Board Members Express Reservations on $1.9bil Houston Bond

Houston’s High School for Performing Arts might be nationally recognized and generally lauded, but the high price tag for its new building plans are still raising eyebrows. The school has been asking the district for an upgrade to the outdated facilities it has been occupying in the Houston’s Montrose neighborhood for over a decade, and the plans for the campus in the new downtown location are finally going ahead. But the cost, which is estimated at over $80 million, which is $107,000 for each one of the school’s 750 students, is still being queried.

The estimate, which was submitted by the district’s superintendent Terry Grier, is part of the proposal for a bond issue referendum being put in front of voters this November.

“What I don’t know is, what are we getting for $80 million? We have not sat down and gone over all those costs,” HISD board president Mike Lunceford said Friday. “We know there are special needs for that school. We need schools that are going to hold up, but we’re not trying to build Taj Mahals.”

Come election day, voters will be deciding on $1.9 billion bond proposal that will be put towards infrastructure and other education improvements Although Grier has released the broad outline of how the money will be spent in the event that the bond issue is approved, the details haven’t become available yet. Houston Independent School District board should make an effort to see if the residents will get their money’s worth, Lunceford said, and plans to call two board meetings in the first half of July in order to give members an opportunity to do just that.

Grier’s referendum proposal must be approved by the board before it can go in front of voters. This approval is far from certain, with many trustees agreeing that building improvements are urgently needed, especially for the 42 schools specifically targeted by Grier’s plan, but raising doubts about the rigorousness of the analysis behind the proposal. If voters approve the spending, they will see a $29 increase in their property tax bill in 2014, and $99 increase by 2017. Those expressing reservations, like Lunceford, say that specifics rather than appeals to emotions used by Grier to announce the plan are required before they vote to approve it.

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.

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.

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