At the Feb. 16 Kingwood Super Neighborhood Council (SNC) Meeting, Marques Holmes, Humble Independent School District’s new SNC representative, announced the school district had just approved its anticipated bond proposal to be put before the taxpayers for approval in the district’s May 7 election. The bond proposal’s impact on taxes became the focus of the rest of the meeting.
Holmes and Houston Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin disagreed on whether the bond issue will raise taxes.
“We held our monthly board meeting last night (Feb. 15) and the board voted to approve a $775 million bond for essentially a district that is busting at its seams. It’s a necessary bond that is going to help elementary schools like Foster, right there in Kingwood, where it will eventually be a tear-down-and-replace. Foster is in such a need, not just repairing. We are literally going to build an entire new school,” Holmes said.
He said the bond is the reality of growth, adding 2,500 students in the district in just the last year and the fact that many of the schools are getting old and in need of major repair or replacement. He pointed out Foster Elementary School is now more than 50 years old. He said he will provide a complete and specific presentation to the SNC at its March meeting and encouraged everyone to get out and vote. He concluded his announcement by stating:
“This bond is not going to impact the tax rate. The tax rate is staying the same as it has in the years past and with the 2018 bond, we have shown a good level of stewardship because all of the projects that have been funded will essentially be completed on schedule as of this year.”
Holmes’ statement about the tax rate not changing led to a reaction and questions from a former Humble ISD board member and Kingwood’s current city councilman, Dave Martin.
“Every time I talk to someone from the school board they say, yeah, it’s a $750 million bond referendum but there is no tax increase. My ask is, if we don’t do it (approve the bond referendum) will there be a tax decrease?” Martin asked.
Holmes responded: “Great question. But I don’t believe it will be a tax decrease, I don’t believe that.”
Martin said to Holmes, “I would like you to double check that for the next meeting because if you don’t do it (pass the bond referendum), you could have a substantial tax decrease.” He pointed out that if one could have a tax decrease without the bond, that was in effect the same as saying the bond requires additional taxes that would not otherwise be needed.
The resulting discussion resulted in Martin calling attention to the reality that the bond referendum language used on the actual ballot is now required by Texas law to state that a school bond is a tax increase. “I stand by my statement,” Martin said.
Martin pointed out following the meeting that, as a trained CPA, he thinks bonds are intended for making long-term capital improvements and not for ongoing maintenance and operation (M&O) expenses. Because the language in the bond states it is a tax increase, he considers it to be a tax increase when tax rates that could otherwise be lowered are extended into a future in which they would not be required without the bond obligation.
“I stand by my statement. I have not decided where I stand on the bond referendum as I need to study all of the projects and the use of a 30-year payback on items with a life expectancy of a few years. It appears that almost $200 million of this package is for short term maintenance and equipment. That's not a good use of bond funds,” Martin said.
He explained he does not take out a mortgage to paint his house, purchase technology that has a short life expectancy, or conduct ordinary maintenance and repairs. He feels those types of things should be covered by the use of M&O tax dollars.
“My position is, as clearly stated in the district's bond referendum documentation, this $775 million bond does indeed represent a tax increase. I'm disappointed that every time I ask this question to district administrators and elected board of trustee members, I receive the same answer: ‘This referendum will NOT represent a tax increase.’ The district's own documentation states otherwise,” Martin stated.
“We live in a fabulous district with great schools and teachers. I believe the teachers and the instruction they provide are the reason why our students are successful. It's not the physical facility that makes our kids successful, it's the amazing teachers who are dedicated to making a difference in our children's lives. They should be our primary focus of the money we allocate,” Martin said.
In other business:
Charles Cunningham, a past member and president of the Humble ISD school board, member of the Humble City Council and past president of Humble Area Assistance Ministries (HAMM,) introduced himself as a candidate now running in the Republican primary for Texas State Rep. District 127. When asked about his position on the issue of banning books in schools as a current state representative in another district has reportedly proposed with a list of up to 800 specific books, he said he was not a book banner. He noted he had not heard the details of the news reports but would not likely ever consider such a proposal. He also doubted the Texas Legislature or governor’s office could impose that kind of censorship on the independent school districts in Texas.
Roycelyn Bastian of Lone Star College — Kingwood, announced the dedication of the Kingwood Campus Health Professions Center will take place Tuesday, Feb. 22 at 10 a.m.
The council reelected, each by acclimation, its current officers for the coming year. They are Stan Sarman, president; Dee Price, vice president; and Maryanne Fortson, secretary- treasurer.
The next Kingwood Super Neighborhood Council Meeting is currently scheduled to be held March 16 at 7 p.m. Due to the continuing COVID-19 threat, the meeting will be conducted as a Zoom teleconference.