Houston schools eye $1.8 billion bond referendum

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 20, 2012 1:58 PM
By Karen BrooksAUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The Houston Independent School District plans to ask voters to approve the issuance of up to $1.8 billion of bonds in November for school construction and renovation, a Houston state lawmaker told Reuters on Wednesday.School officials said they are not releasing a bond plan until a meeting on Thursday and do not expect to vote on it until July or August.But Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman said he has confirmed with city sources that the $1.8 billion plan, aimed at replacing or updating high schools in the district, would go to voters in the November 6 general election and require a property tax increase of up to 6.25 cents per $100 of assessed value."Our schools are crumbling, as they are in a lot of other places," Coleman said. "The need is probably three times this amount."Houston is still completing work funded by a 2007 $805 million bond package for the construction of 26 new schools.Some 16 schools are finished, six more are in construction, and two more new schools are still planned, officials said in a release this week. More than 100 Houston schools have undergone renovations so far, according to school district officials.Houston is Texas' seventh-largest school district, with 279 schools and more than 200,000 students. The 301-square-mile district is one of the metro area's largest employers, with more than 30,000 employees.In May, voters across Texas passed more than $1.5 billion of bonds for local school districts, community colleges and cities. Houston was not included in those measures.In addition to the likely $1.8 billion bond referendum, Houston voters will also be asked to approve city capital improvement projects and up to $600 million of bonds for community colleges.The state - Houston in particular - is trying to pass bonds this year because economic conditions are favorable for them, "unlike any other year," Coleman said."The reason everyone is going to the ballot is because in Houston, a presidential year means more voters who are likely to vote for capital projects," namely minorities and Democrats, Coleman said.Record-low bond yields and relatively cheap construction costs are two more reasons this is a major bond year for Texas cities, Coleman added. (Reporting by Karen Brooks; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)