HOUSTON—How would you like to borrow $1.9 billion?
That’s the decision you need to make if you’re a taxpayer in the Houston Independent School District. And that’s why HISD is holding a series of public meetings to tell voters what it plans to do with all that money.
HISD wants voters to approve a huge bond issue this November, bankrolling a program to replace, renovate or rebuild 38 schools. The district would also spend $100 million improving technology, $45 million on field houses and athletic facilities, $35 million renovating middle-school restrooms and $17 million on safety and security improvements.
Most of the money -- $1.36 billion – would go to high schools, largely because three other bond issues dating back to 1998 focused mainly on elementary schools.
“The average age of a high school in the Houston Independent School district is over 50 years, which is way over the national average,” said Sue Davis, a spokesperson for Citizens for Better Schools, a political action committee established to lobby for the bonds. “Infrastructure is crumbling; wires are hanging down, water leaks.”
After other bond issues drew opposition from African-American and Hispanic political leaders, HISD officials made a greater effort to connect with community leaders. Most significantly, State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who opposed a previous referendum, has spoken out in favor of this year’s bonds.
The plan includes new campuses for some of Houston’s most historic neighborhood schools, including Bellaire, Milby and Booker T. Washington high schools. New campuses would also be built for popular specialty schools like Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts and the DeBakey High School for Health Professions.
The HISD package is by far the largest of three big-ticket bond issues appearing on the Houston ballot in November. The City of Houston and the Houston Community College System are also asking voters to approve bond issues. That means many voters will be asked to authorize local governments to borrow more than $2.5 billion.
Supporters of the bond issue were worried that voters seeing such huge numbers on the ballot might just say no. But polling conducted for the PAC backing the bonds last month indicated 54 percent of surveyed voters supported the HISD bonds. Only 22 percent were opposed.
That poll gave the bond issue supporters confidence the bond issue will pass. But they’re concerned that many voters – especially voters casting straight-ticket ballots for either party – won’t bother with the bonds at the bottom of the ballot.
“We find there’s a possibility, there has been in the past, of a big roll-off,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who’s also the pollster for the pro-bond PAC. “People just miss this. In some precincts, as many as 25 percent of the voters who show up on election day don’t vote for these bottom of the ballot referendum issues.”
If voters approve the bond issue, the first construction work would begin early next year.
Here’s a schedule of HISD’s public meetings on the bond issue.
Monday, Sept. 24 - Booker T. Washington High School (119 E. 39th Street) and Bellaire High School (5100 Maple, Bellaire,
Thursday, Sept. 27 - Davis High School (1101 Quitman) and Dowling Middle School (14000 Stancliff)
Monday, Oct. 1 - Lee High School (6529 Beverly Hill) and Milby High School (1601 Broadway)
Tuesday, Oct. 2 - Sharpstown High School (7504 Bissonnet) and Yates High School (3703 Sampson)
Thursday, Oct. 4 - Austin High School (1700 Dumble) and Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center (4400 W. 18th Street). The Hattie Mae White session will be broadcast live on HISD TV, Comcast cable channel 18, and AT&T Uverse channel 99.