After an abbreviated regular meeting February 2, the Houston School Board spent much of their time “workshopping” with representatives from SiteLogiQ and Baker Tilly. SiteLogic has been working with Houston Schools as they assess facility needs; Baker Tilly presented financial information to the board.
SiteLogiQ had recently helped survey the community about possible project needs and wants: Tom Weber presented the results of the survey to the board. A total of 141 responses were gathered, which was a 7.5% participation rate. This rate was considered a good response. Fifty-seven percent of the responses came from outside the city of Houston while 43% lived in the city. Sixty-one percent were parents with students spread fairly evenly between the high school and elementary.
Participants in the survey were asked to rate the priority of the following projects:
•Elementary school secure entryway
•New elementary school cafeteria and renovate old one for learning space
•Renovate and expand high school CTE spaces
•Remodel and update high school cafeteria
•Provide student breakout/collaborative learning spaces
•New high school auditorium
•Renovate and reconfigure high school music and band spaces
•Additional high school gym space and relocate/expand fitness center
Both parents and non-parents chose the following as the top three projects: safe and secure elementary entryway, new elementary cafeteria, and CTE (career technical education) space and shop area.
In the survey, participants were also asked a dollar amount they would be comfortable as a tax increase to pay for the projects. The majority of respondents chose $15 to $18 a month.
SiteLogiQ presented preliminary drawings of the projects, and then shared that the total amount of all projects was estimated at $45,679,500 with $38,840,500 to be spent at the high school and $6,839,000 at the elementary. They did not share individual costs of each proposed project.
According to SiteLogiQ, the workshopping goal for that night was to reach a board consensus on how much they felt they could spend. The board needed to determine how much they felt the community would support.
Ryan Fetters of Baker Tilly shared that Houston’s best option would be to issue school building bonds. In order to take advantage of equalization aid, such bonds would need to be sold by July 1. Since Houston is “property poor” with not as much commercial property as larger school districts, the state provides aid to schools such as Houston. Fetters reminded the board that ag land owners would get a significant break on their taxes. He shared rough estimates of housing values within the district; more specific information will be provided at the next workshopping session on tax impact for homes in the district.
Following presentations by both SiteLogiQ and Baker Tilly, the board was asked to reach a consensus on the total amount they felt comfortable asking from the residents. The board decided to go with a two question approach — the first question would be for $20 million for the community priorities; the second question would be for an additional $25 million the total amount of $45 million.
A second workshopping session was set for Thursday, February 9. At that session, the board will learn the cost of each individual project and will need to decide specifically which projects will be included in the first question.
SiteLogiQ will need to prepare a plan to submit by February 17 to the Department of Education for review and comment. The plan will get either a favorable or unfavorable review. If the plan receives an unfavorable review, the proposed plan could still be brought to the voters, but would have to pass by a 60% majority rather than a simple majority the favorable review would require. The public will have the opportunity to review the plan when it comes back from the state review.
If the board decides to proceed with bringing the proposal to the public, they will need to pass a resolution calling for an election before February 24. They have set aside a possible meeting date of February 23 to vote on such a resolution.
Assorted communication methods including letters, emails, newspapers, and social media would be utilized during the 10 weeks following such a resolution to inform the voters about the need and future uses of the proposed projects.
Regular business meeting
During the regular board meeting, the Houston School Board:
•Recognized as Hurricane Heroes student teachers A.J. Frisby and Cade Olszewski who have taken on officiating basketball games; a total of nine student teachers are currently assigned to Houston;
•Heard the 2022 audit report; the school received a clean report, and the board was told the district was very stable and not seeing enrollment decreases;
•Approved permission for Superintendent Morem for the budget process and possible reductions to staff;
•Heard the ADSIS (Alternative Delivery of Specialized Instructional Services) report from Morem and learned that the program has been very successful in working with struggling students; MNVA might be added to the program next year;
•Recognized the paraprofessionals during their week and learned that February is also school board recognition month.
Future special meetings of the Houston School Board will be a workshopping session on February 9 at 6 p.m. with SiteLogiQ and a possible special meeting on February 23 at 6 p.m. to vote on a resolution to hold a referendum on the projects. The next regular board meeting will be March 2 at 6 p.m. in the high school media center; the public is welcome to attend.