Education

HISD Board Starts Dissecting a $4.4 Billion Bond Election Proposal

Superintendent Mike Miles explaining why the district's relocation plans are good options.
Superintendent Mike Miles explaining why the district's relocation plans are good options. Screenshot

"This is going to be a hardball situation," former Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman told Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles and the HISD Board of Managers Thursday night.

He was referring, of course, to passage of a proposed $4.4 billion bond issue when there is a lack of trust among many members of the public about what the new HISD administrative regime is doing. If approved by the board, the bond proposal would be up for a vote on November 5. The district has said the bond would not result in an increase in the tax rate.

Consideration of the bond issue came after a lengthy presentation of STAAR score achievements by Miles and his administrators followed by an almost mind-boggling dive into NWEA scores. Miles was in his element with charts and graphs on his power point explanation, acknowledging early on that how the NWEA scores are calculated is difficult to understand. He plunged ahead anyhow.

In any case it wasn't until after several hours into the meeting that began at 4 p.m. that the bond presentation began and the Board of Managers began asking detailed questions about how the package was assembled, particularly about the proposal to four Career and Technical Education centers  in different sectors of the district, at significant cost.

"I have a lot of questions about the need for a CTE facility in all of our divisions. To me it screams redundancy," said trustee Cassandra Auzenne Bandy.  The administration's position is that there's to much travel time for students if there's only one CTE facility. The report from CAC does recommend that the centers be phased in and delaying to a future bond completing this concept.

Divided into three sections, the bond issue would devote $1.04 billion to safe and healthy campuses (Miles emphasized that fencing for security was needed), $1.07 billion for "future ready" (technical imrpvements for students and teachers) and $2.27 billion to restore many of the schools. The administration has also proposed relocating some low enrollment schools so that two different schools occupy the same campus in either adjacent buildings or one shared building. In some cases this would iinvolve building a new school.  Not all trustees are comfortable with this either.

Trustees Adam Rivon and Rolando Martinez questioned what data the district is using to predict the size of these relocated schools with shared campuses.

Plans are to continue expanding pre-K offerings while also admitting that the number of new slots -- 800 in the coming year -- still falls far short of what the district would like to do for that young population, increasingly recognized as a crucial component to seeing more children reading on grade level by the third grade. The bond would add 4,000 additional 3 pre-K and 4 pre-K seats wwhich according to their calculations would still leave another 25,000 students in that age ground unserved.

"The last bond was in 2012," Miles said, adding that this was mostly geared toward the district's high schools. "The last time we made a significant investment in our elementary and middle schools was in 2007 and even then we didn't meet the needs of all the schools at that time."  He said other Texas districts had spent a lot more money for their facilities in recent years, even districts much smaller than HISD.

Actually Superintendent Mike Miles' administration says the needs of the district far exceed the $4.1 billion but it was acknowledged that a bond issue of more than $10 billion with an accompanying increase in tax rates would have little likelihood of passing.

Coleman and former HISD Board member Judith Cruz were there as two of the three co-chairs of the Community Advisory Committee and they sat through the entire meeting including the public speakers section in which several people addressing the board concluded their remarks with the "No trust, no bond" chant that has been mantra expressed frequently in recent months.

Coleman asked members of the public to separate their feelings about Miles' New Education System -- known for its daily testing and regimented approach to learning -- from the real need HISD students have for newer buildings that are not dealing with mold, leaks and unsafe conditions.

"This initiative is long overdue," Coleman said. "It's imperative that the younger students get what they need." Both he and Cruz said the district is going to have to be transparent in its plans if it is going to get buy-in from the community.

The proposed co-locations of schools, as described by HISD:

· Holland MS, Port Houston ES, and Pleasantville ES (Furr Feeder)– Holland MS and Pleasantville are currently adjacent (separated by a street).  This co-location would organize the three schools on the Holland parcel – each with distinct entrances, staff, and programs.  There will be transportation needs for the Port Houston community to access the new campus. 

· Fleming MS, Isaacs ES (Wheatley Feeder) – Fleming MS and Isaacs are currently two blocks apart and are high FCI campuses, with low utilization.  Fleming requires a rebuild, and has a large parcel, which presents the opportunity to co-locate Isaacs on the parcel in an adjoining building. 

· Franklin ES, Edison MS (Austin Feeder) – Franklin ES was closed for HVAC upgrades during the 2023-24 academic year and will re-open in August 2024.  Edison is located two blocks from Franklin, has high FCI, and is under 50 percent utilization.  There is room on the Franklin parcel to build a smaller middle school for Edison. 

· Key MS, Kashmere Gardens ES (Kashmere Feeder) – Kashmere Gardens has high FCI (83 percent) and low enrollment (331 students).  There is ample room at Key Middle School (41 percent utilization) to accommodate the Kashmere Gardens students, with renovations to ensure the two schools retain their identities.  The district will address the transportation needs of the Kashmere Gardens families to ensure access to the new facilities at the Key campus. 

· Baylor at Ryan MS, Blackshear ES (Yates Feeder) – Baylor at Ryan is low enrollment (313) and utilization (32 percent).  Blackshear Elementary is also low enrollment (301 students) and utilization (55 percent).  This co-location combines the two schools at the Ryan campus, with renovations to keep the school communities separate within the space. 

 · Deady MS, Sanchez ES (Milby Feeder) – Deady is low enrollment (494 students) and low utilization (37 percent).  Sanchez is low enrollment (431 students) and poorly sited.  There is ample space at Deady to co-locate the Sanchez community, and Deady is more central and convenient to the Sanchez attendance zone. 

· Cage ES, Project Chrysalis MS (Austin Feeder) – Cage and Chrysalis are an existing co-location.  Cage is recommended for a rebuild, and Project Chrysalis, while small (252 students) is currently a temporary building campus (of poor quality) located adjacent to Cage Elementary.  Since Cage will be rebuilt, it is an opportunity to move Project Chrysalis into more permanent structures.  This could become a shared building with separate entrances, yet some common amenities and spaces. A complete rebuild with permanent structures for both will allow them to remain at their current site – but in healthier, safer, and more effective learning environments.  
And here's the workshop presentation from HISD:

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