The HISD bond committee has some feedback

Don’t we all.

Houston ISD should provide more communication and transparency around its $4.4 billion school bond proposal, including plans for pre-K expansion and co-locations of several campuses, before a potential vote in November, according to a recent advisory committee report.

After conducting community meetings and surveys in June, the district’s 28-member Community Advisory Committee shared a report with the appointed Board of Managers last week outlining more than 20 recommendations that address “challenges, opportunities, and questions” with the largest proposed bond in Texas history.

The committee’s list of suggestions for district leaders includes conducting regular public meetings about the bond, providing transparent project timelines, establishing internal officials who can be held accountable for work on the bond and clarifying how the district will address health and safety concerns at campuses if the bond does not pass.

“This is part of the beginning stages of a conversation,” said Judith Cruz, committee co-chair and former HISD board president. “We heard loud and clear from the community … how important that transparency piece is. What we’re recommending is making sure that there’s transparent systems in place and that there’s controls based on lessons learned from previous bond recommendations.”

The bond, if approved, would allocate about $2.27 billion for expanding, rebuilding and renovating campuses with “poor facilities and learning conditions,” with 40 schools set to receive significant overhauls. Of those funds, $580 million would go toward renovating or rebuilding seven campuses to accommodate eight other campuses that would “co-locate” their students.

The committee’s report states that HISD should explain how certain schools were selected for investment, including how the seven co-locations will “address the specific needs and concerns of the affected communities.” The co-locations also should take advantage of common areas and roles while retaining each campus’ unique identity and culture, the recommendations said.

Some of their other suggestions include asking the district to incorporate student enrollment projections and pre-K classrooms in building designs. The district also should explore options to share underutilized space with community partners that could provide services to students, the report says.

The report comes as several HISD teachers, parents and community members have said they are planning to vote against the bond due, in part, to a lack of trust in state-appointed Superintendent Mike Miles and his reforms, such as the New Education System, with some adopting the rallying cry of “No trust. No bond.”

Let’s put a pin in all that for a minute and zoom in on one specific aspect of the bond, which Houston Landing gets into.

A Houston ISD committee advising the district on its proposed $4.4 billion bond is questioning a big piece of the project: investing about $425 million in career and technical education centers.

District officials want to build three new CTE centers and renovate the district’s current CTE center, Barbara Jordan Career Center, which students across HISD visit during the school day for industry-focused classes. The new centers, which would be spread throughout the district, would give students more access to career and technology classes and shorten travel time for students.

But HISD’s bond advisory committee, a group of 28 community members responsible for providing feedback on the district administration’s bond proposal, pushed back in recent days on the plan. Committee members suggested the $425 million could be spent on existing schools, questioned how the centers fit into HISD’s overall CTE plans and called for more details on the proposal.

The committee didn’t oppose building the CTE centers, but it recommended the district consider delaying them until a future bond. The district’s state-appointed board of managers will decide in the coming weeks whether to ask voters to approve a bond package, which would be the largest in Texas history.

“We recommended it primarily because when we looked at the number of them and the amount of the bond proceeds going to the CTE centers, it seemed to be a large amount of money, compared to other priorities of the bond,” said advisory committee co-chair Garnet Coleman, who served three decades in the Texas Legislature.

[…]

HISD administrators, including state-appointed superintendent Mike Miles, said the district doesn’t have enough CTE centers to prepare kids for high-paying and high-tech jobs in the modern workforce. Most of the district’s high schools have career-focused classes, but few offer expensive technology and specialized training often found in CTE centers.

In a presentation to HISD board members last week, Miles said HISD needs to immediately build CTE centers to give students the resources they need.

“Even if the bond passes, it’s going to be three years from that time when the first career tech ed center is up and running,” Miles said. “We’re talking about a timeline here. I don’t think our kids can wait.”

This article has a good graphic that shows how the bond money would be allocated, as currently defined. Have a look while I hit on the three things that I thought about while reading these two stories.

1. If this version of HISD had been good at “provid[ing] more communication and transparency” about literally anything, we’d have far fewer problems now than we do. I mean, among many other things Mike Miles royally sucks at communications, to the point where the only reasonable conclusion is that he just doesn’t think it’s worth his time and effort. All I can say is that if the Community Advisory Committee is any better at providing more communication and transparency from Miles and his minions, can we please throw out the Board of Managers and replace them with the CAC? Pretty please?

2. It’s not really the CAC’s problem to manage, but whoever runs the pro-bond campaign really needs to understand the depths of the “no trust, no bond” movement and figure out a way to deal with it, or I believe they will have a hard time passing it despite the electorate’s normal propensity for supporting such bonds. I have no advice to offer here. I’m not sure how much of that contingent is persuadable. I’m just saying they ignore it at their peril.

3. There’s been a debate within HISD and at large for some years now about college readiness versus vocational readiness, which is a way larger discussion than I can deal with in this post. I don’t know enough about CTEs or the reasons why HISD needs more than one of them (unlike other large neighboring districts). I’m just going to note that I find it a little weird to see Mike Miles loudly advocating for them. I know he’s the Superintendent for all of HISD, but I don’t think I’m alone in seeing him first and foremost as a turnaround specialist with a limited mission, specifically to improve the performance of a set number of schools and a set of specific student populations. His main priority is that mission, and anything else he does should be viewed through the lens of whether or not it furthers that mission or distracts from it. I’m not saying we can’t have the CTE stuff in this bond, but to me the default position should be the one taken by the CAC, which is that it would be better to defer this to a later bond. If there’s a compelling reason for it, fine, but if not it’s a distraction and should be put aside.

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One Response to The HISD bond committee has some feedback

  1. Kenneth J Fair says:

    What I want to know—and what no one seems to have made clear—is the exact conditions for Miles’ departure from HISD. What are the goalposts? What will it take? Because all I see is a pretextual state takeover that seems to be designed to damage HISD to justify Greg Abbott’s misguided voucher mania.

    The pretext for the state takeover of HISD was—as you say—to improve the performance of a set number of schools and a set of specific student populations. And instead, Miles is taking all sorts of steps that have nothing whatsoever to do with that stated mission.

    As best I can tell—and please correct me if I am wrong—there is absolutely no stated end goal for when the state takeover of HISD will end. I think what will happen is that Miles’s tenure will be stretched out as long as he wants to remain. We will simply be at his mercy, with no recourse at the ballot box.

    I’ll vote for a bond if Miles states the conditions for his departure. Otherwise, I’m just encouraging this undemocratic garbage.

    And yeah, I get it that the schools need the money. But do I trust this gang to spend it well? I do not.

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