The price tag for the Katy, Texas Independent School District’s (ISD) new high school football stadium has reached $70.3 million, far surpassing the $58 million bond voters approved in 2014.
Katy ISD is in a fast-growing suburb of Houston. It serves 73,000 students in 63 schools and has an operating budget of approximately $800 million. Katy ISD voters rejected a bond package in 2013 proposing a 14,000-seat stadium for $69.5 million. Cost amendments to the approved $58 million stadium, which is set to open in 2017 and seat 12,000 people, “have largely gone unnoticed, in part because of how they have been labeled in board agendas,” the Houston Chronicle reported in October.
Paying for Administrators’ ‘Dreams’
Donna Garner, a retired Texas teacher who served on the National Commission on Migrant Education under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says administrators push for big sports stadiums to make themselves look good.
“Administrators love to spend taxpayers’ dollars on these mammoth, Taj Mahal athletic complexes,” Garner said. “They combine them in various ways so that various other projects are thrown into the same bond issue, to satisfy potential voters, especially teachers, the largest voting bloc in nearly every school district in Texas.
“The problem is that these bond issues are administrators’ dreams, because when they build these elaborate structures, it boosts their resumes so they can climb the ladder to higher-paid superintendent jobs,” Garner said. “The superintendent leaves to go to the next school district, leaving the expenses of the elaborate structures to be retired by district taxpayers.”
Garner says school administrators manipulate the system to get huge stadiums approved.
“The superintendents schedule rotating voting sites each year,” Garner said. “They also schedule early voting at one school this week and early voting at another school next week. These strategies make it very easy for teachers to come to the voting location during their conference period to vote: no driving to community voting locations and waiting in line. Of course, the large number of ISD personnel [voting] swamp the numbers from the fiscally responsible voters in the district and the bond issue passes.”
Football ‘an Innocent Bystander’
Kim Belcher, mother of a Katy ISD high school football player, says people shouldn’t blame the football teams for the cost of the stadium.
“Football is separate from irresponsible oversight of a school district,” Belcher said. “In this case, football is an innocent bystander being exploited by a board of trustees and superintendents who do not answer to the public but instead do the bidding of big [special-interest groups] like the Texas Association of School Administrators, School Superintendents Association, Texas Association of School Boards, Fast Growth Schools Coalition, and Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.
“I have never seen a football coach campaign for a $58 million stadium or a $70 million stadium, or anything else for that matter,” Belcher said.
Facilities or Books?
Garner says the cycle for superintendents in Texas is “build a building, sell a bond, move on,” and it’s costing students.
“Meanwhile, huge amounts of money go to facilities while school districts say they don’t have enough money for students to have their own hardcover textbooks,” Garner said. “Schools are so ‘broke’ that they have to increase the size of teachers’ classes and the number of periods in the school day, which increases the total number of student load per teacher, and on and on—all the things that harm academic achievement and make it less likely that teachers will have the time or energy to give students individual academic attention.”
Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.