Fort Bend ISD board of trustees amend and rescind May recommendations related to facilities planning

The Fort Bend ISD board of trustees rescinded its May decision, on Monday, to construct classroom additions at Fort Settlement Middle School after staff discovered an error in the school’s functional capacity data hours before the scheduled board meeting.

Trustees also amended other Facilities Master Plan recommendations related to Marshall, Willow Ridge and Ridge Point high schools.

Fort Settlement Middle School

The board overturned its initial May decision to expand Fort Settlement Middle School.

FBISD staff and consultants previously recommended adding classrooms at either Fort Settlement or First Colony Middle School in order to accommodate anticipated growth in the area near the Riverstone community.

The board opted to install classroom additions at Fort Settlement instead of First Colony because doing so would not require significant rezoning of school boundaries, however, new capacity data indicated classroom additions are unnecessary, said Beth Martinez, FBISD chief of staff and strategic planning. Administrators recommend forgoing school expansions at both campuses and leaving school boundaries until further notice.

Previously, staff and consultants believed Fort Settlement’s functional capacity was able to accommodate approximately 1,300 students, Martinez said. However, a closer review showed the actual capacity number is closer to 1,641.

Chief Operations Officer Oscar Perez said the inconsistency was a result of outdated information that did not account for removed programming.

Student enrollment at both schools are projected to stay below 120 percent of the schools’ building capacity through the next decade, Martinez said. A school is considered adequately utilized if enrollment remains between 80-120 percent of the building’s capacity, according to district policy.

However, First Colony is projected to be underutilized as its utilization fluctuates from 77-84 percent in the next 5-6 years while Fort Settlement’s utilization is expected to reach 116 percent by the 2027-28 school year.

Trustee Dave Rosenthal said a utilization rate of 116 percent—though within policy—still leaves issues with overcrowding. Rezoning the two school boundaries to balance enrollment makes the most sense because one is underutilized while another is nearly over utilized.

“It costs us nothing to do that, and the kids—to me—they have a better shot at a better education,” Rosenthal said.

Despite strong opposition from many Riverstone families, rebalancing enrollment may be unavoidable, especially as the district experiences high-growth rates, trustee Kristin Tassin said.

“I think it’s something that needs to be explored and looked at as we’re going through this process, but I don’t think we should implement it until we get to the point where we have to implement it,” she said.

In contrast, trustee K.P. George said he does not support rezoning as an option because a utilization rate of 116 percent is acceptable.

“First of all, we need to make sure these numbers are right, and second, in my opinion, I will be supportive of rescinding this [original recommendation], provided we are going to leave it alone. There is no reason to do anything in that feeder pattern at the moment. There’s no need to do anything because it’s all within our policy.”

Trustees voted 7-to-1—with George opposing—to rescind the recommendation for classroom additions at Fort Settlement and to implement rezoned boundaries at an appropriate time, which will be determined as the administration reviews enrollment data each year.

Marshall and Willowridge high schools

Board members unanimously voted to implement innovative instructional programming at the elementary and high school level within the Marshall and Willowridge feeder patterns to improve student outcomes, expand opportunities for students and increase utilization and marginal revenue.

Marshall and Willowridge high schools—as well as elementary schools within their feeder patterns such as Glover and Hunters Glen—face current and projected low student enrollment numbers, according to FBISD documents.

Demographic research firm Population and Survey Analysts estimates over 8,000 students living within FBISD receive their education elsewhere—at charter schools, private schools and schools in other nearby districts, said Justin Silhavy, PASA director of demographic projections.

To increase enrollment, staff recommended ideas such as establishing an early college high school and introducing specialized academy programs, language programs, full-day preschool and early literacy center, according to meeting documents. There are not projected capital costs associated with these proposals.

“I think we have to offer that programming, and I think the issue with these schools is that they’re underutilized,” Tassin said.

Rosenthal said attracting more students to FBISD schools will not only increase enrollment at underutilized schools, but it will also generate additional revenue to cover budget deficits.

“We need to figure out why people are leaving and how to bring them back,” he said.

Investing capital dollars into classroom and facilities is a worthy idea for future consideration, Rosenthal said.

“You’re making that money back every single year if you bring back a couple hundred kids into that zone, so that kind of pays for itself over time,” he said. “You end up converting debt into [maintenance and operations funds].”

Ridge Point High School

The board unanimously voted to include funding for a new high school for 2,700 students in the next bond program as Ridge Point High School is expected to exceed acceptable capacity by the 2020-21 school year, according to FBISD data and PASA projections.

Trustees approved, in May, to explore flexible scheduling options and rezoning school boundaries between Ridge Point and Hightower to balance enrollment, but these solutions may not be adequate long-term solutions for Ridge Point’s anticipated overcrowding issues.

Construction costs for a potential high school is estimated to be $127.94 million, and the district would need to procure a site of at least 75 acres, according to meeting documents.

Trustee Grayle James said although she supports a new high school, she is concerned about maintenance and operation costs, especially as the district works to implement additional changes and programs.

“I don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” James said. “If we try to do too many things—rezone a lot of kids, start an early college high school, start some other things—we’re going to be trying to do too much at one time. I’d rather make sure we do something really well and have it be effective before moving to the next thing.”

If demographic projections are to be believed, the rate of growth necessitates a new high school, Rosenthal said.

“As far as the operations of the school, as long as it’s fairly full, then it kind of pays for itself,” he said. “We’re not going out there tomorrow to build it either. We do have some time.”

A project of this scope would require 3 years to complete, from design to construction, Perez said.

It is up to the board to decide when is the best time to build the school based on findings from FBISD’s annual enrollment review, Superintendent Charles Dupre said.

“We would consider it every single year and determine when it’s the right time—or not—to pull the trigger,” Dupre said. “To me, the upside to this item is that the money would then be available when the school is needed, whether it’s in 4 years, 6 years, 10 years or 15 years.”
By Renee Yan
Renee Yan graduated May 2017 from the University of Texas in Arlington with a degree in journalism, joining Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in July.