Attending a school board meeting

It is interesting to attend a school board meeting – to say the very least. All Klein ISD school board meetings are open to the public, for the most part. They have a close session portion of the meeting and then there is a portion that is open for the public to sit in on.

There school board is not as large as you would think that it is. At least, the sitting board is not. There are probably other positions that are not on the voting board at large in the meetings but hold critical roles as far as presentations and whatnot throughout the school board process.

I have to say that it has been a few years since I have attended a school board meeting. Andrew was at Ulrich Intermediate School when we last attended, I believe. That would have put him in the 8th grade. He was being recognized by the school board for being a good student in some regard or another. I do not remember exactly. Dr. Brown felt that he was an outstanding student, however, and he was recognized in front of the school board because of that.

Tonight they recognized the top two students from the 4 big high schools (Klein, Klein Oak, Klein Collins, and Klein Forest High Schools). They also recognized the top teacher for the school at each high school. It was really interesting to sit and listen to each of these students’ accomplishments, especially from Klein Oak High School where Andrew attends and Kyle will attend starting next year. The Salutatorian at Klein Oak High School this year is an IB student, the Valedictorian is not. Both had an extraordinary list of accomplishments as far as honor societies and clubs they participated in. Well rounded kids. The Salutatorian will be attending Yale University. The Valedictorian will be attending the University of California – Berkley. Extraordinary students. There were a couple of students who will be attending Yale this coming year as well as a couple attending the University of California – Berkley.

The reason that I attended the school board meeting tonight, however, was not to woo and awe over these students, but it was to gather information about things that were occurring in the district. The beauty about open meetings is that the agendas are public as well. The district posts the agendas a few days in advance and you can gather a good idea of what the meeting will cover.

There were a few items on the agenda that were of interest to me:

  1. The financial report.
  2. The growth report.
  3. The scheduling at Klein Oak High School.
  4. Details about High School #5.

The budget should be an obvious thing because I want some assurance that they are making wise fiscal decisions with my few tax dollars that we pay. I do understand that we pay a small portion of the overall budget, but I do have a vested interest in what they are spending and I hope that they are spending it wisely. I must admit that I was a little taken back that they were pouring money into a particular part of the district without pouring the same resources into the other schools as they all would benefit from these resources, but I understand why they were focusing on that portion of the district. As someone that grew up in a district and schools that were made up similar to the demographic composition that these schools are in this area of the district, I understood completely. There are socioeconomic barriers that come into play and unfortunately some of the things they were pouring extra funds into implementing will help. They were things to help lower the teacher to student ratios in these schools in particular. There were other things as well, but teacher salaries and benefits are a huge budget line item when you are talking about hiring multiple teachers per campus. So once the explanation of the programs were in play, I was a little less irritated that they were spending more focused on just some students when all would benefit from the changes.

The growth report was something I was very interested in due to the fact that our area is booming. The Exxon facility that is being built in The Woodlands is bringing people to our area as are other businesses. There are a lot of businesses relocating to The Woodlands, Spring, Tomball, Magnolia, and Cypress areas. This brings people with them. Baker-Hughes has built a facility just north of us a few miles. Noble Energy is building a building on the Lonestar College – University Park campus. I heard tonight that one of the big oil companies (it was believed to be Shell) purchased the old Boy Scout Camp Strake location. There is a lot of building up in this area of the Greater Metro area and this brings a potential for growth in the student population in the district. We experienced some of this at the start of the 2013-2014 school year and that was not even the start of the influx of people. The Exxon campus has not even opened up yet. This is only beginning. They are estimating that we will be experiencing about a 3% increase in student growth over the next 2-3 years. That is roughly an 1400-1500 increase in students per year. That does not sound like a lot when you spread it across all of the schools, but the bulk of the students will be hitting the northern schools in the district. They estimate by the year 2017 we will have 3 high schools running at 120% capacity.

When you combine the growth report with the financial estimates, it gives a sobering picture of just how much money the district has to “handle wisely.” There are so many things they have to consider  when making decisions that line them up for being “good stewards over tax payers’ money.” They raised some good questions tonight over what to expect and what to do over estimates. With the “sudden population boom” in this area, it has thrown some preliminary estimates off quite a bit. They were estimating the tax growth revenue to be around 6% but it is currently closer to 12%. It is much higher than they ever anticipated when the preliminary reports were made in February. It was an interesting discussion to listen to. The questions that went back and forth between the board members and the presenter (from the financial committee) were very solid questions asking serious questions about the sustainability and longevity of the financial conditions we are experiencing right. There were even concerns about justifying hiring additional teachers with the “unexpected revenue” when the amount of additional teachers was more than double that of the preliminary report. Basically they pointed out the principle of not raising expense just because we have the funds to do so. I was impressed.

