Humble ISD to host series of talks about potential bond issue
Seats in the Humble High School auditorium were filled Thursday night, Sept. 28, with residents interested in serving on the Humble ISD citizen bond advisory committee. The committee members will study district growth, facilities and finances, and ultimately will make a recommendation to the school board and administration about the need for a future bond referendum.
Humble ISD Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen began with a video depicting the efforts of Humble ISD employees and students after Hurricane Harvey.
Fagen then turned her attention to the bond issue, emphasizing that the district’s current student population of around 42,000 is anticipated to grow to 52,000 by 2025. She also cited the age of current schools. Seven schools are over 40 years old, such as the 57-year-old Lakeland Elementary campus. An additional 20 campuses are between 20 and 40 years old, with only 16 campuses under 20 years old. Fagen stressed that an old facility needs to be able to offer the same opportunities for education as a new facility. She emphasized that sometimes it is more expensive to renovate than to raze and rebuild, and cited Lakeland as an example. She also broached the topic of having a new natatorium, a topic that has been discussed often over the last few years.
“We have great practice pools, but no competitive pool,” she said.
Administrator Trey Kraemer answered questions from the audience, with the effects of Harvey first and foremost on the minds of many, who asked about the effect the flooding of Kingwood High and the Instructional Support Center would have on the bond. Kingwood High damages are estimated at $30 to $40 million and the ISC at $10 million. The district does not expect those losses to impact the bond, because a combination of insurance money and FEMA will pay for the damages. Fagen said that the state of Texas has promised to “make school districts whole if they were damaged by Harvey.” She also explained that some items in the facilities assessment had shifted to higher priority after the storm, such as the $1.7 million new roof needed for Humble Middle School.
Several people expressed concern about the anticipated post-Harvey decreased growth and tax base. District CFO Mike Seale said it may take more than a year to see how the tax base settles out post-Harvey, but said that the bond committee will have to factor their best estimate into their recommendation. The district also stated that most of the high-growth areas like The Groves did not flood and are continuing on their expected growth trajectory.
Many attendees asked questions about the last bond, from 2008, such as whether all projects were completed and on time, and how good the cost estimates were. The district said that land costs were on target and that some projects were under cost. The new middle and elementary schools are the last two remaining projects on the 2008 bond, and there is money set aside exclusively for that purpose.
“We’re not going to take 2018 bond money to pay for 2008 projects. Absolutely not,” Fagen said.
One attendee asked if the district was debt-free. The district is currently between $500 million and $600 million in debt, but Seale explained that while the district is not debt-free, they very rapidly pay down the debt at a rate of about $50 million per year. One woman asked whether facilities not in the district’s recent assessment could be added to the bond recommendation (they can), such as the high school agricultural facilities in Kingwood which have flooded twice in the last two years. Another woman expressed concern about getting everything accomplished in just seven meetings, and recommended an online collaboration platform to facilitate discussions between meetings.
If the community feels the bond is needed in 2018, Election Day will be May 5, and a decision is needed by Feb. 13 in order for a bond to be on the May 2018 ballot.
If a bond is on the ballot and is voted in, the district plans to form a post-bond committee to track the progress of the new bond’s implementation.
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