Despite long list of maintenance needs, HISD wants maintenance money to fill bond hole

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The HISD board is expected to vote Thursday on an extra $212 million in taxpayer cash because of cost increases in the massive 2012 bond budget, with $200 million of that coming from a pot of money originally earmarked for school maintenance.

Houston Independent School District administrators are poised to tap into that maintenance money despite having nearly 16,000 open work orders for maintenance district-wide, many more than a year old, records obtained by Ted Oberg Investigates show.

In addition, HISD officials said they have no idea what the total price tag deferred maintenance items for the district. That is part of a study being conducted by consultants, officials said.

Most of the maintenance requests are not life-threatening, including, for example, leaks that need fixing and additional playground padding needed at Patterson Elementary School. Security lights aren't working in neither the student parking lot nor the teacher parking area at Lamar High School. And based on the work orders, there appear to be more ants, roaches and mice than students at Austin High School.

See the maintenance needed each school in alphabetical order by clicking here.

No school has more things that need fixing than the Rusk School in the East End, with 260 open work orders, records show.

It's nothing dangerous, but Ted Oberg Investigates found broken air conditioners at Rusk, as well as stuck doors, ants, holes in the walls, scattered rooms with no heat, no paint, roaches, rodents, worms and 18 separate roof leaks.

Tawana Scott has two daughters and two sons who attend Rusk.

"I've heard about the heat and the air not working," Scott told abc13. "It really is a problem when they sit in the classroom and they can't turn on the heat and it's cold."

She supports new schools in HISD, but also said, "They need to fix up the schools that need the maintenance."

As far as 260 open maintenence tickets?

"This is unacceptable," she said.

Her words were echoed by Russell Rippe, who has three grandchildren attending Rusk.

Rippe has not been inside the school but often takes his granddaughters to the park next to Rusk.

"When we walk around you can tell there is rust on pipes, on electrical, stuff like that," he said. "You can tell it needs a lot of work."

Ted Oberg Investigates showed Rippe the work the district's own records show is needed at Rusk and Rippe wanted to send a message to HISD top brass.

"Please take some of that money and fix these schools," he said. "Not only do all the children deserve it, but my grandchildren deserve it."

Some parents and staffers at Rusk said many of the maintenance issues at the school have been fixed. If so, HISD's records do not reflect that. Indeed, only 6 percent of the maintenance fixes schools have requested even have a start date.

There is nothing illegal about maintenance bond money to build new schools. Districts across Texas have used the notes for construction and it's not illegal.

HISD officials have repeatedly denied abc13's requests for an on-camera interview, but said in an email that it's sometimes more efficient to use maintenance notes to build new schools.

"Tax maintenance notes can be used to fund district maintenance issues," an HISD spokeswoman wrote. "However, it's not prudent to issue these notes for that purpose when buildings reach a certain age. As schools age, it often becomes more efficient and cost effective to rebuild rather than repair."

Rusk is not on the bond list for replacement or renovation, and neither are five out of the top 10 schools who have the highest numbers of maintenance woes, records show.

HISD officials also defended how the district maintains its schools.

According to an HISD spokeswoman: "Last year, we budgeted about $47 million on Construction and Facilities Services, $36 million on Custodial and Maintenance Services and $15 million on Pay-As-You-Go deferred maintenance and emergency repairs. This year, we budgeted about $47 million for Construction and Facilities Services, $38 million on Custodial and Maintenance Services and $15 million on Pay-As-You-Go deferred maintenance and emergency repairs. We expect to budget a similar amount again next year."

The debate over the shortfall is likely to reemerge at Thursday's HISD Trustee meeting.

Outgoing superintendent Terry Grier insists inflation is to blame for the shortfall in the $1.89 billion bond.

Grier blamed "rising inflation and construction costs" when he told the public in September that the additional money was needed for the $1.89 billion bond program, designed to build or renovate 40 schools.

But an HISD internal audit released October 21 pointed to a lack of competitive bidding and points to "scope creep by agreeing to work that was not in the original plan" as reasons for the shortfall.

Some HISD board members, including trustee President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, said they want to see the results of an external audit into how the school district got into a $211 million budget hole before signing off on that extra money.

See additional reports on HISD from Ted Oberg Investigates here:




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