Christie Whitbeck

Christie Whitbeck

Voters within Fort Bend ISD’s boundaries will likely be deciding whether or not to approve additional bond funding to construct schools and other facilities as soon as this November.

But exactly how big that bond might be remains up for discussion.

Superintendent Christie Whitbeck last week confirmed that a bond referendum was likely, with a district spokesperson adding that this was part of a longstanding plan.

“It is also accurate that the 2018 bond was meant to serve as a phase 1 with the intention of seeking voter approval in 2021 for a second bond needed to address needs that were not covered in the 2018 bond,” said Sherry Williams, a spokesperson for Fort Bend ISD. “The 2021 election did not happen.”

More than 70 percent of voters in November 2018 approved almost $1 billion in ballot propositions that were tabbed for building new schools, improving safety and security, transportation and maintenance across the fast-growing school district, according to FBISD.

At the time, the plan was to bring voters a second package in 2021, but the coronavirus pandemic suspended that plan, according to the district.

In conversation with three trustees last week, it seemed there was some consensus that they’d support bringing some type of referendum to voters this November. So rather than determining whether to pursue a bond, it seems like the majority of discussion will center on how big such a proposition might be.

“With the way that school funding is set up in Texas, it pretty much requires bonds to build schools,” new trustee David Hamilton said.

The district continues to grow, albeit not at the same pace as several years ago, but is also facing a budget shortfall that needs addressing, Hamilton said.

District administrators are projecting an almost $47 million budget deficit for the upcoming school year amid lower-than-expected enrollment numbers and increased costs of operating, including higher teacher salaries, according to a May 16 presentation.

Hamilton in a phone conversation with the Star said he thought administrators were doing a good job reducing that deficit through measures such as not filling some open administrative positions and other cost-saving measures.

But the district must continue to act and build voter confidence ahead of November, Hamilton said.

Trustees have until Aug. 22 to place a bond referendum on the November ballot, according to state requirements.

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