Sen. Dan Patrick's charter school bill has drawn the ire of the one school district that probably would have been the most favorably inclined to support it: Houston.
The Houston Independent School District was charter friendly long before other school districts were, mainly due to the influence of then-superintendent Rod Paige. The nationally known Knowledge Is Power Program, for instance, probably would not exist on the scale and scope it does today if Paige hadn't allowed the original campus to co-locate in HISD's existing school district facilities.
Ironically, it is the facilities portion of Senate Bill 2 that has become the sticking point for HISD. Under the bill, school districts with "unused" or "underutilized" would be required to notify the Texas Education Agency, which would then post excess property online for charter schools to lease or acquire at the cost of $1.
Patrick, the chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has scheduled a hearing on his omnibus charter school bill on Thursday morning. And, yes, Patrick does represent the portions of HISD not represented by Sen. John Whitmire or the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. Gallegos's seat will be filled next month.
For HISD, turning over unused facilities would be financially disastrous, district leaders say. Surrounded on all sides by aging campuses, the state's largest school district has turned to selling off excess property to fund the construction and reconstruction of schools around the district. Last year's $1.6 billion bond package, in fact, pledged to replace Condit Elementary School and The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice through sale of surplus property.
When The High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice sits on land near the prime intersection of Memorial and Shepherd drives, it's not just an inconvenience to give up the land to others. It's probably a $35 million loss.
Spokesman Jason Spencer notes HISD has recouped $32.4 million in taxpayer money over the last five years through the sale of property, money that is being reinvested in Houston schools. At this moment, HISD still has ten properties posted for sale, with proceeds earmarked for facility needs.
"Any legislation that would hinder HISD's ability to continue recouping taxpayer assets by selling property and reinvesting those tax dollars back into Houston schools would add to the financial burden on HISD taxpayers at a time when the Texas Legislature is failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund public schools," Spencer said in a rather stiff but clearly unhappy statement from the school district. "It is HISD's position that the state does not have legal authority to require a locally controlled independent school district to essentially give away facilities that were approved by voters and funded by local taxpayers."
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