School Bond Issue Shaken, But Still Not Stirred

Three months after it was passed by voters, a Houston School District bond package is still in limbo. Now, district officials are publicly asking the Texas attorney general to give them the okay to start selling the bonds. The proceeds would be used to build 24 new schools, some int eh poorest areas of the city. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams has the latest.

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Frost Elementary on the city's south side is about four decades old and it is starting to show its age. In one area, a walkway area, wooden beams, temporary wooden beams actually, hold up a sagging ceiling. Elsewhere leaks abound. There are puddles here and there. Brickwork could be redone. There's peeling paint. Officials would really like to build a brand-new school right here.

"The children here and their teachers, administrators and parents have worked very hard to do a good job in the classroom. We're all proud of the academic work that goes on here at Frost Elementary. But these children deserve something better than this raggedy 45-year-old building."ξξξ

Houston School Superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra says students at Frost and other crumbling schools have been patient .That won't speed-up the process though. Two lawsuits challenging the bond package in both state and federal court have put things on hold. An Austin judge last week refused to vacate an earlier ruling that okayed the bonds. A federal lawsuit is still pending.

"The time for delays is over. The time to build schools for children is here. Now we are asking the Attorney General of Texas to give us his final approval so that we can sell the bond and start the work now that the voters and the courts have spoken."

But Ty Clevenger, an attorney who represents three HISD families who filed the lawsuits, says the courts haven't spoken. In fact, he says, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday filed a brief with the State Supreme Court,ξ that agreed, in part, with opponents of a similar lawsuit in the Waller School District. Clevenger says HISD is going about the process the wrong way.

"You don't negotiate by calling a press conference and castigating the other side. We have been talking with the attorneys for HISD and trying to set-up some opportunity to negotiate. Thus far, the district has showed no interest whatsoever. Instead, they hold a press conference and try to brow-beat us and just walking away and trying to brow-beat the Attorney General into changing his position. That's just dumb. That's not going to work."

The Texas Attorney General's office wouldn't comment publicly, but did say HISD's bond transcripts are in house and under review. This is HISD attorney Elneita Hutchins-Taylor.

"We are hoping that in the next few weeks we'll have some information as we go forward and continue with our filings. We're in contact with them about what we need to do, what are next steps are."

HISD says more delays could cost the district millions of dollars in bond financing costs.

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