Six years ago, the state’s largest school district made history when it issued its largest bond ever. Now, they are eyeing a similar-sized bond to be on an upcoming ballot.

Houston Independent School District has yet to wrap up projects from its $1.89 billion bond passed in 2012, but they’re already talking about asking voters to approve $1.7 billion in a May 2019 referendum.

This potential request is still in the very early stages.

HISD trustees, which have the ultimate say in whether to place a bond proposition on the ballot, were briefed by district staff on the proposal at their May 17 budget workshop.

The proposal includes a lengthy wish list of facility renovations and add-ons, however, the theme seems to revolve around school safety.

“The safety and security of our students and the staff is absolutely paramount, which is why we believe it should play a major role in any potential bond program going forward,” said HISD COO Brian Busby.

The recommendation is to use the $1.7 billion to replace 18 schools, build two new “relief” schools, add security vestibules and technology upgrades, replace school buses, and expand the Pre-K program. Of course, what school bond would be complete without a stadium? The bond also includes a complete renovation of the district’s stadium and fieldhouse, which will likely be big-ticket items on the proposal.

Yet with district tension at an all-time high and public confidence at a low, this bond may not have the easiest path forward.

Previous Texas Scorecard articles outlined how, just a few years ago, the district uncovered a shortfall, in the millions, from the 2012 bond. The shortfall was in large part due to mismanagement and lack of oversight leading to overpriced contracts and subpar work.

When the public was alerted of the shortfall by the HISD Auditor, he was fired.

Since then, the relationship between HISD and the public has rapidly deteriorated as trustees increasingly disregard public input, silence opposition, and attempt to act without regard for the people they are elected to serve.

Only half of the projects from the district’s 2012 bond have been completed to date and taxpayers are still seeing the financial repercussions of poor management. Though the referendum, if approved by the board, is a year away, now is when the public needs to begin voicing concerns on the projects that will be in it and the merits of taking on billions in additional debt.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.