HISD’s student population is expected to increase by 1,000 students per year until 2025, according to a 2015 study by the Population and Survey Analysts demographics firm. The district will also run out of voter-approved bond funds to build new schools in 2019.
In response, HISD is forming a citizens bond advisory committee this fall, a group that will analyze HISD’s financial situation and projected student population growth before submitting a recommendation to the board of trustees about the size and scope of a potential bond, HISD Chief Financial Officer Mike Seale said.
The committee also has the option to suggest no bond referendum to the school board.
“What we’ll be doing is presenting data to the committee about the conditions of our buildings, about growth, about what our needs are and the financial impact that different types of bonds will have,” Seale said.
HISD plans to open one school each year until 2022 as more than 12,000 new homes are built within district boundaries from 2015 to 2025, mostly along the West Lake Houston Parkway corridor in Atascocita, according to PASA’s demographics study.
The amount of available land and lighter road traffic is driving residents to the area, according to the report.
“Relocates are seeking the ability to be pioneers in a less dense, more secure environment and also have been seeking to benefit from new infrastructure and a master-planned environment,” the demographics study stated.
However, the district will run out of its current allotment of bond funds after opening Elementary School No. 29 in 2019, Director of Public Communications Jamie Mount said. This school, along with Groves Elementary—scheduled to open in August but, due to flooding, will now open in September—and Middle School No. 9 in 2018, was funded through a $245 million bond approved in 2008.
Without new bond funds, the district will not have funding for a middle school in 2020, an elementary school in 2021 and a high school in 2022, all of which are planned near the intersection of Beltway 8 and West Lake Houston Parkway, Mount said.
“Bond funds are essential for any new schools to open after 2019,” she said.
However, HISD also has needs at current schools, Seale said. Many large renovations and maintenance projects have been put on hold since the last bond referendum nearly a decade ago.
“We have inefficient air conditioning units that might cost us a half a million dollars to replace,” Seale said. “We just can’t afford to do that, so we may spend $50,000 repairing it, just getting it limping along until we get to a bond referendum.”
Bonds are a necessity for school districts that experience fast growth, said Guy Sconzo, executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition. Sconzo retired as HISD superintendent in 2016.
“The communities continue to grow—people continue to move in,” Sconzo said. “And I know schools are happy to serve those additional children, but that costs [money].”
HISD’s facility assessment is a 500-page document that will help the district identify and prioritize several projects, HISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said when the study was unveiled this summer.
The $300,000 study performed by PBK Architects priced the district’s next three elementary schools in addition to High School No. 7. It also gave an estimate of what the project would cost if it began in each of the next three years.
While a new elementary school would cost $32 million in 2017, the price would rise to $40 million in 2020 and a high school would cost nearly $160 million given the current inflation rate and more than $200 million three years later.
However, the facilities assessment is not a bond document. Seale said members on the committee will be presented all of the possible projects throughout the district and will prioritize them in its report to the school board.
“Just like when I’m doing a budget, there’s always more that I would like to do, but we have to be sensitive with the taxpayers and their dollars,” Seale said.
The bond committee will meet once monthly between September and January before crafting the report to present to the board of trustees during the spring semester, Mount said.
All residents, parents and community stakeholders are eligible to join, she said. The group begins with orientation Sept. 28 at Humble High School.
“Everyone who commits to attending orientation and the meetings is welcome,” Mount said. “School finance is complex, and discussions build on topics covered at prior meetings.”