Houston voters will decide in November whether to approve a bond referendum to modernize outdated high school buildings and build new schools to meet students’ needs across the city.
The HISD Board of Education approved calling an election on the bond proposal by a vote of 8-1. Trustee Greg Meyers voted against the proposal.
The proposal seeks voter approval of a $1.89 billion plan to address the most serious facility needs in 38 schools. The proposal would:
Provide new campuses for 20 high schools
- High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
- North Early College
- Sam Houston
- South Early College
Partially replace 4 high schools
- Young Men’s College Prep Academy
- Young Women’s College Prep Academy
Renovate 4 high schools
- Sharpstown International
Convert 5 elementary schools into K-8 campuses
- Garden Oaks Montessori
- Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion School at Gordon
- Pilgrim Academy
- Wharton Dual Language School
- Wilson Montessori
Build 3 new elementary school campuses
- Relief school on the west side
Replace/complete 2 new middle school campuses
- Grady (new addition to complete new campus)
- Dowling (new campus)
In addition, the proposed measure would include funds that would improve conditions for students in all HISD schools. Those proposals include:
- $100 million for district-wide technology improvements
- $44.7 million to replace regional field houses and improve athletic facilities
- $35 million to renovate middle school restrooms
- $17.3 million for district-wide safety and security improvements
The Board of Education also agreed to rebuild two schools – Condit Elementary and High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice – either through the sale surplus district property, or by using any potential leftover bond funds.
If approved by voters, design work of the new schools would begin in early 2013 and the first construction projects would start in 2014.
While including millions of dollars in recommended projects that would benefit students at all 279 schools in the district, the proposed bond package focuses heavily — $1.36 billion — on the city’s high schools. HISD’s most recent bond programs approved by voters in 1998, 2002 and 2007 primarily addressed needs at the elementary school level. The average age of HISD secondary schools now stands at 50 years, compared to 39 years for the district’s primary schools.
Many of these schools were designed to meet the needs of students more than half a century ago and are no longer able to accommodate the best instructional approaches for helping today’s students meet rising academic expectations, according to independent school facilities experts who recently assessed HISD schools.
Modern schools feature design elements that are shown to positively impact student achievement. Some of these elements include:
- Greater classroom configuration flexibility to help teachers differentiate their approaches to meet the needs of each child
- Classroom designs that encourage collaborative learning
- Improved access to technology
- Infrastructure for the latest career and technical education programs
- Lab spaces that offer hands-on science learning
Historic neighborhood schools and prestigious schools of choice to be replaced
The proposed bond package would completely rebuild some of Houston’s most historic neighborhood high schools across the city. The proposal also includes new campuses for some of HISD’s prestigious specialty schools, including the nationally renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, DeBakey High School for Health Professions, and Eastwood Academy. All three schools made this year’s Children at Risk list of the Houston region’s Top 10 high schools.
The new HSPVA would be built downtown near Houston’s vaunted Theater District on land that HISD already owns at 1300 Capitol. HISD is working on an agreement that would allow the district to build DeBakey on property within the Texas Medical Center.
Exteriors of architecturally important schools to remain
The bond proposal recognizes the importance of protecting the character of some of HISD’s historic neighborhood high schools. Some new schools will maintain their existing building structures while their interiors are transformed. These schools include Austin, Davis, Lamar, and Milby.
Some of the schools recommended for major construction work are among those that had renovations under the 2007 bond program. In many of those cases, the previously completed work will be incorporated into the new building design.
Even with the many projects included in the bond proposal, HISD schools still have many additional facility needs that remain unaddressed. Those needs will be identified as HISD moves forward with developing a comprehensive long-range capital improvement plan.
Property tax implications
Because of the district’s strong fiscal management practices, HISD has been able to maintain the lowest property tax rate of the 20-plus school districts in Harris County. In addition, HISD is among the few districts in Texas that offer an optional 20 percent homestead exemption on top of the standard $15,000 exemption that other school districts offer.
If an election is called, and voters approve the bond package, HISD would likely adopt a property tax rate increase in the future. This tax rate increase would have no impact on the homesteads of HISD residents age 65 and older, because their tax rates are frozen.
HISD anticipates gradually phasing in a tax rate increase that in 2017 would reach a maximum of 4.85 cents per $100 of taxable value. For the owner of the average HISD home with a market value of $198,936, this would mean a monthly cost of $5.83, or $70 per year beginning in 2017. Under this estimate, the property tax rate would increase by 1 penny in 2014, another penny in 2016, and 2.85 cents in 2017.
This estimated tax rate impact is lower than previously estimated. There are two primary reasons for the revised estimate:
- HISD’s certified 2013 tax roll has increased since the initial estimate was made.
- A projected 1 percent annual increase in HISD property values through 2028.
School construction and renovation work approved by HISD voters in 2007 is nearing completion under budget. When the school year begins later this month, HISD will have opened 20 new or replacement schools under that bond program, 2 more new schools are under construction, and 2 are in the planning stage. More than 100 HISD campuses have undergone renovations so far. Click here for more detailed information about the work completed under the 2007 bond program.