Trustees approve comprehensive facilities assessment to address aging infrastructure across the district 

The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Thursday approved a comprehensive, districtwide facilities assessment designed to aid administrators as they prepare to address aging infrastructure across the district.

Facing more than $4.7 billion in deferred maintenance needs, the assessment data will be used to drive the district’s response to maintenance issues, safety concerns, student population growth, and building capacity needs, as well vertical curriculum alignment and educational equity.

It also would be used to shape a potential 2020 or 2021 bond referendum, should the Board of Education approve such a measure. The district is in the early stages of planning for a possible upcoming bond program — the first of four outlined in the district’s long-term, 20-year capital plan.

“We need a complete picture of all our needs, so we can address them in a thoughtful and coordinated way, rather than applying individual Band-Aids as problems arise,” HISD Interim Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan said. “This assessment will allow us to make solid, equitable decisions for our students as we formulate a comprehensive plan for moving forward.”

HISD issued a request for qualifications in October 2019. Four firms responded, and Rice & Gardner Consultants, Inc. was found to be the most highly qualified and most responsive bidder for the project. District administrators are now recommending that firm be hired to conduct the assessment and assist with updating the district’s capital plan.

Per the board agenda item, the total cost for the firm’s facilities assessment and capital planning services would not exceed $5 million. The cost would be reimbursed by funds from a proposed 2020 or 2021 bond, should such a referendum be approved by trustees and passed by voters within 18 months.

Once complete, the assessment would provide HISD with a database of information about facilities across the district, including the condition of each facility, needed repairs, and potential costs, as well as neighborhood demographics and growth trends.

The information compiled in the database would help district officials plan for future capital investments, including those related to student and staff safety, such as the addition of keyless card access and secure vestibules to district campuses.

In addition to shaping plans to repair or replace schools, the new data also would be used by the Office of Academics as it reviews academic programming needs, plans for vertical curriculum alignment, and studies student population growth, school capacities, and future school space needs.

It also would be used by the Office of Business Operations Facilities, Maintenance, and Operations department to address ongoing maintenance issues and the Office of Finance Fixed Assets Accounting department for inventory and depreciation tracking.

The district’s last comprehensive facilities assessment was conducted in 2015. In the time since, enrollment across the district has changed, and additional needs have been identified as facilities have continued to age.

Trustees also voted to approve a 2020-2021 contract with Teach for America (TFA). The organization recruits recent college graduates from all fields who commit to teach in urban public schools for two years or more. TFA has partnered with HISD since 1991, and the board’s renewal of a contract with the organization continues a decades-long agreement that lapsed last year. Up to 35 TFA teachers will undergo summer training in time for classroom assignments in August when the new school year begins.

The board also approved a partnership with Goodwill Industries of Houston to provide training, wraparound support and post-graduation employment at an annual salary of $35,000 for dozens of students in high-poverty communities.

HISD is one of the first districts in the state to take part in the initiative aimed at reducing entrenched inner-city financial hardship among young adults. Students at Sterling, Wheatley, and Worthing high schools will participate in the program, which is made possible by a contract between Goodwill and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

Additionally, trustees approved a $140,000 grant from Chevron Houston and a $120,000 grant from Verizon Innovative Learning to fund computer science courses and other STEM curriculum at 12 HISD middle and high schools, which applied for the funds. The donation from Verizon was awarded exclusively to HISD schools. Instructional programs will be provided by Project Lead the Way, a nonprofit education organization.

The board also approved the academic calendar for the 2020-2021 school year. It was developed after HISD administrators sought and received feedback from parents, employees, stakeholder committees and the HISD community. The district calendar may be viewed here in English and Spanish.