KATY (Covering Katy) – On the same day that Covering Katy discovered an additional $9 million was spent on the football stadium project with little fanfare, the school board was also attempting to figure out how to pay for school overcrowding that is either a problem now or will be a problem within the next year. The problem of overcrowding is so severe that Superintendent Lance Hindt would like to put Elementary School 41 on the fast track to relieve overcrowding at Randolph Elementary School in Fulshear.
Overcrowding is a problem that is systemic and something that was known at the time board members used $12 million in surplus money from previous bonds to upgrade the stadium and to fix mistakes made during the planning process. The district overlooked very basic elements of the construction project. It did not sufficiently plan for road improvement to properly address additional traffic. It even had to add nearly $1 million to the project to clear the property before construction could begin.
Overcrowding problems don’t end with Randolph Elementary School.
“If we don’t do something with Cross Creek Ranch Elementary School we’ll have the potential of having one of the largest elementary schools in the history of Katy ISD,” said Hindt at Monday night’s board meeting.
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Hindt took office long after the board added more than 20 percent to the cost of the stadium, which is now considered the most expensive high school football stadium in the world. He also seems to have different priorities from the previous Frailey administration.
All the members of the school board, with the exception of newly elected member George Scott, voted to add some or all of the $12 million to the cost of the stadium project. Scott was not on the board at the time those decisions were made. Nine million dollars of additional funding was quietly slipped by the general public during board meetings in 2015. It was done legally in open meetings but was somehow missed by the media, and the school district did not call attention to what was being done. It is not unusual for the district to survey the general public about major decisions, but that did not happen when additional money was added to the football stadium.
The $3 million additional stadium spending that did catch the attention of the media was used to address mistakes in the district’s planning process and to finish off the second floor of the field-house.
At Monday night’s board meeting Hindt seemed to favor putting another bond on the ballot in November of next year, but he signaled a very different philosophy from the previous Frailey administration when it comes to nonessential spending.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a bells and whistles type of bond. I don’t foresee that in the future. I foresee bonds for growth and bonds for equity.”
Chief Operations Officer Thomas Gunnell was asked for an estimation of how many schools will be needed in the short-term to address growth.
“Maybe four elementary schools. Maybe two junior highs and a high school,” Gunnell responded.
Board members seemed fully aware of the overcrowding issues. Veteran board member Brian Michalsky admitted that the board may have to take money out of the operating budget of the school district to address the issue.
“If we push this past 2017 for another year we are probably going to have to come up with funds from our general operating budget to bridge some of that. Or, we end up with schools that are well over their capacities, maybe at record levels,” Michalsky said.
Michalsky’s revelation means the board was fully aware that they were giving the stadium project an additional $12 million of unspent bond while there was a looming overcrowding problem that needed to be addressed. The move signaled that the board was more interested in dealing with stadium problems than overcrowding issues.
For comparison, the newly opened Bethke Elementary School cost $30 million. That means the board’s additional spending on the football stadium could have paid nearly half the cost of a new elementary school.
Board member George Scott seemed unimpressed at Monday night’s board meeting.
“I believe that every bond dollar should be like a gold brick at Fort Knox. We’ve got a tremendous obligation to these students,” said Scott.
Hindt said the board could wait until November of 2018 to put its next bond on the ballot, but he believes the overcrowding problem needs attention sooner rather than later.
“We’ll have Seven Lakes Junior High that will be larger than any other junior high. It will be larger than Woodcreek if we don’t do something there,” Hindt said.
While the school district is growing at a slower pace than predicted a year ago, it’s still growing. “We’re looking at 22-hundred to 25-hundred growth in a year,” Hindt said.
During the campaign Scott said, “The Football stadium is a $60 million solution to a $40 million problem.” Now that the stadium price tag has increased to about $72 million, Scott tells Covering Katy, “The facts have not changed, only the price tag went up.”
On Monday night Scott told the board that he understands the need for future bonds to address growth but he wants a much different approach in the future.
“I have concerns that when I look at stadiums that could be built for a lot less money and when I look at different projects as I’ve done over the years, I just want to have a better understanding of facilities and planning. That’s what I want, and that’s the approach I’m going to take if I have to pull the data myself,” he said.