After weeks of “community involvement,” the Fort Bend Independent School District (FBISD) received the final proposed recommendations and got to publicly voice their opinions during a three-hour work session Monday night.
Among the recommended highlights – that could begin as early as 2019 if the board votes to approve when they meet May 14 – are a series of new schools, and portable buildings that could cost the district more than $175 million in a bond request that parents say still won’t address all the districts needs.
Those highlights include:
- Building a 1,000-capacity elementary school for the Austin, Travis, Bush feeder pattern.
- Rebuild Madden and Meadows Place elementary schools while repurposing Barrington Place Elementary School.
- Create classroom additions for Neill, Madden, Commonwealth, Park and Palmer elementary schools.
- Build a new 850-capacity elementary school for the Ridge Point High School feeder pattern.
- Create an innovative pilot program at Ridge Point High School allowing for flexible hours so students are not rezoned.
- Repurpose Blue Ridge Elementary School as a swing facility.
- Turn Hightower High School into a district-wide academy, moving traditional neighborhood students to another school, likely Marshall and Willowridge.
Of concern, say some parents, is that the recommendations do not address overcrowding at Ridge Point, Sienna, and Riverstone. It also leaves parents at Hightower High School frustrated because turning Hightower into a district-wide academy – against the recommendation of the steering committee – means that neighborhood students could be sent elsewhere.
The school board gave overwhelming vocal support for the Hightower idea with only board member Grayle James requesting more information on the impact to the neighborhood students. Trustee Addie Heyliger was the only board member absent.
A proposal made by board president Kristin Tassin to not rezone Ridge Point but create a pilot program with flexible scheduling was also met with high praise.
The board will make its final decision at the regular May 14 board meeting once requests for more information on some issues are met.
Some members of the community steering committee, however, called foul on the process saying they were merely used as pawns by the administration because proposals were inserted for the board to vote on that they did not recommend or did not have their support.
“I will never serve on a district steering committee again. They just lied to us. This is not what we wanted. They got our hopes up that they were going to do something for the east side of the district and they didn’t. You know what I call that – a lie. They totally ignored the needs of the east side of the district, namely Hightower, Marshall and Willowridge high schools,” said steering committee member Vivian Burley.
Parents in Hightower and Marshall high school zones were appalled when they learned of an overwhelming majority vocalizing support by the board for turning Hightower High School into a full academy that would mean moving out, or rezoning, the traditional neighborhood school.
“Only one board member, Grayle James, asked what about the Hightower students. The rest of the board sat there and said nothing as if we don’t even exist. They don’t want to rezone anyone but us and that’s supposed to be OK? I don’t think so,” said Hightower parent and organizer Geralynn Prince.
“I’m so disgusted I can’t even speak,” Prince said immediately after the board took a break.
She and many other parents had prepared statements to read to the board, but they could not be heard until the end of the meeting, which also had parents raising questions about the board truly wanting input.
After the three-hour meeting, the board went into closed session as planned to address legal issues. Board president Kristin Tassin said during the meeting that board members would make themselves available to parents before going into closed session. Having public comment at the end of the board meetings is standard operating practices, said school spokesperson Amanda Bubela.
That meant parents had to seek out and address each board member individually during the break to raise their concerns if they did not want to wait another two hours for the board to return out of closed session so parents could address the full board.
The facilities issue attracted a standing room only crowd that spilled into the administrative building lobby where parents sat on the floor to watch proceedings on a large screen.
There were multiple items on the agenda, so parents waiting for the end of the meeting, did not get to address the full board – for the meeting, which started at 6 p.m., went well after 11 p.m. Monday night.
“There is never a plan that will make everyone happy. Rezoning is not something we want to do. We are doing what we believe is in the best interest of our students,” Tassin said during the break.