Inside the Fort Bend ISD Bond Scandal: The District Concealed True Price Projections to Win the Public’s Support and Votes, an Insider Alleges

Inside the Fort Bend ISD Bond Scandal: The District Concealed True Price Projections to Win the Public’s Support and Votes, an Insider Alleges

BREAKING: FORT BEND ISD, TX– Last Monday, local news sources emerged with stories about a massive Fort Bend ISD shortage on a bond which voters approved at $1.2 billion in May. These school board of trustees reported the shortage at some $133 million and pointed to inflation and material shortages as possible explanations for the faulty price projections.

Today, we’ve discovered that there may be a far more sinister explanation for the bond shortage.

FBISD’s newly appointed superintendent, Dr. Marc Smith, informed the board that he had held meetings to investigate the status of the bond following questions raised by some of the trustees.

FBISD Superintendent Dr. Marc Smith

Smith emphasized that he was not present when decisions were made regarding the bond spending and projections, and neither were many of his staff members, as new district hires.

Deputy Superintendent Steven Bassett, who had been present with the district throughout the bond proposal, made the following public comment.

FBISD Deputy Superintendent Steven Bassett

“The problem is we have a shortfall with our budget… we’re looking at $132 million currently, but there’s ways that could go down and there’s the potential it could go up,” Bassett said.

Bassett said that in November, the design and construction team asked the consulting team for “planning factors,” including square footage assumptions for new schools and pricing per square foot.

At a trustee meeting, he pointed out one (unnamed) employee, whom he claimed did not pass along this information, and thus, price projections were not modified. Inaccurate price projections led to a lower bond amount than needed, and the district cannot cover the costs of all proposed bond projects.

“Had we acted on the information received by the consultant we would have come to the board and asked for more to add to the budgets,” Bassett said. “The budget for those should’ve been closer to $600 million… and there’s a gap of $93.6 million dollars.”

In total, the district is facing a $72 million shortfall on major projects and a $60.6 million shortfall on “renovation packages,” or a $132.6 million shortfall.

At the meeting, Dan Bankhead, executive director of design and construction, indicated inflation and limited availability of workers as explanations for the shortfall.

““Houston is experiencing some of the highest inflation in the entire country,” Bankhead said. “Even though the cost of living here in Texas is still a little bit lower than the rest of the country, the inflation rate is climbing faster than the rest of the country.”

He mentioned an increase in the costs of ceiling tile, copper wiring and ceiling grids (increasing by 15-20 percent) and an increase in the costs of labor. He also related the shortfall to the war between Russia and Ukraine and the Japanese Noto earthquake.

“We have two wars going on, and Japan just had an earthquake. Japan is one of our major exporters of steel. Russia is a major exporter of aluminum and copper ore … and it turns out that Ukraine is where a lot of electronics are made,” said Bankhead.

He also pointed out major new construction projects throughout Houston, including Texas Medical Center 3 and other school districts receiving bonds at the same time, and related these factors to limited prospects for construction companies and workers.

At the meeting, the officials addressed possible options to fix the bond’s budget gap, including “using other district funds,” “pulling it from the general fund or land sales,” or “repurposing existing grants,” according to Texas Scorecard.

However, Katy Christian Magazine has received exclusive, breaking information about the FBISD bond issue.

Below is the transcript of a text message we were sent from an unnamed party on the FBISD school board.

“I’ve got some inside info for the Fort Bend ISD bond issues. I’m on the school board, and the board secretary,” the informant said.

“Administration said they used projections that were provided by one of our architect firm vendors (PBK) but shifted the blame to a former employee. They said in the meeting Monday that PBK emailed the former employee in Nov. 2022 with concerns that the projections were too low, but the former employee did not share that info with anyone else.”

“There are many reasons why this is absurd. PBK had constant interaction with the Sr level administrators – including but not limited to former Superintendent Christie Whitbeck and current Deputy Superintendent Steve Bassett. We’re supposed to believe PBK was seriously concerned about the projections being too low, but never mentioned those concerns to Whitbeck or Bassett? Laughably absurd, and obviously false.”

“Also, I checked with the former employee who the admin threw under the bus in Monday’s meeting.”

“She said Whitbeck and Bassett pressured her to lower the projections in order to persuade the Board and voters to approve the bond. She said they pressured her to lower them even more, but she refused. She said Bassett is ‘full of it’ and described Monday’s meeting as ‘defamation of character.’”

