in Houston, Texas
HISD construction program isn't in the red after all, trustees told
Friday, Oct 08, 2010, 02:30PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

The Houston Independent School District’s $1 billion construction program is running $4 million under budget, despite initial concerns that it was tens of millions of dollars in the red, a consultant said.

Crane


The program, which will build 23 new schools and renovate 134 others, has a bit of financial wiggle room, but not much, consultant Joe Hill told school district trustees Thursday. He said he wouldn’t consider the program as having money to spare.

“I would say the budget is healthy,” the Greensboro, N.C.-based consultant said. “The bond program is on-budget. There can always be unforeseen costs that come up, and even with specific funds for those costs, it is common practice to want to be under budget.”

A July report by the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools said the $1 billion construction program suffered from communication problems, lacked planning and was missing budget reports.

According to the report, financial reports to the HISD bond oversight committee were contradictory: A June quarterly report showed that the program had a balance of $25.6 million, but another report dated June 22 showed the same building program was $37 million in the red. In August, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said publicly that the program was $39 million over budget.

Grier apologized for his comment Thursday and said the issues pointed out in the July review by the nonprofit council explained his mistake.

The $1 billion program is largely being financed by $800 million in bonds approved by voters. It also includes three school expansion projects.

According to Hill, $61 million of the building program’s $73 million reserve fund has already been added to specific project budgets. Meanwhile, half of the $69 million set aside for undesignated costs has been allocated to specific projects by the HISD trustees, and all of the program’s $44 million contingency fund has been accounted for as well. View Hill’s complete comments in the clip below.


Issa Dadoush, who joined the district as general manager of construction and facilities in April, detailed areas his department has been working on improving since the July report. Some of the objectives are 100 percent complete, such as reorganizing the department and restarting preventative maintenance at the schools, while others are only just getting started -- including regularly evaluating contractors and consultants, and creating a set of policies and procedures for the unit. (You can view all of the objectives and the percent each is complete in this report.)

Last month, Dadoush told Texas Watchdog each construction project would have individual “worksheets” detailing the budget of each project and its current status. Thursday, Dadoush said it is going to take a little longer to get all of the “worksheets” completed.

“By the end of fall we plan on having the worksheets online,” Dadoush said. “The goal is to have all of the worksheets connected to a master sheet and then to the 5-year construction plan. We want the information to be easily and readily available.”

The information will be posted on a brand new website the department hopes to have completed within the next month, Dadoush said, as part of Grier’s plan to take Dadoush’s department paper-less.

Thursday’s review and presentation are the result of the review completed by the Washington D.C.-based national non-profit that works to promote urban education.

A more detailed presentation can be viewed online here. It includes the review completed by the Council for the Great City Schools, a re-structured organization chart of the department, an expense comparison between last year and this year, a department performance review, examples of department changes already implemented, budgets for specific projects/school improvements, a funding summary for capital projects and a detailed undesignated fund summary.

Contact Lynn Walsh at lynn@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @lwalsh or @texaswatchdog.

Crane photo by flickr user itchys, used via a Creative Commons license.

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