HISD planning bond election

The fall ballot gets a little longer.

The Houston Independent School District is preparing to ask voters to fund up to $1.8 billion in bonds to replace and upgrade aging campuses.

Superintendent Terry Grier has said the bond referendum – which would go to voters in November if the school board approves – likely would focus on high schools.

Grier plans to reveal his specific proposal Thursday. Sources familiar with the plan say the amount will be as high as $1.8 billion, likely requiring a property tax increase of 6.25 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“You could spend many times that number and still not touch everything,” Grier said.

At that amount, owners of a $200,000 home would see their annual property tax bill rise by $91 annually in a few years, when the district prepares to start construction.

A $1.8 billion referendum would be more than twice as large as the $805 million HISD voters narrowly approved in 2007.

Work from that package is still under way, but even critics of the district acknowledge more schools need repair. The question is whether taxpayers – some skeptical after two recent audits criticized HISD’s contracting process – are willing to pay.

We’ll see how well the proposal is received. The 2007 bond referendum had problems in large part due to opposition from the African American community, who didn’t like the plans to consolidate some campuses or the way HISD communicated with them about the referendum. Avoiding self-inflicted problems like that will undoubtedly make the task of getting the bonds approved a lot easier. The other problem HISD will have to contend with is that the ballot is crowded and getting more so. We know that Metro and the city of Houston have bond referenda in the works. In addition, there may be city referenda relating to the homeless feeding ordinance and immigration. There may be others before all is said and done – Nancy Sims notes that HCC may have a bond referendum in the works as well – but just these are enough to make them harder to keep track of and may make it easier for the all-purpose “just say no to spending for anything” crowd to confuse the issues. But that’s to be dealt with later. Let’s see what Grier produces on Thursday and how the Board of Trustees reacts to it for starters. That will give us at least an opening idea of how it might play out from there.

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