Updated Oct. 6, 9:15 a.m.
A petition by Pearland residents to leave Fort Bend ISD and be annexed into Alvin ISD was dropped on Oct. 2. AISD was set to hold a public hearing on the petition Oct. 3.
“We posted the meeting in accordance with legal expectations and were planning to afford them the opportunity to present their petition,” AISD Director of Communications Daniel Combs said. “From our standpoint, they withdrew the petition and therefore it was pulled from our board meeting agenda.”
Petitioners did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Posted: Sept. 27
After nearly three and a half hours of presentations, public comment and deliberations, Fort Bend ISD’s board of trustees voted against a petition by Pearland residents to leave the district on Monday.
Residents of the Village of Diamond Bay in the Shadow Creek Ranch community submitted the petition in the spring to disannex, or detach, their children from FBISD and join Alvin ISD. Although the homeowners are Pearland citizens, they are within the boundaries of Fort Bend County.
FBISD attorney Coby Wilbanks argued on behalf of the district and said disannexation was not in FBISD’s best interest. AISD will hold its own public hearing on the petition, as required by law, on Oct. 3.
Blue Ridge Elementary School and Fort Bend ISD graduate parent Adriana Mesa says she wants her son in Alvin ISD.[/caption]
Sources of friction
If AISD approves the petition, FBISD’s decision can be appealed. If AISD votes against the request, the petition dies, according to the state education code.
Residents cited the distance between the Village of Diamond Bay and the majority of FBISD as a source of disconnect and longer commutes for their children. People said they felt neglected by FBISD.
They also pointed out the lower performance of their FBISD-zoned schools Blue Ridge Elementary, Christa McAuliffe Middle and Willowridge High schools compared to the AISD schools closest to Shadow Creek Ranch. Disciplinary issues at the FBISD schools were also a concern.
Wilbanks said the FBISD schools have smaller class sizes and greater capacity than AISD schools. He also said the FBISD schools met state standards in the 2015-16 year.
“Through your investment of resources in these schools … we’ve seen improvement come to these schools,” he said.
But petitioners said they remained unconvinced.
Village of Diamond Bay resident Chad Greenfield says involvement in Fort Bend ISD is hard with huge distance from district to home.[/caption]
“Just because the state says a school has met the standards, you all know that these schools are far from where we want [them to be] for our kids,” Ta’Shia Jamison said.
Wilbanks pointed out that AISD has a higher tax rate than FBISD — $1.417 per $100 valuation versus $1.34 per $100 valuation, respectively — which residents said they would pay if it meant changing schools.
State law requires that a school district’s ratio of lost tax revenue from disannexation not be more than twice the ratio of students leaving the district. In this regard, each side presented different numbers Monday night.
Petitioners said they counted 665, 414 and 690 students affected by disannexation using three different calculations, including a door-to-door poll of residents and FBISD’s own Population and Survey Analysts reports. The group said they counted students in private schools and other ISDs because the law did not say otherwise.
Wilbanks said only 74 actual FBISD students in the Village of Diamond Bay would be affected by disannexation and the loss of revenue would be $21 million in debt service taxes over 28 years. Petitioners said the loss would be offset by population growth in the west and south of FBISD.
Petitioner Heather Zayas said the group formally requested in April that the district share the data used to calculate the ratios, a request she said was initially denied in May and then fulfilled on Sept. 21. Wilbanks said the request was not immediately fulfilled because the data was unavailable until this month.
He said that once the district had made its own calculations, it could determine what data to send to petitioners.
Claims of misinformation
Several residents said they were unaware that their homes were zoned to FBISD when they purchased them. Petitioner Nicole Stotler said builders or realtors in the Village of Diamond Bay provided little school information to homeowners when they moved in.
Tammy Norris, a parent who said she sends her children to private school rather than to FBISD, said her builder deliberately drove her around to AISD schools when she was buying her home. She said she regretted not doing further research.
“We were one of the people that was misinformed,” she said.
Jamison said that moving from Michigan to Texas, she was unaware of the state’s zoning laws and was used to living in a district with school choice.
Another source of misleading information cited by petitioners was a large sign advertising a future FBISD school that they said stood in the neighborhood for many years. Petitioners and Wilbanks said the sign was removed and reinstalled by a developer, although no FBISD school construction ever materialized.
“Once the district learned that that sign was up and we had no intent to build … we took that sign down,” Wilbanks said.
Trustees cited a need to make decisions for the district as a whole rather than for a small group of students. Trustees Jim Rice and Grayle James agreed with Wilbanks’ claim that the student and tax ratios for annexation were insufficient.
Trustee Addie Heyliger said she was disheartened by the comments made, calling them “a slap in the face.” She said her children also attend low-performing schools on the east side of FBISD.
“I didn’t run,” she said. “I got involved.”
FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre did not take his regular seat on the dais with trustees during the hearing. After the vote, he said the board’s decision did not surprise him.
“We have a board of individuals dedicated to making decisions on behalf of every single student,” he said. “They do care about the students in the Village of Diamond Bay.”
He added that he was considering planning a community outreach event in the Village of Diamond Bay or their schools to “see if we can build some bridges.”