Paula Harris, HISD Board of Education District IV Trustee
Rhonda Skillern-Jones, HISD Board of Education District II Trustee
Last November, voters throughout Houston, and especially those in our historically African-American neighborhoods, rallied together on behalf of our children to overwhelmingly approve the most ambitious school rebuilding plan in Texas history.
As elected members of the Houston Independent School District Board of Education, we signed onto this proposal to rebuild and renovate 40 of our schools because we believe it finally offers something our community has been seeking for decades: a real opportunity to address inequities that have treated our children as second-class students.
As we campaigned for the bond, we made promises that we intend to keep. We promised world-class school buildings that are equipped to accommodate modern technology and the latest approaches to teaching and learning. We promised taxpayers that we would be good stewards of their valuable resources.
We promised that the $1.89 billion bond program would be run in a fair and transparent way that gives every interested potential vendor a legitimate shot at doing business with HISD. We promised to listen to the community as we set out to design and build your new schools.
Six months after that historic vote, we are proud to report that your school district is making good on those promises. Community members at many bond schools helped screen the architectural and design firms with the help of professors from the Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and Rice University schools of architecture.
We have used this process to hire architects for 20 school projects, including Yates, Sterling, Booker T. Washington, and Worthing high schools, along with the Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy. More firms are expected to be brought forward for the school board’s consideration in May.
The 23 firms recommended so far were chosen from a pool of 85 companies that responded to HISD’s request for qualifications. Of the 23 firms:
Twelve (52 percent) are certified as minority/women-owned business enterprises (M/WBE).
Eight (35 percent) are minority owned.
Twenty (87 percent) are locally based, which means they had pre-existing and established Houston offices.
The remaining three companies all have Texas offices and will partner with Houston based firms.
There is more good news for local businesses. These 23 firms have already listed 117 M/WBE local subcontracting partners with whom they intend to do business. There are still more contracts to be awarded through the bond program, and the 85 firms that responded to our request for qualifications will remain under consideration.
Folks need to know that HISD managed to achieve this high level of inclusion despite a state law that prohibits the school district from giving preferential treatment to local companies. HISD has held public forums for M/WBE firms to navigate the bidding process and to interact with other professionals and form relationships that lead to more opportunities. This approach is working, and the primary beneficiaries will be our students, neighborhoods, and taxpayers once these schools are built to the highest standards of quality and efficiency.
Houston voters showed tremendous faith in HISD by approving this bond package with nearly 70 percent approval. As elected school board members we intend to hold the HISD administration responsible for keeping the campaign promises we made last year, because we know that you, our constituents, will hold us responsible in future elections.
We take our responsibility to Houston’s children as seriously as we take our responsibility to our own children. Moving forward, we will remain committed to building these beautiful new schools in close partnership with the communities that they serve. Each project in this bond will be guided with input from Project Advisory Teams that include parents and community members from the neighborhood. Our children are watching. Let’s continue to show them the great things that can happen when an entire community comes together around a common goal.