In a follow-up text message, the informant added the following statement.

“The administration found out the bond would be significantly over budget in September – around the time the Board approved putting a tax increase on the ballot for November. The administration likely sat on the bad news regarding bond projections in order to avoid losing support from the Board and/or voters, which could have caused the tax increase to fail.”

We interviewed the employee whom the administration attempted to “throw under the bus.” Her name is Carolina Fuzetti. Fuzetti, former Executive Director of Design and Construction, left FBISD for a different position in October 2023.

This is her side of the story.

“Steve [Bassett] is… lying,” Fuzetti said. “I’m sorry they took this approach. I would’ve never pushed a request for that much money forward.”

“It was easier to ask for $100 million more than to work on value engineering or scope adjustments, and to say that they did not know about the email with higher numbers is B.S. They were pushing me to reduce the numbers even more.”

“And to use high consultant numbers to compare and say you are short $100 million is not the way to go. There are options to reduce the cost. Buildings are being designed too big. They need to adjust spaces to align with [the] budget,” Fuzetti continued.

Fuzetti suggested FBISD find savings on the renovation work. It’s far too early in the bond to be asking for additional money, she said. She also suggested the district use contingency from their 2018 bond to offset the budget gap, as the bond has leftover money.

“Before I left, I told them the Mission Bend and Briargate were coming in at approximately $4 million over budget each, and I showed them where we had the funds available to cover this without asking for more [money].”

“The entire time I was with FBISD, I was transparent, honest and direct. Always.”

Fuzetti informed Katy Christian Magazine that she was shocked by Bassett’s direction of blame onto her following the board meeting. She promptly text messaged him. Below is the transcript of this conversation.

“Someone from FBISD leadership texted and asked me to watch the last meeting. Wow! I was surprised, but you did a good job shifting the blame on me. Hope you feel better now. There were so many other ways to address the overage, but it seemed easier to ‘estimate’ we needed $100 million more, than to tighten scope and do the hard value engineering work,” Fuzetti said.

“Deceitful approach. Shifting blame. Pretending you did not know. As always. Good luck!”

“Would you like to discuss what happened? I understand if you would rather not. I’ll leave it up to you,” Bassett responded.

“No. I think you are full of it. I have moved on. You can blame me if you want, but it’s defamation of character. You and Dr. Whitbeck knew we were carrying 2022 numbers. And we never adjusted those. You guys were even pushing for me to lower CHS to less than $200 million,” Fuzetti said.

“You have a COO that does not know construction. And a D&C team that is falling apart. To choose to compare high consultant numbers to show a high deficit is deceitful. Value engineering is what gets you there. You will have savings on the renovation/facilities work.”

“We know that. But to choose to say that you need $100 million instead of doing the VE work is ridiculous. Your buildings are being designed too big. And consultants love high numbers because they make more. I have always acted in an honest way. I was direct and have nothing to hide.”

“I did the right thing and you know it.”

Katy Christian Magazine reached out to current Fort Bend ISD School Board Secretary David Hamilton, and he told us the following:

“Admin and some of our board members talked about promises made to the community as if our only option is to complete all projects even if we go more than 10% over budget.

“One of the most-important promises to the community was the price tag, and we can’t just say “’oh well, give us another $100 million+’” to taxpayers because we made promises with bad cost projections.”

                                     Fort Bend ISD Secretary David Hamilton

Support Christian Journalism

Freedom ​is Not Free! Free Speech is essential to a functioning Republic. The assault on honest, Christian Journalism and Media has taken a devastating toll over the last two years. Many Christian media outlets have not survived.

It is through your Generosity and Support that we are able to promote Free Speech and Safeguard our Freedoms and Liberties throughout our Communities and the Nation. Without your donations, we cannot continue to publish articles written through a Biblical worldview.

Please consider donating or subscribing today. A donation of any size makes a Big Difference. Thank you for your Support!

Katy and Fort Bend Christian Magazines

Katy and Fort Bend Christian Magazines have over fifteen years of experience in getting Christian-centered messages out to the Greater Houston area and national communities on issues of significant sociocultural and economic interest and represent the only suite of family-oriented publications of its kind in the Houston metropolitan region. As a gold standard in parachurch publications, Katy and Fort Bend Christian Magazines pride themselves on the values of enterprise, family, and truthfulness, and have helped foster a culture of fearless honesty, rigor of business and industry, and interconnected networking among the readership.