In Focus

Tax increase proposal for HISD?

Friday, June 01, 2012

Students may be out for the summer, but the Houston Independent School District is already doing its homework to build bigger and better schools at billion dollar prices.

So who will foot the bill for these new buildings? A tax increase proposal could be on the ballot as soon as November.

How's this for summer math? Five years ago HISD asked you for $800 million for new schools. It barely passed with 51 percent of the vote.

Now the district is contemplating doubling the number for a vote later this year. The district needs new schools and the starting number is $1 billion.

School may be out for summer.

"Today is real exciting for me," said student Willie Williams.

But the business of HISD doesn't stop. And while the kids are gone, the adults who run the place are getting ready to ask you for more of your cash.

"We know there's a lot of unaddressed facilities needs at the high school level," said HISD Spokesperson Jason Spencer.

It's no secret HISD schools are getting older. High schools especially. A needs assessment is nearly finished and once it's done, sources familiar with the plan suggest it will recommend substantial renovation, if not outright replacement of several HISD high schools.

"It's in fair condition. Some of the AC's are leaking and some of the AC's don't work," said student Dakota Garcia.

She knows Madison High School needs it and her mom isn't opposed to paying for it.

"If I know it's going for schools, then I don't have a problem with that," said parent Frances Zimmer. "You're not going to pay attention if you're hot or uncomfortable."

But the HISD board knows not everyone will be as enthusiastic and is gearing up for what could be a tough fight. The package is likely to focus on Houston's aging high schools -- Jack Yates High School opened in 1958, Sterling High School in 1965, the same year as Madison High School.

The board hasn't picked a final number for the deal, but look at the figure we've been told HISD is considering. It could be as high as $1.8 billion. The eight zeroes keep coming. And once you do the math for an average HISD area home, that's $91 in extra school taxes every year for decades.

"An investment in the schools is an investment in Houston's future," said Spencer.

When we asked him even it means higher property taxes on every homeowner in the district, Spencer replied, "That's a decision every voter will have to make for themselves."

The district will find out just how bad the need is later this month. The school board will decide in August about putting it on the ballot. It could be a crowded spot -- remember the county may ask voters for cash to renovate the Astrodome as well.

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