As the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees gathered data during a seven-hour workshop Monday night on their needs for a bond proposal request that could reach $1billion this year, board members started questioning decisions made last month and indicated they could rescind some matters when they take action at the full board meeting next week.
While Superintendent Charles Dupre was reluctant to call out the actions of some parents in the school district, board Vice President Addie Heyliger didn’t mince words in explaining difficulties of addressing overcrowding in one section of the district while dealing with under-utilized schools in the same district.
“I’m looking at recommendations and I’m a bit challenged. We have two under-utilized high schools so how are we being fiscally responsible looking at a new high school for Ridge Point?” she asked.
Dupre said the district is trying to resolve issues that need to be resolved on a state level.
“People choose to live where they choose to live,” he said.
He added that parents have said they are not going to send their students to Willowridge or Marshall.
“It’s their choice, I’m not going to be evaluative,” Dupre said.
Heyliger said she had no qualms.
“I can be evaluative. The letters and the comments from parents on this issue have been ugly, racists and elitist,” she said.
Board Secretary Dave Rosenthal agreed to a point.
“This recommendation to build a new high school is so difficult because it is $120 million to build a new high school. Fiscally you are right. You can call it what it is, people want to go where they want to go. Marshall and Willowridge are under-performing and we have to change that. You can’t put a gun to peoples head and say you’re gonna go there because they are not gonna go,” said Rosenthal.
To address the population needs of Marshall and Willowridge high schools, which are well below capacity, the district will explore innovative programming to attract other students to the schools.
The administration said the district lost more than 8,000 students to private, charter and others such as home school and to other districts. So the district will unleash a new plan to attract more students to Marshall and Willowridge high schools using innovative programming to attract more students. They have a goal of recruiting 200 plus students annually to get their numbers up to 80 percent capacity by the 2022-23 school year.
Trustee K.P. George and former board president Kristin Tassin said they did not know if resistance to attending Willowridge and Marshall high schools was racist.
“I don’t think the comments are racists but they are elitist. It is disappointing how members of the community have reacted and over-reacted,” said Tassin.
“This has been a very difficult decision. You in the audience watching this video, you have no idea what it’s like to balance budgets that don’t balance and balance enrollment that doesn’t. It’s all extremely difficult. The $130 million in this bond for a high school seems inappropriate. We will probably have to raise taxes and everyone in FBISD has to be willing to pass a $1.2 billion bond and pay more taxes. And what will Sienna say if they learn they are not likely to have the high school in Sienna?” asked Tassin.
Heyliger challenged Rosenthal’s statement of underperforming high schools.
“The impression is that we are sending the worst teachers to Marshall and Willowridge and that we are not spending resources. The reality is that we are spending resources and putting good teachers there,” she said.
After sitting through multiple recent graduations, Heyliger said there are several reasons schools are successful including the fact that successful schools have a mix of backgrounds in the student population.
In addition to the high school, the board addressed middle school issues.
One concern is the proposal made in May to make additions to Fort Settlement Middle School which could bring the student population past 1,700 while the older First Colony Middle School about two miles away has room for students.
“After hearing from another side of the community, I feel like we made a mistake,” said Rosenthal.
“I can’t imagine being in a school of 1,800 kids. How would your teachers even know you? I would like to reconsider and take action and reverse that decision. I admit when I am wrong,” said Rosenthal.
Rosenthal said he had forgotten, until it was brought to his attention, that the district has money left over from the 2014 bond to address cosmetic changes to the First Colony Middle School.
“We’re all thinking along the same line; we have new information and I don’t think a major expansion is necessary,” said Rosenthal.
Heyliger said she remembers “specifically asking the question to the team why the master plan committee recommended putting it to First Colony versus Fort Settlement and I was told to look at utilization. I made a bad decision based on info I had or what was presented. It makes better sense to put eight additions to First Colony rather than to Fort Settlement,” she said.
Trustee Grayle James said she was sensitive to students being moved two or three times and asked the administrative staff for maps and numbers to better understand how many students are affected.
After the meeting, the board decided to allow 15 minutes of public input of no more than three minutes per speaker.
Riverstone parent Dee Memon told the board she was an ally but questioned the wisdom of the board changing its mind on a recent vote.
“Re-visiting voted decisions is the threat to all communities and waste of administration time on something which can be used for greater purpose. It will take faith away from BOT (Board of Trustees) and their process of voting. Here I stand with the united voice of the entire Riverstone with 6,900 registered voter as of today who want to keep the current feeder patterns and who also oppose rezone. We still request to modernize our aging school First Colony,” said Memon.
Memon was one of five parents who spoke but not all who signed up to speak were afforded the time.
This angered FBISD employee Karrie Washenfelder who put her name on the list and sat through the meeting but did not get the time to speak.
“I should have been given a chance to speak. I was on the list. Or you could have told me at 10 p.m. that I wasn’t going to speak. I asked the president to let me speak and he carried on with his motion to adjourn. My people have been disenfranchised. We have a $364 million budget and they can’t find $1.2 million for staff raises? This is blatantly unfair to school employees. Teachers will get raises but everyone won’t,” said Washenfelder, who represents bus drivers, paraprofessionals, and other non-teacher staff.
The board next meets 6 p.m. June 18 to take action on Monday night’s discussion.