Fight heats up over proposed drainage fee

October 7, 2010 4:36:57 PM PDT
Homeowners and organizations across the city of Houston are taking sides over a controversial drainage fee that could affect every property owner in the city. It's a decision that will be left up to you in November. The Houston Independent School District school board voted unanimously on a resolution Thursday morning coming out against Proposition 1, voicing their concerns about what the proposed fee might mean to them. The board asked City Council to exempt the district from having to pay the drainage fees.

With a cost estimated at up to $3.5 million per year, the HISD school board made it clear how it felt about the new drainage fee.

"We don't want to tax our children. We know that there are going to be shortcomings at the state," said Paula Harris, HISD board member.

The board voted 8-0 on the resolution.

"I've never hid the fact that we posted this time and this date and what we possibly could do," said HISD Board President Greg Meyers.

The district estimates the new fee would spell the loss of up to 70 teachers, which according to the board means larger class sizes for students.

However, backers of Prop 1 came out strong against the district, blaming it for its own financial problems. In a statement released today from Renew Houston, it reads, "HISD does not need to use its students as a political football when it can do a better job managing its own tax dollars."

Theldon Branch sits on Renew Houston's executive committee.

"HISD and the board should want to see the city grow economically because that's more tax revenue for them," said Branch.

Despite the disconnect, the door is not completely closed. Board members say they would support the proposition if, like colleges and universities, K-12 schools would be exempted too.

Today, Mayor Annise Parker said she was open to those discussions, but will leave that to the entire council after the proposition is voted one.

"It's not up to me to say some group is in or not. This is something that the entire governing body of the city of Houston would need to do," said Mayor Parker.

HISD officials deny that they are mismanaging money.

Proposition 1 would not only affect HISD; Aldine ISD and North Forest ISD has parts of its schools in Houston and both are considering similar resolutions.

Earlier Thursday

The Houston Independent School District school board formally denounced the drainage fee proposition. The board Thursday morning unanimously passed a resolution opposing Proposition 1 which goes before voters next month.

HISD is against it because the district says dozens of teachers could lose their jobs if the drainage fee is passed. That's because the district's fee could be up to $3.5 million a year.

The board members say the resolution means they are taking a stand and putting up a fight for students to insure a quality education, and to do that they say they can't afford to lay off dozens of teachers. So board members voted to say no to that drainage fee.

The vote came after about 30 minutes of discussion immediately followed by the board president's signature on that resolution. It was an emotional meeting with some board members very outspoken concerning their opposition of the drainage fee that is expected to cost HISD as much as $3.5 million a year. That is the total salary of about 50 to 60 teachers, which could mean layoffs.

"We have a responsibility to make sure we provide the highest quality education possible and that we're stewards of taxpayers' dollars," said Greg Meyers, HISD Board President.

The board also stresses what they are calling a double tax for homeowners who would be paying the proposed fee plus a potential increase in school taxes.

The district is hoping that the city of Houston will exempt all schools from the drainage fee.

Proposition 1 will go before voters in November and Meyers said the district will be encouraging citizens to vote no.

Renew Houston, a group in support of Prop 1, released a statement saying in part, "The Vote FOR Prop 1 Campaign regrets to learn that the Houston Independent School District is taking a position against the best interests of our city, taxpayers, and most importantly our children. HISD should do a more responsible job of managing taxpayer funds before laying off teachers and opposing a fiscally responsible plan to keep its students safe. In short, HISD should cut the waste, not the teachers."

And later Thursday afternoon, Meyers responded to the Renew Houston statement, saying in part, "It is very unfortunate that the Renew Houston advocates have responded with inflammatory and misleading rhetoric to the legitimate policy concerns of the Houston Independent School District. Instead of over-heated rhetoric, the Houston Independent School District sincerely hopes that its concerns will be discussed and addressed, and the District looks forward to continuing discussions with the City and others who are interested in a rational dialogue."

HISD Board Prez: Teachers could lose jobs if Prop 1 passes

We have new details about the vote for better drainage in Houston. The Houston Independent School District school board president says Proposition 1 on the ballot in November could mean teachers will lose their jobs.

In November, voters will be asked to decide whether property owners across the city of Houston should pay a monthly fee to help pay for drainage projects.

HISD school board president Greg Meyers estimates about 70 teachers could lose their jobs if the fee goes through.

As it stands right now, Meyers says the new fee would end up costing the district between $2.5 million and $3.5 million a year. That's equivalent to about 80 starting teacher salaries.

Meyers says with the added fee parents could see larger class sizes and limits on construction on new facilities such as tennis courts and tracks.

Next month, voters will head to the polls and decide whether or not to allow the fee. Supporters say it's needed to pay for outdated street and drainage infrastructure that is in bad disrepair. However, the proposition does not exempt school districts. On Thursday, the HISD school board will discuss a resolution, possibly coming out against Prop 1.

"We don't disagree with the need for better drainage in our city. We are very welcome to have the opportunity, but we also want folks to understand what our position is," said Meyers.

If the board does vote for the resolution, the district could educate the public using outside money.

Meyers said the fee would not just affect people living within the district, but would also affect people living in places like Bellaire and West University Place who send their kids to HISD.

We tried to reach people from Renew Houston who are in support of Proposition 1, however we have yet to hear back.


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