August 10, 2007
HISD bond referendum officially on the ballot

I've noted the proposed $805 million HISD bond package before. As of now, that package will be officially on the ballot this fall.

The Houston school board voted 8-1 Thursday to ask voters for $805 million to build and repair schools, despite criticism that they've excluded parents and taxpayers from the planning process.

HISD leaders promised to take residents' concerns about some of the details of the proposal into consideration before the Nov. 6 election. If approved, the bond would increase the property tax rate 3 cents.

One wonders if the combination of this bond proposal plus the Harris County bonds, which would also come with a property tax rate increase, might drive Republican turnout to defeat them this November. It's not quite as simple as that, since the Harris County bonds would have money for building jails as well as the support of the Republican members of Commissioners Court, but it's something to keep in mind. If it helps propel Tom Nixon, who's running for At Large #5 into a runoff, that would suck.

Because HISD's enrollment is declining, this bond would ultimately decrease the district's total square footage. Twenty campuses -- Smith Education Center and Bellfort Academy; Fleming, Ryan and Cullen middle schools; and Isaacs, Scott, Ross, Sherman, Crawford, Kennedy, Allen, Atherton, Dogan, Peck, Hartsfield, Whidby, Shearn, Turner and Kashmere Gardens elementaries -- would be consolidated or closed.

Joel Goza, a pastor with Pleasant Hill Ministries, said the proposal negatively affects too many schools in the black community.

"The proposed changes seem less than prudent and out of touch with the realities we are facing in Denver Harbor and the Fifth Ward," he said. "We ask, as others have before us, that you come to the table with us."

Abandoned school buildings will become eyesores in some neighborhoods, critics said. And some children could be forced to cross highways and railroad tracks to reach their new schools.

There's another issue I've heard about that isn't mentioned in here, and that has to do with the way some of these schools will be consolidated. Apparently, the plan is to combine some elementary schools with middle schools, to form K-8 academies. The problem with this, as I understand it, is that mixing the older kids with the younger ones introduces problems that don't otherwise exist - to put it simply, the older kids are more likely to be a bad influence on the younger ones. (Here's a story from Pittsburgh that's not encouraging, and an older one from Milwaukee that's more positive about the concept.)

Specifically, I'm told that the bond proposal would include this:

7 new schools to replace older school buildings, including:
1. A new K-8 school to replace Fleming Middle School and Isaacs, Scott and Ross Elementary schools
2. A new school to replace Ryan and Cullen middle schools
3. A new school to replace Sherman and Crawford elementary schools
4. A new school to replace Kennedy and Allen elementary schools
5. A new K-8 school to replace Smith Education Center, Atherton and Dogan elementary schools
6. A new school to replace Peck and Hartsfield elementary schools
7. A new school to replace Whidby and Shearn elementary schools.

Smith is already a K-8, and it is one of the lower performing schools in HISD. All these schools feed into Wheatley High School. There are some other moving parts to this - if anyone has more information, please chime in.

One last thing, since I noted the property tax increase:

If approved in the Nov. 6 election, this installment would cost the owner of an average-value home of $131,884 an extra $39 in property taxes in 2007-08.

Not exactly a big bite, is it? Don't think that won't discourage the usual litany of wailing and tooth-grinding, though. It's the principle of the thing, after all.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 10, 2007 to Election 2007

Not exactly a big bite, is it? Don't think that won't discourage the usual litany of wailing and tooth-grinding, though.

It's nice that you're so affluent that you don't notice such things, Charles. I even agree with you -- $39/year doesn't seem like that much.

But, to folks who are less well off than us, those little bites can add up. Heck, some of them may be the very folks in need of the CHIP assistance that gets you so excited! There's nothing wrong with keeping those folks in mind every time government asks for more money as well as when government is doling out the money.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on August 10, 2007 8:40 PM

You mean the people who have even more expensive houses? I'm thinking they can afford it. Bear in mind, at that rate the tax increase for a $400,000 house would come to about $10 a month. If that's pushing any of those folks over the financial edge, they've got bigger problems than that.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on August 10, 2007 9:31 PM