FBISD superintendent proposes two-phase approach to $1.7B bond package
Fort Bend ISD administrators came back to trustees with a new approach to their July recommendation to put a $1.7 billion bond proposal before voters in November and now advise dividing projects into two bond referendums to be held three years apart.
Superintendent Charles Dupre told trustees the district had followed a fiscally conservative path for many years. But, many campuses are now in dire need of repairs and renovations because the district had “under-invested” in its facilities, he said.
“Our buildings are now aging and the under-investing is starting to show,” Dupre told trustees Monday, July 23. “But, we can continue to follow a fiscally conservative path by splitting this bond proposal into two parts.”
Previously, administrators said they expected state lawmakers in the next session to create new laws requiring a 30-percent voter turnout to pass school bond elections. However, Chief Financial Officer Steven Bassett said he was hearing that any new state laws would likely include a phase-in period over several years.
Trustee Addie Heyliger said the change of plans was confusing given administrators had spent months urging trustees to hurry up and put a large bond referendum together.
“I think it would have made some of the decisions we voted on turn out differently, at least for me personally, because I felt I like I was boxed in to make certain decisions because we had this paranoia, this fear, because of this new legislation,” she said.
Dupre said he was unsure voters would approve a bond proposal more than $1 billion and was more comfortable proposing a two-phase approach with bond projects to be completed over two three-year periods.
According to agenda documents, administrators now recommend a November 2018 bond election with projects totaling approximately $992.6 million and then a second bond election totaling $705 million in 2021.
Trustee Grayle James and several other trustees voiced support for the two-phase approach. She urged administrators to plan campus expansions carefully to avoid ongoing problems with overcrowding at elementary and middle schools.
“I don’t want to have any facilities where kids have to have a ‘silent lunch’ because the numbers are too big in the common spaces that they’re not allowed to speak. I think that’s unhealthy for children and we need to plan appropriately for the whole child,” James said and described visiting middle schools where children were not allowed to speak during lunch or in the hallways because the schools were overcrowded.
It’s also not appropriate for these middle school students because they also aren’t able to go outside for recess, she said.
According to proposed 2018 bond project documents presented by administrators, approximately $799.8 million of the bond package will be used to fund campus renovations and repairs. New construction, classroom additions and building modernization projects total $403.5 million and technology costs such as new tablets or laptops for all Fort Bend ISD students and new staff computers total $142.6 million. Safety and security project recommendations are not yet finalized but preliminary totals include $1.25 million for special education security cameras, $1.187 for door locks, $2.625 for storage for security camera files, $1.545 for new police vehicles, $4 million for window film and $4 million for student identification badges among other things.
Among the new construction projects included in the proposed bond package are funds to re-build Lakeview and Meadows Elementary Schools totaling $65 million.
Campus renovations and upgrades
Four high schools are slated for renovations that account for more than 65 percent of the $118.8 million proposed for district-wide upgrades for high school campuses to include roughly $22.4 million for Elkins High School, $21.4 million for Kempner High School, $19.2 million for Austin High School and $15.2 million for Clements High School.
Middle school renovations total approximately $96.2 million with the largest portions to go to Hodges Bend Middle School ($12.6 million), First Colony Middle School ($12.6 million) and Quail Valley Middle School ($10.5 million).
A total of $137.9 million is proposed for the 2018 bond package recommendations for elementary school renovations to include $7.5 million for Briargate Elementary School. $6.7 million for Mission Glen Elementary School and $6.6 million for Blue Ridge Elementary School.
Administrators also recommend including $178 million for a new high school in the Sienna Plantation area near Missouri City in the 2018 bond proposal and $45 million for a new elementary school in the Riverstone subdivision area near Sugar Land. If land cannot be located for the new Riverstone school, administrators recommend building additions to three existing elementary schools. In addition, the bond package recommendation includes $46 million for a new elementary school in the Aliana South area and $45 million to fund construction of a new elementary school near the Fort Bend Tollway.
Trustees have not yet voted to approve the bond package recommendations and board members could decide to revise recommendations made by administrators. Trustees are expected to discuss their options and vote for final approval for a November bond election at the upcoming August 13 regular board meeting. A workshop meeting to discuss the proposal is scheduled Monday, Aug. 6, at 6 p.m. Both meetings are open to the public and are being held at the Fort Bend ISD administration building located at 16431 Lexington Blvd.