Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier plans to seek voter approval for a $1.9 billion bond issue that would see most of Houston's antiquated school being rebuilt or renovated. His proposal would phase in a tax rate increase of 7 cents.
Before his plan can appear on the November ballot the school board must first approve it. The extent of Grier's support is unclear with many trustees agreeing that the district suffers urgent building needs but questioned how thorough was the analysis behind the plan.
If the plan is approved by the board then preliminary polling indicates it could pass at ballot, with initial numbers favorable but vulnerable to organized opposition that would spring up if it reaches that stage.
"I say this and I mean this with my soul: This bond could transform Houston as a city," Grier said. "I'm a former high school principal. I know the difference a high school makes in a community. Putting a brand-new high school in the middle of a community is absolutely a strategy to jump start the economy there."
If Grier's plan is enacted then the first tax increase would take effect in 2014, increasing by $29 the average bill for a $200,000 home. This figure would rise to $99 for 2017.
As for the challenge to the rigorousness of the research underpinning the plan, Grier says that his recommendations are based on a board approved study carried out by consultants with Parson and MGT of America.
Ericka Mellon of Chron.com reports that the proposal would include replacing eight high schools including the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts which will be rebuilt on a new site in downtown's theater district.
The plan doesn't currently include a new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice; the lack of which has disappointed trustee Juliet Stipeche who opposes Grier's plans to sell the valuable property on Dickson and look for a new site as the current location is ideally situated for internships at downtown law firms.
"Our consensus is, this is a bond that could probably pass, and pass now, as opposed to a year or two or three from now when maybe the economy is different," said Bob Stein, a Rice University professor who helped conduct a phone survey of registered voters in late May and early June on behalf of HISD.
If enacted the plan would constitute the largest bond issue for a Texas District in the last two decades, dwarfing Dallas ISD's $1.4 billion from 2020. Grier's $1.9 billion proposal isn't abnormally large when compared nationally however, as it would only be the eighth largest behind LA and San Diego.