Missouri City council rejects permit for new YES Prep campus

The Missouri City Council last week unanimously rejected a special use permit that would have allowed the charter school YES Prep to construct a new elementary school campus serving up to 700 students at the intersection of the Sam Houston Parkway and McLain Boulevard.

YES Prep's application for the permit had previously been rejected twice by the city's Planning & Zoning Commission, largely over concerns related to increased traffic. In response, the charter school had pared down its original design for the school, to be called Braes Oaks Elementary, from a maximum capacity of 1,000 students to 700. The P&Z commission ultimately voted to recommend that proposal to City Council.

The March 6 Council vote came after numerous comments from members of the public, many of them residents of the Fondren Park subdivision, immediately adjacent to the property of the proposed campus, which is zoned for industrial uses.

All of the Fondren Park residents raised concerns about the impact that the school would have on traffic in and around their neighborhood, as well as its proximity to Fire Station No. 2 on McLain. One of the entranceways to the school would have been directly adjacent to the fire station's egress onto McLain.

The Council also heard from three representatives of Fort Bend ISD who opposed YES Prep's application. Fort Bend ISD, like most pubic school districts, has made keeping charters schools - which are public schools run by private companies - on a "level playing field" with public school districts. That, in fact, is one of Fort Bend ISD's legislative priorities in the current session by the Texas Legislature.

Fort Bend ISD school board president Kristen Malone and board secretary Shirley Rose-Gilliam both spoke during the initial public speaker portion of the meeting, explaining that they had taken time from a concurrent board meeting because the issue was so important. Both said they were speaking as members of the public, not as representatives of the district.

Malone, a Missouri City resident, said she was concerned as a taxpayer and a resident about the effect the proposed campus would have on the area.

But she also discussed the differences between how school districts with elected boards have state requirements on such things as building new facilities (which must be approved by voters) and other things that charter school do not have to adhere to. Lat month, the FBISD board called for a $1.2 bond election, the largest in the fast-growing district's history, on May 6.

Both she and Rose-Gilliam said that even with the additional requirements, Fort Bend ISD outperforms charters schools in terms of academic outcomes. They also pointed out that in the area of the city where the YES Prep campus was proposed, Fort Bend ISD schools elementary schools are not at student capacity.

Later in the meeting, Fort Bend ISD Deputy Superintendent Steven Bassett also spoke against the proposed special use permit, voicing many of the same concerns as the two board members.

Speaking on behalf of YES Prep was Carmen Darville, the charter company's chief of operations. Herself a Missouri City resident with two children attending FBISD schools, Darville said that the charter school is about providing educational choice to parents, particularly to those of modest means who don't have the opportunity to send their children to private schools.

Keith Weaver, YES Prep's director of construction and design, laid out the process by which the charter company had revised the proposed school site design to address the concerns raised by residents at an open town hall, and ultimately came up with a plan that met the approval of both the Fort Bend Commissioners Court and the city's P&Z commission.

A YES Prep Bares Oaks Secondary School alumna who now works as a counselor for the charter company also spoke, saying that the school had provided her with an educational experience that she could not have received otherwise.

Some of the most impassioned comments came from Fondren Park residents.

"Do not disrupt our subdivision," Glenda Lewis, president of the Fondren Park Board of Directors, emphatically said, summing up the feelings of the residents.

During the discussion among the council members, most members raised concerns about the increased traffic near Fondren Park and the the approaches to the campus. One of the proposed primary entrances to the campus was directly off the Beltway 8 access road, with another directly proximate to Fire Station No. 2.

The vote had to be taken twice after Mayor Robin Elackatt said he was confused my District Council member Monica Riley's motion to deny the application, and it appeared he voted against it - that is, in favor of the new school.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved a final agreement with the Phillips 66 company involving an easement the company holds in the property that will be the site of the expanded Freedom Tree Park. The agreement allows the city to proceed with the planning of the project, which is slated to begin next year.

U.S. Rep. Al Green, whose 9th District includes most of Missouri City, appeared and praised the Council and city staff for their efforts in enhancing the park, which marks the spot where formerly enslaved people were told after the end of the Civil War that they were free. Green had helped broker the agreement with Phillips 66 at city officials' urging.

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