HISD treads carefully around state laws to promote awareness of $1.89 billion bond

November 1, 2012 4:33:24 PM PDT
It's your voice, your vote, and with just a few more days until the ballots are counted, many groups are making a last-minute push to get voters to the polls. But when it comes to one of the biggest bond issues on the ballot, there are rules about who can promote it and how.

It's a very fine line that administrators have to walk in terms of brining awareness to this major bond without asking people to vote for it. That line was demonstrated Thursday at a media availability.

One after the other, student leaders from campuses all over Houston talked openly about what is wrong with their schools.

"There's one restroom next to the magnet hallway, and there's only one sink that has water pressure," high school student Julie Alcocer said.

There is little question that many HISD schools are in need of major renovations. That's why the district is asking voters to approve a $1.89 billion bond package intended to fix, rebuild or move outdated, dilapidated facilities.

"I think if anybody spent more than just 10 minutes, 15 minutes at any of our high schools that are on the list, they would absolutely be convinced that it's needed," said Daniel Bankhead, Houston ISD's construction general manager.

But this media availability, as the district calls it, was in the midst of a school day, five days before the election.

"Is it appropriate though to have kids out of school advocating for it?" we asked HISD trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr.

"Well, um, I see this as part of a civil, a civic responsibility classroom, hands-on, where they're actually participating in trying to do something for the community," he replied.

The Texas Ethics Commission expressly prohibits the district from advocating a position. That's why you'll see signs asking you to vote on the bond, but not asking you to vote for the bond. It also does not allow students to work on political advertising during school time.

"A lot of A/C problems," high school student Diego Espinoza said.

"Our buildings are basically falling down," high school student Kiana St. Julian said.

The district says this was not advertising, but rather an informational media availability so that we and district students could learn more about the current conditions at HISD schools.

Intestinally, most of the students who attended the media availability won't even benefit from the bond. Even if the bond is approved by voters, those students will have long graduated before any of the improvements are finished.


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