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HCC meeting at North Forest presents benefits of Annexation

A large crowd of interested citizens turned out last Tuesday evening at North Forest Shadydale school, to hear a presentation by representatives of the Houston Community College Northeast.

The meeting was one of a series, as preparation for an election in November that will determine whether the North Forest ISD becomes part of the HCC-NE service area. The consequences of this election were explained by a panel of HCC board members, and by HCC-NE president Margaret Ford Fisher.

In addition, comments were heard from about a dozen members of the audience, and a telephone message from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in support of the annexation, and questions and comments about the financial and academic consequences of the vote, voiced by State Senator Mario Gallegos.

Most of the comments from the public were in favor of the annexation, and emphasized that it was time for a change and improvements in North Forest. President Fisher pointed out that an election was necessary because over 3000 validated signatures on a petition had requested the election. She explained the Service Plan, emphasizing that HCC-NE has had a commitment to the North Forest community since 1971. It currently provides dual credits for high school juniors and seniors, which since 2005 have equaled $350,000 in waived tuition.

If the annexation is successful, benefits to North Forest would include reduced tuition, going from $104 per credit hour, to half that, or $57, not including fees. This means a full-time student would save about $1600 for the fall and spring semester. Other benefits promised by HCC would be an Early College High School, and a satellite campus named North Forest Vocational and Technical Training Institute.

HCC also plans to work with NFISD to develop an Early Childhood Education program. Senator Gallegos questioned the cost of this annexation, and HCC’s long term commitment. Fisher responded that the tax rate is $.092 per $100 of assessed value, and showed a chart that displayed the average cost to a homeowner of $35 per year. For a senior citizen, because of their exemptions the cost would be zero, she said. Fisher pointed out that no tax increase is planned in the near future, and that in 2007 the HCC board actually decreased the tax rate.

After his questions were answered, Gallegos said he wanted to make it clear that he supported the HCC annexation proposal for North Forest. Earlier Meeting results HCC’s Board of Trustees is expected to call an election for November on the issue of adding the North Forest Independent Schools District to its district following a petition drive by local residents asking for the annexation.

HCC invited local stakeholders to a meeting on strategic priorities for the community to help guide them in developing a service plan for the area. Fifty-nine community leaders attended the meeting at the former Forest Brook High School June 24. They included current and former NFISD Board Members, representatives of the North Forest Chamber of Commerce, ministers, civic club members and leaders of the Super Neighborhood organizations.

Using as its base the results of a Visioning Session on HCC and North Forest done in 2005, the stakeholders discussed various priorities and chose the ones they felt were most important. Lafayette Howell facilitated the meeting to help with their work.

The attendees chose as their top priority “Develop a high school to college continuum in the community.” As part of this priority, they want to see HCC create an Early College High School with NFISD that includes a North Forest Vocational Technical Campus. In addition, they want HCC to help transition students from a high school diploma to a two-year degree in the academic or career/technical area. Part of this priority includes adult education, continuing education and English as a Second Language programs. HCC Northeast, NFISD, community groups and organizations would work together to create student internships, co-op opportunities, mentorships and employment.

The second highest priority was “Enhanced knowledge and skill development within economic and social context.” The stakeholders want to develop a business incubator and small business technology support services for the North Forest community, as well as supporting residents who want to explore new economic opportunities, update their work-related skills or pursue vocational interests. The idea is to provide programs in areas vital to the economic development of NFISD and the community and work to keep skilled individuals in the North Forest Community.

“Improved access to education and training at HCC” was the third-ranked priority. This includes adult literacy and College Connections programs at NFISD, expanded student support and retention in existing programs and working with local employers to provide tuition reimbursement, teaching current workers new skills and building programs to link low-skill jobs to higher-skilled work at higher wages.

The fourth priority is for an “Expanded range of programs and services for North Forest residents.” The attendees want HCC to maintain the affordability of a post-secondary education through tuition, financial assistance, scholarships and tuition reimbursement, as well as expanding access to other means of education such as hybrid courses and workplace or community-based programs.