The scheduling at Klein Oak High School I had already heard about in passing from Andrew. They had already told the current students about the proposed “bell schedules.” Tonight the voted on the preferred schedule and it was approved. I am not sure how I feel about it to be real honest with you. I am not sure I have a preference one way or the other, but I think the one that was voted on and approved is just weird. It changes the times they get out of school each day of the week. Some days they will get out of school before 2:00PM and other days they will not. On the days that they do not, it sounded like they would have a glorified “study hall” the last class of the day. At least that was what Andrew described it as. At any rate, it does not matter as it was approved tonight and next year both Andrew and Kyle will have the same experience together – all new. I am just not sure how that will work with all the after school activities.

Ultimately, I wanted to hear about High School #5. This is the biggest thing because while it will not impact me in the next 4 years, it does directly impact us. High School #5 is the high school that they were supposed to build and open Andrew’s freshman year of high school but due to the down surge in the economy they postponed the construction of it. In my opinion this was a wise fiscal decision as it is not cheap to build schools, especially high schools. They had already received approval in the bond election to build the school in 2008, but they opted instead to use those funds to make improvements and much needed repairs on some of the other schools. They could choose to build at a later date and continued to evaluate the state of the economy. That came back up for discussion at some point and it was again postponed until 2018 for an opening date.

Unfortunately, due to the rapid growth in our area this discussion has come up again and the building of High School #5 is a little more urgent as we will have 2 high schools nearing 120% capacity by the end of 2015. Klein Oak High School will be one of those high schools. Andrew will be graduating by this point, but Kyle will only be a Sophomore. The other school is Klein High School. This is the high school our neighborhood is zoned to attend. So High School #5 affects us directly in the sense that even if the boys were to attend the high school they were zoned to attend, the school would be over crowded. It affects them where they will be attended by choice due to the IB program at Klein Oak High School because it too will be over crowded. The problem only gets worse the longer they wait.

The plan proposed to the board was to use some of the funds left from the original 2008 bond to start construction on the new high school. It takes roughly 30 months to build a high school without incurring rush building costs. The goal is to open the school for the Fall of the 2017-2018 school year. In order to do that, they would need to start on the project before they could have another bond election. A lot of people get in a tizzy over bond elections and how it is not right, but I am not going to discuss the finer points of why we should not do that. The board was asking questions about potentially repaying the debt sooner if possible. The key point is that they “can” start the project without incurring any additional debt. In fact they only need $12 million to start the project. They admitted that there are $65 million still remaining from the original 2008 bond they could use. The question is, what happens if they do not have the funds for the other half of the project? Will it sit there incomplete for several years? They only plan on prepping the grounds for building and then proceeding once they have the funds for the remainder. So the project will begin the building phase once the bond election is complete, assuming another bond can be approved. I actually question whether or not they can get another one approved in the current economy. I know things are improving around here, but I am not sure we have rebounded that much. Property values have gone up which means everyone’s taxes have gone up. We are already paying higher taxes. I am pretty sure that most people are going to protest even higher taxes. We might have low utility taxes, but our school taxes are high.

Ultimately, it does not matter what I think, the proposal was the best fiscal decision price wise. I am just not sure it has the best odds because its progression depends on the risks of a bond election being in its favor. If that makes any sense at all. At any rate, the proposal was approved from what I gathered from the discussion and then vote. Now we see where it goes from here.

If it does open in 2017-2018, it will be the high school that we will be rezoned to attend to. It is less than 3/4 of a mile from our house probably depending on where they put it on the lot. It will be the high school that Lance will attend unless he too decides to do the IB program like his brothers. It is crazy to think that far in advance, but it is not all that far off when it comes down to it. Next year Andrew will be a senior, Kyle will be a freshman, Lance will be in 4th grade. Fast forward 4 years and Kyle will be a senior, and Lance will be in 8th grade. I will be staring at the decision of to do IB or not to do IB with another child all over again. Oh how I love those choices, but ultimately it comes down to the child’s choice. They have to want to do it.

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