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When Dora Alay describes Elrod Elementary School, the Houston ISD campus her two daughters attend, the first word she uses is “viejo” — old.

HISD constructed the Meyerland building in 1964 and, more recently, identified it for upgrades in 2018 when the district was considering a bond measure. However, the effort fell apart amid tumult in HISD, and Elrod Elementary never received slated improvements.

Now, the campus remains in disrepair, Alay said. She’s heard from her daughter that standing water sometimes covers the bathroom floor, a problem she considers a health hazard.

“My kid, she says, ‘Mommy, my pants got wet because the bathroom has water in it,’” Alay said in Spanish.

As HISD officials consider the possibility of asking voters to approve a multibillion-dollar bond in November, many of the district’s youngest learners stand to benefit the most from new and renovated campuses.

In HISD, many elementary schools like Elrod are in the most dire need of a total rebuild or major fixes after decades of relatively modest upgrades. Some HISD middle schools also need significant upgrades, while most high schools were modernized as part of the district’s last bond in 2012.

HISD Superintendent Mike Miles has stated on multiple occasions that the district is investigating whether to present a bond measure to voters this fall. District officials also have spent several months assessing the conditions of its schools, with plans to complete that work in the coming weeks.

What is a school bond?

Bonds allow school districts to borrow the money needed to pay for campus renovations, new buildings and new technology, among other projects. Here's how they work:

  • Voters decide in elections whether to authorize districts to take on a set amount of debt needed for projects. Depending on how much money districts want to borrow, they might ask voters to raise property tax rates.
  • If voters approve a bond, the district typically completes building construction, renovations and other projects within several years.
  • Over the course of decades, districts pay back the borrowed money and interest using property tax revenues.

“While it is HISD's youngest students who are doing their best to learn in buildings that are in desperate need of repair, the reality is students of all ages could be positively impacted by potential investments,” HISD officials said in a statement. “HISD is committed to working with the community and the school board in the coming weeks to determine the right path forward. Our kids can't wait anymore.”

Large urban districts like HISD typically ask voters roughly every five years to approve bonds to help keep up facilities and make improvements. However, HISD has not passed a bond since 2012, and that measure primarily funded upgrades to the district’s high schools. A bond measure has not targeted elementary and middle schools since 2007.

As a result, students at dozens of campuses across HISD sweated in class during scorching days of summer heat last year and had to bundle up in jackets during January’s cold snap, suffering at schools with faulty heating and cooling systems.

Will voters back bond?

While Houston-area voters have generally supported recent bond proposals, it’s unclear whether they would back one this year in HISD.

According to a recent survey by Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, roughly two-thirds of HISD residents polled would support a bond if it does not raise property taxes by more than $25 per year. However, only one-third of respondents said they’d back a bond if property taxes rose by $100 per year or more. Nearly 3,000 people living in HISD boundaries participated in the survey.

Meanwhile, many community members have signaled they would not support a bond as long the district is run by Miles and HISD’s board of managers, who replaced the district’s superintendent and elected school board in June 2023 as part of state sanctions. At a board meeting in April, several residents repeated the phrase “no trust, no bond” during a public comment period.

HISD has explored a bond twice in the past decade, but district leaders ultimately abandoned the effort largely due to negative perceptions of the district, infighting among board members and the prospect of the imminent state takeover.

When district officials and a committee of 21 community members considered a bond in 2021-22, HISD administrators concluded 23 elementary schools and four middle schools needed to be completely replaced. More than two dozen of the district’s elementary and middle schools were built in the 1920s or earlier.

A series of fabric vents for a temporary air conditioning system at Ashford Elementary

HISD might ask taxpayers to back a multibillion-dollar bond. Is there time for community input?

by Asher Lehrer-Small and Miranda Dunlap / Staff writers

Tanya Debose, director of the Independence Heights Redevelopment Council in north Houston and one of the 21 committee members, recalled that elementary schools were among the campuses in greatest need. Top priorities for investments included heating and cooling systems, campus security upgrades and water fountains, Debose said.

“Most of the elementary schools were outdated,” Debose said. “They hadn’t had any upgrades or repairs, and certainly no rebuilds.”

In spring 2022, HISD’s executive director of construction services told the committee that the cost of all needed facilities upgrades was roughly $5 billion. The district could propose a bond of up to $3.5 billion without increasing tax rates, HISD officials said at the time.

‘Something in the building’

In interviews this week, several families at three schools previously targeted for improvements described clunky air conditioning units, inconsistent heating and dysfunctional bathrooms. Several families said they had no complaints about the facilities while cautioning that they had not spent much time inside the campuses.

Nati Jones, a Lanier Middle School parent, believes the nearly 100-year-old facility is affecting her daughter’s health. She ticked off a list of her issues with the building.

“Rats. Insects. The dust is horrible. The mold, or whatever is in the building. … Sometimes my daughter has migraines,” Jones said. “It's not just her. It'll happen with a group of kids, so I know it's something in the building.”

At Law Elementary School, parent Robert Menefee sees the facility issues as directly connected to students’ ability to make academic progress. He wants his two children who attend the school to be able to focus on their studies rather than shivering in the cold or sweating in the heat.

“It makes it difficult for the kids to learn when they’re having to wear jackets because they’re cold, or hot because the A/C is out,” Menefee said.

Staff writers Tim Carlin and Anna-Catherine Brigida contributed to this report.

Asher Lehrer-Small covers education for the Landing and would love to hear your tips, questions and story ideas about Houston ISD. Reach him at [email protected].

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Asher Lehrer-Small is a K-12 education reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. He previously spent three years covering schools for The 74 where he was recognized by the Education Writers Association as one...