As parents, rezoning is one of the most challenging things we must deal with when it comes to the education of our children.
We are fully aware that regardless of what decisions the Fort Bend ISD trustees make someone will be upset. However, we also understand the importance of correct, objective data informing rezoning decisions. We also understand the use of community feedback and engagement in rezoning discussions. And, we understand communities must first advocate for their positions via respectful emails and discussion.
However, when data does not drive decisions, when community engagement is limited, and when FBISD trustees and administration will not respond to respectful emails regarding rezoning, a different approach must be taken to get the answers we need.
Data is by its nature objective, and in the past, FBISD has paid a lot of money to consultants for data for use in decision making. Trustees, administration, and parents have agonized over capacity and utilization numbers of campuses. Faulty data for certain campuses has been corrected. Principals have helped make the data more accurate by walking the halls of their buildings explaining the use of each classroom. But what good is all of this data if it is not used? At the Feb. 18, 2019, board of trustees meeting, nine FBISD campuses were listed in the agenda packet materials because they are projected to have a utilization over 100 percent for the 2019-2020 school year.
Fort Settlement Middle School (FSMS) was not one of them; in fact, it is projected to have a utilization of 94.78 percent. However, at this same meeting, it was said that the district would rebalance FSMS with First Colony Middle School (FCMS) based on perceptions. Perceptions are subjective. And this is why they cannot be used to drive our rezoning and rebalancing decisions. We must, as in the past, use data to drive these decisions. Why are we not using data to push for a hasty rezone before the end of the current school year for the nine campuses projected to be over-utilized next year? Are they simply perceived not to be over crowded? What good is our data if it is not used? Data must be our driving force. Perceptions are easily influenced and should have no part in this discussion.
Riverstone residents are fully aware that we live in a high-growth community. We are also aware that we are not the only growing community in FBISD. Many communities have been impacted by rezoning. However, nearly every year since the early 2010s, the Riverstone community has been threatened by the board of trustees with rezoning at the middle school level, and in many ways that is worse than rezoning because of how unsettling it actually is. No family can ever rest. No family ever knows what the next school year will bring. No family ever knows when the fight will ever be over. If the data supported the rezoning, families would support it. But when rezoning is based on perceptions and not on hard data, the fight will have to continue.
The Public Information Act gives citizens the right to ask for information. Asking for documentation under the PIA is not the act of the bully. Shaming someone, especially out in the public, for acting within their rights, is the act of a bully. If the cost of producing documents to satisfy the request is exorbitant, then FBISD can send a bill to the person who submitted the request. This has been done in the past. Ms. Kristin Tassin, it is disingenuous to say that asking for information under the PIA takes away from early college, P-Tech programs, early literacy, or other at-risk students. You should know better than that.
Six months of documents were requested because of the lack of communication regarding rezoning between November 2018 and February 2019. On Nov. 16, 2018, we were told via email that the attendance boundary process for the middle schools (FCMS and FSMS) would be postponed until we had a clear way forward regarding the new elementary school (ES 53) because the boundaries are directly related to the elementary school boundaries.
Nothing was said further about rezoning until the Feb. 18, board meeting, where rezoning was suggested based on perceptions (and not even mentioned on the meeting agenda). And despite having found land through eminent domain for ES 53, nothing is clear in terms of ES 53 boundaries or the land purchase itself. Then on Feb. 19, we were told via email that board members expressed a need to “immediately balance enrollment between FSMS and FCMS.”
Parents and community members would like to know how the board and the district went from postponing middle school boundary discussions to do them along with elementary boundaries in November to needing to immediately balance enrollment in February, without the data to support it. The Public Information Act gives us every right to obtain this information.
Community engagement, whether through focus groups, surveys, emails, or meetings, has always been a part of any rezoning or rebalancing discussion. However, on Feb. 19, we were told that there would be limited community engagement. No survey will be sent out, and a focus group will only meet five days prior to the board making a decision on Feb. 25. Furthermore, all email correspondence to the board of trustees and FBISD administration has gone unanswered.
Ms. Tassin said that “…we expect communities to advocate for their positions, provide feedback, and engage with us personally and via email.” What is a parent to do when a trustee refuses to respond to a respectful email? What is a parent to do when a trustee won’t meet with them or take a phone call? How can a community provide feedback if there is no survey?
We elect trustees to represent all students and families in Fort Bend ISD. We expect you to listen to your constituents. We expect you to respect us. We expect you to act with transparency. Calling constituents bullies for acting within the law is not acceptable. Rezoning based on perceptions and not data is not acceptable. Asking communities to advocate via email and then never responding is not acceptable. You are exactly right when you said our students deserve better. They definitely do.
Dr. Uma Ramamurthy
Educator and researcher, Riverstone