Houston ISD Cites Construction Cost Overruns as Major Factor in Bond Funding Shortfall

HISDIn 2012, voters approved a $1.89 billion bond package that including rebuilding as many as 20 schools around the district; however, some are saying that the district may have misled voters by promising to build far more schools than the district could afford.  Tracy Clemons of KTRK:

Some voters believe the Houston Independent School District pulled a bait and switch on a bond proposal they approved back in 2012.

[…]

Davis is one of 20 schools that are supposed to be rebuilt with the $1.89 billion bond voters passed in 2012. But district officials say they’re $211 million short of being able to finish all the promised projects.

“Are we going to modify the project designs to accommodate to this deficit?” wonders HISD Board of Education member Juliet Stipeche.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, a HISD spokesperson said “The amount of funding budgeted for each of those projects remains the same today as it was on Election Day. However, that dollar amount may not stretch as far as it once would have as a result of rising inflation and construction costs throughout the city.”

“If it is truly attributable all to inflation, then let’s take a look at that and make sure we can go to the community and say this is inflation, it’s not based on anything we could’ve done or corrected.”

“The audit is a good idea. But I don’t think we’re gonna find out anything more differently that what we already know: that you are not going to build these African American schools,” says Gerry Monroe with the United Urban Alumni Association.

How this plays out can have important consequences for future school bond elections for many reasons.  Perhaps the most obvious reason is that, if handled poorly, it could give easy ammunition to bond opponents looking to defeat any future bond measure by Houston ISD or other Houston-area school districts.  It’s probably safe to assume that in 2012, most voters thought this bond was going to easily cover the costs needed to build the promised schools, maybe even leave a little cash left over. (You never budget for less than you need, right? Right?)  The problem is that if Houston ISD ever needs to go before voters again in the future (correction: when!), opponents on the City’s east side, upset about feeling slighted, might align with conservatives on the west side of the district to defeat the measure.  Why allow such a formidable coalition to form?  Houston ISD leaders would be smart to move forward with this audit and make it unequivocally clear they will fully investigate the matter.  Inflation costs wrecking havoc to the budget? Fine.  But be sure to make that clear to voters and maintain a clear, simple, and consistent message.  When I voted for this bond measure in 2012, I had confidence the district knew how to spent it, and I still do today.  However, perceptions matter, and any time a school district is seen as either incompetent or being willingly unfair, helps no one.

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