HISD board approves its bond package

In the end, it wasn’t a close vote.

The school board voted 8-1 to seek a $1.9 billion bond issue that would rebuild or renovate most of the district’s aging high schools, remodel several elementary and middle schools, and upgrade campus technology. The plan calls for phasing in a tax rate increase expected to cost the owner of a $200,000 home an extra $70 a year in 2017.

Trustee Greg Meyes was lone no vote.

Trustees now must work to rally voters after some on the board have joined other elected officials in casting doubt on HISD Superintendent Terry Grier’s proposal over the last two months.


During the meeting, a last-minute change was disclosed in the expected impact on the property tax rate. HISD’s chief financial officer, Melinda Garrett, who earlier estimated that the bond package would cause a 7-cent increase, said Thursday that the amount could decrease to 5 cents if property values increase.

Grier has said the bond program has the potential to transform Houston, remodeling some of the oldest high schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods and rebuilding some of the most prestigious magnet schools.

Given that a majority of the trustees were publicly uncommitted to vote for the package as recently as the day before the vote, the final tally is a fairly strong statement and a bit of vindication for Terry Grier. The revelation that the resulting tax increase might be smaller than initially projected is good news as well. The total size of the package may seem intimidating and will likely be attacked in and of itself (as if the usual suspects would be less critical of a smaller number), but the flip side to that is that it has something to offer for a lot of people.

The drawn-out questioning could make it more difficult to win voter approval on Nov. 6, said Rice University political science professor Bob Stein, who has polled voters about the bond proposal on behalf of HISD.

“I think it has undermined voters’ confidence in adoption of the bond,” Stein said.

A poll conducted before Grier rolled out his plan in late June found that 48 percent supported a $1.8 billion bond issue and 28 percent opposed it. At that time, Stein said he thought HISD had a good chance of passing a package.

Now, with the city and Houston Community College planning bond referendums, he has this message for HISD officials: “They have to work very hard. They have to put on a big campaign.”

I agree that everyone needs to pull together on this, but I’m less sure that the process so far has damaged the bonds’ prospects for passage. Whatever concerns they may have had before, they must have been sufficiently addressed to get everyone but the same naysayer as 2007 to vote Yes, and that to me is what matters. Frankly, from what I recall of the 2007 referendum, this one has not been nearly as contentious. Sure, it’s still early – it’s not clear yet if Rep. Sylvester Turner will go full bore against it, and bring others with him if he does, and there was that Chron op-ed from the day of the board vote expressing their concerns – but so far it seems pretty muted. I think overall HISD is in a better position starting out than they were five years ago. Sure, don’t take anything for granted, and they should work hard not just on their own issue but with the other entities pushing theirs, but I feel pretty good about where things stand.

Finally, on a personal note, I really don’t think you can overstate how much top quality facilities can mean. I went to one of the best high schools in the country, but at the time I was a student it was a dilapidated 80-year-old building that was overcrowded and underequipped for its population. By the time I went back for my 10-year reunion, they had moved into a fantastic state-of-the-art building that completely blew me away when I visited. It wasn’t just the jealousy I felt at how vastly better the students’ daily lives must be in a place like that, it was the realization of how much more I could have gotten from my high school experience if I had had all of what this lovely, enticing building had to offer. I understand that just because we build it doesn’t mean anyone will choose to attend these new schools that will result from the bond package. What goes on inside the buildings matters, and there’s still a lot of room to do better there. But nobody wants to send their kids to run-down schools that clearly can’t meet their kids’ needs and may be unsafe to boot. You can have a great school without a great facility, but you’re needlessly handicapping yourself by doing so. This is a big step in the right direction and we’d be fools not to take it. This email from Trustee Paula Harris has a ton of details, and Stace has more.

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