HISD Proposes $805 Million Bond for Schools

The head of the Houston Independent School District wants voters to approve an $805 million bond proposal to build and renovate schools. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports.

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Just one day after announcing district-wide improvements in school accountability ratings, Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra is promoting HISD's preliminary bond proposal which includes plans for 22 new schools and the renovation of 128 others. Saavedra presented the draft proposal to HISD's Board of Education and says they'll have a final version to vote on by next Thursday.

"Ten years ago, in '98 almost ten years ago, the district identified tremendous facility needs in this district. We also knew at that time that we couldn't go all out at one time and say support a very huge bond issue. At that time, under the leadership of Dr. Paige, the district decided we needed to do this in three phases. This is the third phase, this is the final phase of that commitment."

Voters approved HISD's bond issues in 1998 and again in 2002. Those projects, totalling $1.5 billion, resulted in 42 new schools and the renovation or expansion of 114 others -- basically amounting to about two thirds of the district. This new bond election would affect every remaining school not touched by the previous projects.

"We have to be pair to this community, to the children in this community and we need to make sure that all schools are taken care of, not just two thirds, not just one third, but every single one. And that's what this bond issue does."

If the board approves the proposal, it'll also mean $90 million for safety and security improvements at every school in the district plus another $29 million for new science labs. Few people are likely to argue the need for those upgrades in aging schools, but where the district may find the most opposition is in it's plan to close a number of schools. As many as 20 schools could be closed for consolidation into other campuses. Saavedra says it's always a hard decision to close a school, but he thinks it's the best plan for the students.

"Actual parents that have children in schools they don't want their children to be in old, dilapidated buildings. They want their children to be educated in state-of-the-art schools with the highest level of technology, the proper science labs. That's what they get. That's what we're asking for. We're asking to educate our children in proper facilities."

The $805 million bond will require a three cent increase to the property tax rate, although state lawmakers approved a measure that provides property tax relief for many homeowners, so the rate will, in effect, decrease for the average homeowner. The board will vote on the proposal next week and if passed, voters will see the bond election on the November ballot. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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