’t have an excessive time gap in there,” McQuade said.

Diaz asked McQuade if he would have recommended AR&D as a sole-source hire if the district hadn’t been in the time crunch detailed by Ball.

“Let’s just say we didn’t have a time crunch,” Diaz posed. “Would you have recommended a sole-source justification for this contract?”

“No,” McQuade replied.

Macias also questioned the scope of the work, given the district’s efforts to gather information about its failed bond issue in 2021.

“If all they’re going to do is find out what the pulse of the community is regarding the link, we already know that information,” Macias said. “So it’s $60,000 to do this and we already know what the problem is.”

Eaton said she agreed with Diaz and Macias. She said she couldn’t lie about the reason for the district’s bond breaks.

“There’s nothing to try to figure out what happened with the link. There was a simple statement at the bottom of each of those bonds (on the ballot),” she said. “I really don’t think calling anyone would help because we knew what it was the day the link failed.”

She said the district failed to communicate to the public that the ballot would contain a line at the bottom of each bond issue — “This is a property tax increase.”

That wording, she said, was created and enforced by the state legislature, even though the district said it wasn’t true.

“We haven’t communicated enough with the public to let them know, ‘Yeah, that’s going to say a tax increase. We had no control over this presence. It has to be there, by law. But (voting yes) won’t affect your school taxes,” Eaton added.

Diaz introduced the motion to deny the $60,000 contract to AR&D and order staff to prepare the issue for a bidding process.

“(The council) did not select this supplier,” he said. “The supplier has already been selected before this scope. We have not reviewed them. I’m not comfortable moving forward just because it’s easier for us and faster.

Administrators Shatonya King and Jennifer Rodriguez join Diaz, Macias and Eaton in demanding a competitive bidding process for telephone survey work. Board Chair Renee Paschall and Trustee Suzanne Kenoyer voted to retain AR&D as the selected vendor.

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