When the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees gathered for a full board meeting May 14 to vote on proposed facility recommendations, they came with awareness that a fired up community was ready to challenge every move.
Indeed, school board superintendent Charles Dupre issued a statement apologizing to the public for leaving some with the perception that their voices did not matter.
So in addition to leading with an apology, changes were made to the agenda to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd. That allowed community members to speak before the board entered two closed-door sessions and then take action in what turned out to be the district’s longest board meeting, which ended at 2:20 a.m. with the board making multiple recommendations.
The more than 8.5-hour meeting allowed the public to hear the board members challenge and question the administration and one another as they plowed through difficult decisions.
“The revised recommendations were based on feedback. We were trying to address too many issues and challenges at one time. One example was trying to solve the issue of utilization of high schools while addressing GPA and class ranking concerns addressed by parents at host academies. I truly regret our attempts to solve too many issues at once made some communities feel devalued. That was not and will never be our intent. As we present updated recommendations, we refocus on building utilization while still developing innovation,” said Dupre.
“Leadership means moving to the head of the pack and accepting risks to improve student outcomes. Good enough is not good enough anymore in FBISD,” Dupre added.
As a result, the board postponed a vote on proposed innovative programs for elementary schools in the Marshall and Willowridge high school feeder patterns until further information becomes available by the end of summer.
Board trustees Addie Heyliger and Grayle James said they didn’t have enough information from the administration.
“This is too ambiguous. We need goals and timetables,” said Heyliger.
The lack of depth and detail for schools in the Marshall feeder pattern angered parents.
“I hear your passion for other schools, for keeping neighborhood schools. Ours are just as important. It is time to treat these families with respect. Do not take us for granted just because we don’t have fancy t-shirts or signs. We deserve the same time and consideration as those in other neighborhoods,” said a visibly upset Blue Ridge Elementary School parent Carlene Hodge.
She said school policy is to improve schools 40 years old and nothing has been done to their school, which is 49 years old.
“Even though there is no mention of Blue Ridge Elementary in your master plan, we want instructional programming, professional staff, and critical thinking,” said parent Claude Foster.
“This should be a moral call for FBISD. We want the same consideration of equity. We know we have challenges or we don’t have the parental support the schools in wealthier neighborhoods have. But who will speak for those who cannot speak for themselves? Despite the broken promises of an elementary for the Shadow Creek Ranch, we made Blue Ridge the best it can be and revitalized the parent-teacher organization that has been dormant since 1984,” Foster said.
Hightower parent Geralynn Price challenged the board to think of everyone in the district.
“Why write off half of the schools in our district? It would seem we would want them all to succeed. Yet, you have people booing in town hall meetings when certain schools are mentioned. Why wouldn’t an academy be successful at Marshall or Willowridge? Let’s not write off half the district and say it’s not gonna work over there. Make all the schools equal, every school. There should not be a collective booing when any school is mentioned,” Prince said.
While Stephanie Brown, a parent and long-time booster of schools, said she has watched the district steal jewels from Marshall to appease other schools. She said they used to have an engineering academy.
“We have dedicated teachers and we have teachers telling us you are taking them away. Give us what we need so our students can thrive. But instead, these schools are a drive-by on the minds of the board,” Brown said.
The district also heard from parents skeptical of the data used to feed the recommendations.
Stuart Jackson said he has three children in three different high schools. He said the board seems to sway with the wind instead of making decisions based on facts.
“The district canceled academies and the community got engaged you changed your mind. Now you’re gonna experiment with my kid at Ridge Point with scheduling. Every few years the district goes to war on a banner of long-term planning, which I guess is two to three years. You spend months engaging the community and ignore the output. Your recommendations from last week didn’t survive. When the demographic data we pay for seems accurate, how do we find ourself in this position? Is the district only sampling the portion of the community that is always engaged and when the decision is made the rest of the community gets engaged or enraged? The steering committee recommended a ninth-grade center and rezone, but the recommendation instead is for innovative rescheduling. You need to figure out how to truly listen to your constituents before they start voting with their pocketbooks,” said Jackson.
Before voting on rezoning for Ridge Point, board president and Ridge Point parent Kristin Tassin noted that people are moving to the back of the Sienna neighborhood, “thinking they are safe from rezoning. I want certainty. I want to know what it will look like. Is this a long-term fix?”
Dupree said they need direction from the board.
“We won’t be able to put together a plan by June to satisfy the level of questions of the board or the community. So if we are not willing to look out past November we need clear direction from the board,” said Dupre.
Trustee James said the district is in a crisis.
“We need to see what is in the short term. Attendance boundary changes need to be available as a tool to get through the next four to five years until we can either find some land and be ready to go forward in the next bond or have developed an awesome innovative program at Ridge Point,” James said.
Proposals to create a ninth-grade building to address overcrowding at Ridge Point, as well as proposed rezoning for Ridge Point, was met with resistance by Tassin.
“That sounds like complete upheaval to me. I don’t like that at all,” she said.
The rezoning would displace over 1,700 kids to keep Ridge Point at 100 percent capacity.
She added, “If we vote to rezone Ridge Point kids, we are effectively rezoning Hightower kids. I know the steering committee recommended domino rezoning and I understand why, but we have to give the opportunity for Marshall and Willowridge for early college and maybe an academy,” said Tassin.
Rosenthal withdrew his motion saying, “it warrants more discussion and at 1 a.m., we should not be making these decisions.”
Approved FBISD recommendations
The Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees approved several facility recommendations made by a committee. Among them are:
• Build a 1,000-capacity Elementary School 51 and make additions for Neill and Madden elementary schools.
• For Clements and Elkins feeder pattern schools south of Highway 6, build a new elementary school with additions to Commonwealth, Austin and Settlers Way Elementary.
• Expand Fort Settlement Middle School.
• Rebuild Meadows Elementary.
• Build a new elementary school to relieve Palmer and Park elementary overcrowding and include rezoning.
• New 1,000-capacity elementary school for the Ridge Point High School feeder pattern.
• Conceptually support rezoning in the Ridge Point area. Want implementation plan for the impact of flexible scheduling.
• Include in the bond issue, money for the purchase of land for a future high school in the Sienna area.
• Eventually, create boundaries based on community dialog that will be approved by the board.
• New 1,400-capacity middle school for the Hightower/Ridge Point feeder pattern.
Answers raised by the creation of the Facilities Master Plan will help the district determine how much of a bond question this year with the understanding they have another 18 months to pursue if it fails.