Taxes were a big topic of discussion at the April Humble ISD school board meeting, particularly since post-Harvey Harris County property appraisals have begun to be posted. Many Houston school districts such as Katy ISD and others voted for tax reappraisal in the December/January timeframe, yet Humble ISD tabled their decision to await further information from Harris County. They also were not sure of the full extent of damage to Kingwood High School and other areas. To date, the district has now received a total of $28 million in payments from district insurance and FEMA combined. They’ve also successfully reopened Kingwood High and are saving the $8,000 per day in transportation costs incurred to bus affected students to Summer Creek High School.
Homeowners are bound by law to continue to pay taxes on the full property value even if their property was destroyed by Harvey. Only taxing authorities like Humble ISD can authorize a property reappraisal after the counties have completed their typical annual appraisal. The board noted that Harris County Appraisal District estimates 4,000 of 80,000 area properties were impacted by Harvey. While state and local leaders have assured affected towns that they will be “made whole,” there are no guarantees. Humble ISD trustees voted on April 10 to issue the reappraisal, which will cost as much as $125,000 to conduct. The district estimates that their tax revenue loss due to the storm will not exceed $10 million.
The board addressed overpayment of taxes and how refunds would be handled. The board voted to revise its position on how refunds would be handled so that they could be in compliance with the Texas Property Tax Code. These efforts reduced the district tax collections by approximately $100,000.
The board discussed the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the brand new Insperity Adaptive Sports Complex dedicated on March 24. The $4.8 million complex is owned and operated by the district and is located between Groves Elementary and West Lake Middle School. The complex is equipped with ramps and special swings and equipment designed to allow children of all abilities to participate in and enjoy sports.
The complex features two fields specifically designed for wheelchairs and walkers and other equipment for children with disabilities. The effort was built in partnership with the YMCA of Greater Houston, the Humble ISD Education Foundation, and major donors such as Insperity, the Houston Astros Foundation, and community leaders and philanthropists Joe and Cathy Cleary.
Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Fagen commented on the tactile, visual and auditory components of the playground and said they are designed to connect movement to learning and to engage children with developmental conditions. Now, children with disabilities can play alongside siblings and friends.
Community members Steve and Paula Boone were recognized by Humble ISD for their creation of the Marathon Challenge in district schools. The Boones are avid marathon runners; Steve has completed over 700 marathons and Paula has completed over 330 marathons. Twenty-six years ago, at Pine Forest Elementary, the Boones began the challenge to teach students about marathons and to motivate them to participate. Today, the Marathon Challenge has grown to 26 schools. Each year, the Boones give out T-shirts to all participating students. PE teachers Janice Russo and Helen Wagner presented the Boones with a T-shirt quilt to show their appreciation.
Humble ISD employees Wendy Anaya, Derrick Johnson and Lt. Erica Journet of the Humble ISD PD were named as Super Staffers for April.
Trustee Nancy Morrison gave a report about the Texas Association of School Board's legislative committee happenings at their last meeting on April 7. Morrison is seeking input from the community regarding the committee's priorities that they plan to submit to the Texas Legislature when next in session. Topping the committee's list are modernizing the finance system for more transparency and simplifying the TEKS and requiring that they all be completed within one school year. Other priorities include an appeal to increase state funding for both active and retired teachers in the Texas Retirement System to be commensurate with other state employees. Morrison reminded everyone that Humble ISD’s stance remains that they are opposed to the transfer of any public funds to fund private schools in any form, including vouchers. Former Humble ISD superintendent and director of the Fast Growth Schools Coalition, Dr. Guy Sconzo, said that the state deficit will be a big issue in the next session. The state’s current deficit of $7 billion might increase by $2 billion due to Harvey damages, and therefore new funding for education is not expected.
In other business, the board approved an agreement to work with the Harris County Department of Education to conduct a security audit of district facilities. The audit will take three years and cost approximately $70,000.
The board also approved a budget transfer of approximately $9 million out of the general fund balance to cover summer capital projects. The board will replenish the general fund after their anticipated successful bond referendum is passed in May.
The board also voted to purchase approximately eight acres on Ford Road in Montgomery County to house the new Ag Barn, which will be relocated from its current Woodland Hills location because it suffered extensive Harvey damage and has flooded numerous times prior to that storm. The other district Ag Barn will remain in its current Humble High School location.
Humble ISD Chief Financial Officer Mike Seale recommended to the board that the district keep using the financial advisory services of Terrell Palmer, a longtime financial advisor to the district. The board had to vote on a change since Palmer left his current firm of Hilltop Securities and formed his own firm, Post Oak Municipal Advisors LLC. The district will provide Hilltop with a written contract termination notice and enter into a year-long contract directly with Palmer’s new firm.