Katy, Texas probably isn’t a name you’ve heard before. It’s a city in the margins of Houston, on the intersection of three counties and home to around 16,000 citizens. It’s also part of one of the most overcrowded school districts in the country.
Overcrowding is systemic in public schools, but several of the elementary schools around Katy are on track to have the largest student bodies in Texas and a middle school about to be the largest school in the United States. The district is growing by between 2,200 and 2,500 new students a year. New schools are needed, and very soon. As early as the 2017-18 school year, existing schools will be crowded beyond their functional capacity.
Chief Operations Officer of the Katy Integrated School District (Katy ISD) Thomas Gunnell estimated an urgent need for four new elementary schools, two junior high schools, and a high school. This is an issue that veteran board members have been aware of for some time.
Despite this, the school district budgeted $60 million for a new football stadium, one of two in the district. Quietly, that budget got increased first to $69 million, then finally to $72 million, absorbing all of the district’s surplus from bonds levied during 2015.
The stadium is considered the most expensive high school football stadium in the world. Coincidentally, the district had asked for a $72 million levy for the stadium originally, an amount that was voted down by the townsfolk.
Because of this expense, any new schools or any stopgap measures to address the overcrowding will have to be paid for out of the general operating budget. This is money that should go to teacher support, to school supplies and furnishings, and to educational needs.
The decision to put a football stadium before students’ educational needs will leave schools not only without enough space or teachers, but without current textbooks, up-to-date technology, printer ink, or recess toys.