Hoping to make the 2018 bond-funded capital improvement proposal more palatable, the Fort Bend Independent School District will look at two three-year bonds for less money than the $1.7 billion bond they considered as late as last month.
The FBISD Board of Trustees received the newest configuration Saturday night of the monies needed to fund the district’s capital improvement needs. Already hearing community rumbling over a bond topping $1 billion, district officials looked for ways to pare down the request.
So now they are dividing it into two three-year packages of a $992 million bond proposal that likely will not include metal detectors as a money saver. They also are no longer locked into a six-year plan, which the board appreciated.
Initially, the board was told it would have to pursue the six-year bond because state officials were considering making changes that would make it harder to approve a bond without 30 percent voter participation.
But after talking with state officials, the administration said it is more financially prudent to take its chances with the state rather thank risk presenting a bond that might not pass.
“We talked with our friends in Austin and if that legislation passed in 2019, we’d say that’s fine, we could have an election in 2020 if need be. We don’t see them passing a bill and not giving schools districts a grace period. Taking that into consideration, we were comfortable with this proposal,” said district chief financial officer Steven Bassett.
“Our job as trustees is addressing risk. We face the reality of the community reaction if they are asked to pass a bond three times larger than we’ve ever had. We decided a better risk is to do three years,” said FBISD Superintendent Charles Dupre.
Board Vice President Addie Heyliger said she understands the approach, “but I felt like I was pigeonholed into this box to make this decision because of paranoia and fear of legislation. It’s a good presentation but I’m still mulling it over.”
The board received the newest proposal two days before the meeting.
Officials noted they have been “under-investing” in school facilities and it is starting to show up with the need for new roofs, air conditioning systems, and other infrastructure.
Trustee Jim Rice added that Bassett’s presentation illustrated the damage a 2.5 percent cap has on the school district. He said its more proof that, “Austin legislators need to stay out of the schools.”
“They tell us what to set the minimum rate at, they are messing in our business needs and they need to stay out of it. But because of your careful stewardship, we are in this position,” Rice told Bassett.
The new proposals would likely not include metal detectors in the school and they are looking at green initiatives as a way to save money. District Police Chief David Rider said they will include final recommendations from the safety committee in August. He noted that the expense of metal detectors could be prohibitive and not necessarily the only safety measure to consider.
A woman representing the small group of mothers in the audience told the board she was opposed to the idea of a marshal in the schools which would arm teachers as part of a safety measure. Arming teachers was also among the proposals that the police chief’s committee was considering.
“What will our community tolerate, that’s what a lot of this is about. The last time we cut that bond in half because we felt like the community could not tolerate higher bonds and that’s what we’re doing now,” said Trustee Kristen Tassin. “We knew all along that planning for six years was difficult but we were pushed and steamrolled into planning for things that you all know from experience this is not good to do. So from that standpoint, I feel like it’s sound. I want to make sure we include everything recommended in safety and security, that is at the top of my list.”
She added that she wanted to make sure there is adequate funding for the core of each school. “I want to make sure we get that right,” she said.
Trustee Grayle James agreed about the importance of core expansion which means larger lunch spaces and auditorium because it’s hurting the students. Parents have complained that schools are so overcrowded that there is not enough room to accommodate everyone for lunch periods and students are not allowed to be social.
“I have been in middle schools where they have a silent lunch it’s not good for kids,” said James.
Formal recommendations from the administration will be on the Aug. 6 workshop agenda and action would take place on Aug. 13, Dupre said.