January is School Board Recognition Month, so the Jan. 9 Humble ISD trustee meeting began with accolades and nods for the board’s service. Dr. Elizabeth Fagen, superintendent, presented the board with a State of Texas commendation, and each board member with a book of photos of Humble ISD events over the last year.
Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ representative, Dru Gutierrez, as well as Precinct 4 Commissioner R. Jack Cagle’s representative, Kent Clingerman, also recognized the board.
Students decorated the boardroom with banners, thank-you notes and other artwork to show appreciation, and presented the board with cakes and other home-baked goodies. The Kingwood High School and Summer Creek High School student body presidents gave gifts and thanked the board for their efforts in combining the two school campuses.
Talented Foster Elementary fourth grader, Carson Kee, presented a video report entitled, “What is a Board of Trustees?” to the delight of all who attended.
FFA students from all Humble ISD high schools also thanked the board and reminded the community about the upcoming Humble Livestock Show and Rodeo. Board member Nancy Morrison said, “One of the best days in my life is auction day. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Representatives from the Humble ISD Education Foundation provided the board with a report on the employee fundraising campaign, in which more than 3,000 employees donated nearly $330,000, despite the community impact of Hurricane Harvey. Three elementary schools – Bear Branch, Pine Forest and Greentree – had 100 percent employee participation, while Riverwood, Kingwood Park and Quest received awards for highest participating campuses.
The board also announced that Humble ISD was chosen by the Texas Education Agency as one of 20 schools to participate in an accountability pilot study regarding what student testing looks like as Texas education moves forward.
The board gave a construction update on the Welcome Center, Instructional Support Center and Kingwood High, all damaged by Harvey floodwaters. The board reports that KHS is “gorgeous” and students will be ready to move back in March 19.
But the big ticket item on the agenda was presentation of the bond recommendation from the Citizen Bond Advisory Committee to the board of trustees.
Prior to the presentation, the board provided a brief historical perspective, reminding district patrons that the district had completed the last bond projects from 2008 at a fraction of the cost, and that leftover money had been used on land purchases for schools. They also reminded everyone that the district has a history of paying bonds off early and refinancing at lower interest rates. In all, $104 million has been saved.
Nearly 100 people served on the bond committee, with 34 percent employed by Humble ISD. The committee met Sept. 28 through Dec.14 and chose three representatives to present the final recommendations: Connie Chandler, Paul Campbell and former trustee Robert Scarfo.
Committee members were told the district could finance a six-year, $600 million bond without increasing the debt service tax rate. Humble ISD has pledged to not sell bonds until value growth and payments toward existing debt allow the district to do so without raising the debt service tax rate (35 cents per $100 property valuation).
Committee members were also given the charge to choose projects that would serve all students, protect instruction, remain fiscally responsible to taxpayers, and make repairs to maintain existing campuses. Provision of equitable school experiences for all students was also of foremost concern. The committee prepared two final versions of the bond proposal.
The first recommendation added school campuses: a new elementary school No. 30 and a new middle school No.10, as well as a complete rebuild of both Lakeland Elementary and Kingwood Middle School. Additionally, 10 to 12 classrooms were proposed to be added to Atascocita High. The committee also recommended that the bond include district Priority 1 repair items which were prioritized in the district facilities assessment (available online at humbleisd.net).
Second, the committee proposed several budget line items to bring older schools up to the current district standards available in newer schools: a library/cafeteria renovation at Humble High and multipurpose rooms at each of the elementary schools and the Community Learning Center campus.
Third, athletic issues were addressed. The committee recommended third gyms for all high schools, field turf at all high schools, and field turf at Turner Stadium. Additionally, wood floors were recommended for all middle school gyms. Rounding out the athletic expenditures was a Charles Street Stadium renovation for use in middle school football, Humble High freshman and JV football, and girls and boys high school soccer games.
Also included in the bond plan were major new facilities, including a brand new transportation center (bus barn) on the north side of the district and a brand new Ag barn to replace the current Ag barn located on Woodland Hills, a property which has continuously flooded. Some of the ag barn funds will be used to ensure equity by bringing the Humble Ag barn up to the standards of the new northside Ag barn.
The groups only differed on one topic. One of the final bond packages proposed a $40 million investment in student Career and Technology Education. The other bond package set aside funding for an expansion of the district’s Emergency Operations Center.
Despite the fact that both of the final two plans omitted an expensive natatorium project because a two-thirds majority vote was not reached, swim parents showed up in force at the meeting to continue to push the board to include it in the bond package. Even before the presentation, parent Lori Toomey spoke during the public comments portion, pleading with the board to reconsider the natatorium. Then, in the bond proposal, a significant portion of the committee presentation centered on the natatorium – almost as much as the entire bond proposal itself. The Tribune’s past article on the natatorium is here: ourtribune.com/headlines/humble-isd-bond-committee-has-spoken-not-atorium.html.
Campbell said the board might want to reconsider the natatorium idea, considering its “unique nature compared to the rest of the bond package.” The project is unique in one aspect, in that at a cost of $50 to $60 million, it comprises 10 percent of the overall bond package. Campbell concluded by saying, “If we’re gonna go, go big.”
Toomey stated that she felt that despite the pool failing to pass the committee’s muster, that many in the community supported the pool, and even said, “Yes, I am aware that some of you on the board also have swimmers.” She told the board that committee members were likely “confused” about the pool and that is likely why it didn’t pass.
Board member Robert Sitton echoed Toomey’s sentiments, singing the praises of the 2,500 seat-natatorium, saying, “I do believe there was some misconception about the pool. I don’t believe there is another one like it in Texas. Whether it goes anywhere or not, I just wanted to clarify that.” Martina Dixon, a board member, stated, “As a pro-natatorium board member, I thank Ms. Toomey for coming to speak to us.”
Newest board member Colin Carney asked whether the natatorium would be included in the $600 million. It would, meaning that the bond package for new schools and other items would be reduced to roughly $550 million to accommodate the pool.
Two board members seemed perplexed that the bond proposal did not include more funding for schools. Keith Lapeze asked whether the committee had looked at allocating the money to rebuild North Belt and Foster Elementary schools, neither of which were included in the $600 million. Charles Cunningham asked for clarification about why seemingly no money was allocated to Fall Creek Elementary school, which did have some need for repairs. Cunningham was directed to the detailed online facilities assessment for clarification.
The board will now consider the bond recommendation and report on it at the Feb. 13 trustee meeting. In the event that the board wishes to proceed with a bond election, they must call for the election by Feb. 16 in order include the bond on the May 2018 Uniform Election Date ballot.
KHS and SCHS student body presidents give appreciation gifts to board members in recognition of Board Appreciation Month.