Fort Bend ISD staff have identified several ways to further reduce the shortfall on its $1.26 billion May 2023 bond program, but they’re now seeking board assistance to determine next steps.

The $163.2 million shortfall has been reduced to $61.2 million since February, FBISD officials said at the board of trustees' June 3 workshop meeting. Additionally, staff cut $12.6 million off the amount since the May board update.

“One of the things that I want to bring to the board’s attention is: Decisions [are] possibly in the very near future of what we’re going to choose not to do and not to move forward with,” Superintendent Marc Smith said. “That may be a little bit ... in the distance, but it is something that—as we look at our numbers, we look at what is remaining in terms of opportunities to close the gap, the tools that we just mentioned—it’s going to be a heavy lift.”

Smith recommended making decisions on which projects could be delayed to reallocate funds to other projects.

The update

Director of Design and Construction Daniel Bankhead said some factors that contributed to staff reducing the shortfall since May include:
  • The cost to renovate the Ferndell Henry Center for Learning into Ferndell Henry Elementary School came in almost $3.5 million under the anticipated amount.
  • District officials decided some air handling units set to be replaced have a few more serviceable years.
For the remaining $61.2 million shortfall, potential funding options include the district:
  • Using $6 million in contingency funds from the 2023 and 2018 bonds
  • Using $500,000 in funds awarded to Mission Bend Elementary School from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is being rebuilt as part of the 2023 bond program
  • Applying for the Texas Education Agency’s school safety grants, allowing the district to reallocate safety bond funds for other bond projects
However, the strategies won't completely eliminate the overrun, so Bankhead said district staff need trustees' assistance to address the remainder.

"We still anticipate a significant budget shortfall," he said. "The scheduled start of construction for several other projects is quickly approaching. ... We need the board's assistance."

What they’re saying

Trustee Angie Hanan said she wants staff to consider building the new aquatic practice facility—which is over the board-approved budget by $4.5 million—to natatorium standards.

"I truly feel, and I'm hoping my colleagues feel the same, that the natatorium was a promise [to voters]," Hanan said. "I hope that we are able, as a board, to come together and make that a reality for the east side."

FBISD’s existing aquatic practice facility is naturally ventilated with garage doors that open; meanwhile, the Don Cook Natatorium is an enclosed facility with air conditioning and more seating capacity, Chief Operations Officer Damian Viltz said.

While both can host practices and competitions for swimming, diving and water polo, they're “designed very differently,” Viltz said. The aquatic facility is also less expensive to build and maintain.
  • It costs $97,000 more annually to provide electricity to the natatorium, Viltz said.
  • It'll cost about $2.6 million more to build the facility as a natatorium, Hanan said.
Digging deeper

At the previous May meeting, trustee Sonya Jones asked if staff could consider delaying Ferndell Henry Elementary School's expansion and renovation, which are set to begin in July.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is considering a permit for Jilpit, LLC, a rock and cement crushing facility, which Jones said she believes could affect the enrollment of the school, located at 7447 FM 521, Rosharon.

However, district administrators recommended moving forward with the project to combat projected overcrowding at Heritage Rose Elementary School, Bankhead said at the June 3 meeting. Heritage Rose also is located "within a few miles" of two existing concrete facilities, he said.

In later comments, board President Kristin Tassin said she believes the district should do more to weigh in on the proposed project, as Ferndell is closer to the Jilpit facility site than Heritage Rose is to other facilities.

Next steps

Tassin said she asked the board’s legal counsel to provide feedback on which parts of the bond the district is legally required to provide and for staff recommendations on how to move forward.

“Personally, I’d like to see us not make any cuts that impact students, campuses,” she said. “I did ask the question about campus utilization [at the last meeting] and how that might impact some of the projects, but when we’re talking about administrative facilities, it’s not ideal to cut anything, but I think—just thinking out loud—initially, those are the things I would probably consider more so than those that are impacting students directly.”