About 185 people gathered in a community building on the eastern edge of downtown to organize a plan to defeat HISD's bond proposal. HISD will ask voters to approve an $805 million bond package in the November election. That money is would fund the construction of 24 new schools and renovations to 134 schools. Several campuses would also be closed or consolidated. D.Z. Cofield is the senior pastor of Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. He says the district's plan lacks strategy and accountability.
"I think it goes back to a strategic plan that says this is what we're going to do over the next ten years, over the next 20 years to bring about educational equality for all of our children. And until the school district does that, I don't think they should be entrusted with any more money until we have an accounting of what has already been spent - work that's been signed off on that has clearly been substandard."
Opponants of the bond proposal include State Representative Sylvester Turner, who called the community meeting. While Turner is leading the charge, he deferred comments on the issue to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
"I would ask the leadership of HISD to sit down with us. The window is open to sit down and concretely talk about excellence and equality for our children. You cannot pass a bond election with a divided community."
Lee and Turner were joined by other elected officials, including State Representatives Harold Dutton and Senfronia Thompson and Houston City Councilmembers Sue Lovell, Jarvis Johnson and Peter Brown. Turner's efforts are aimed at forming a coalition with enough voting power to defeat the bond. But they're up against a number of groups who support the referendum including the Greater Houston Partnership, LULAC and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. HISD Deputy Press Secretary Rebecca Suarez issued a written statement on behalf of the district, saying quote:
"We are listening to the voices of our communities and as a result have made significant adjustments to this bond issue. We will continue to listen. We also hear, loud and clear, the voices of our principals, teachers, parents and children who have been waiting more than 10 years for their turn, at schools that have not been touched by the previous two bond issues. As we have said from the beginning this is a three-part program and we cannot let the voices of those untouched by previous bond issues go unheard. Doing only two-thirds of the job and benefiting some but not all is just not fair. HISD remains committed to representing ALL of the children of HISD."
Representative Turner and other opponants say they don't want to do away with the bond package altogether, but they do want to vote it down this November to allow more time for community input and tweaking so residents could vote on it again next May. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.