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September 25th, 2017:

Interview with Kara DeRocha

Kara DeRocha

We move now to another district with a retiring Trustee. Mike Lunceford has served District V for two terms, and despite some confusion at the end of last year about his intentions, has decided to call it a career as a member of the HISD Board. Four candidates are vying to succeed him, and I have interviews with three of them. First up is Kara DeRocha. DeRocha is a graduate of of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at LSU and has worked as an environmental consultant and contractor to environmental firms. The mother of three kids at HISD schools, she has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of special education. Here’s the interview:

At long last, I have created an Election 2017 page, where you will see information about candidates in this November’s races.

Has Harvey changed anything politically?

You’d think it would, but it remains to be seen as far as I’m concerned.

A month to the day after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the reality of the storm was beginning to sink in on the minds of politicians, policy makers and advocates bracing for a long recovery.

In short, any political plans people had pre-Harvey are now moot.

“Whatever any of us thought or hoped that the agenda for the next session would be, it is going to be overtaken by mother nature,” House Speaker Joe Straus told a full auditorium at the University of Texas Saturday. “It’s going to the biggest challenge that we face.”

[…]

Politicians said it’s still too soon to know exactly what the state needs to do to help the areas slammed by the storm cover, such as how much money it will cost to fix schools and roads and invest in such infrastructure to guard against future storms.

What policy experts and politicians across the board do know is it could take years for the state to recover.

The storm may provide an opportunity for a special legislative session for lawmakers to rethink the state’s school funding formula given property taxes, which schools depend on for funding, are expected to tank in storm-ravaged areas, said state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble.

“I don’t believe 1 million children are going anywhere, but their homes have been destroyed,” he said, noting his home sustained $50,000 in damage from Harvey. “I just don’t see any path to victory for the schools if we don’t take this very seriously going forward.”

Huberty wants lawmakers to return to Austin for a special legislative session focused on storm relief. In that conversation, they could rehab the state’s school funding formula to level out funding for districts that stand to lose property tax revenue from the storm.

[…]

Education Commissioner Mike Morath said he’s still undecided about whether to cancel, delay or ease how the state grades schools based on the tests. However, his tone changed from last week when he told the State Board of Education it was unlikely Texas would tinker with the STAAR.

That will be worth keeping an eye on. I’ve been thinking about what would have to happen for me to accept that “things have changed” in a substantive fashion. Two possibilities come to mind:

1. A special session to address school finance. This can’t be just to make payments to districts to cover Harvey costs that insurance and the feds won’t pay, though that absolutely needs to happen, and it can’t be something that waits till 2019 and is the initiative of the House Education Committee and Speaker Straus, because we already know they’re on board for this. It also can’t be used as a vehicle for pushing through the usual hobbyhorses like vouchers or the new obsessions like bathroom bills. The call would have to include both addressing disaster funding and more importantly the overall inequities of the system. The reason why this would be a change would be that it would demonstrate for the first time that Greg Abbott wants to fix this problem, and it would provide him with the chance to separate himself from Dan Patrick. For a variety of what should be obvious reasons, I don’t expect this to happen, but if it does it will be a real change.

2. Someone loses an election as a result of being unwilling to take positive action to abet recovery. I don’t think this will happen because right now the main obstacle to getting things done is Paul Bettencourt, and he’s not in any position to lose a race. The members of Congress who voted against Harvey aid, whatever their reasons for doing so, are all well outside the affected area. If a special session does happen, then that would create opportunities for people to say and do potentially costly things, but in the absence of such, I any current officeholder has much to worry about at this time.

I’m sure there are other possibilities, but these are what come to my mind. Everything else feels like normal business to me. Maybe if the state winds up doing nothing to help cities and school districts cover costs, despite the $10 billion-plus in the Rainy Day Fund, that would count as something having changed, though that’s clearly not what the story is about. I’m open to the idea that “things” will “change” after Harvey, but I’m going to wait until I see it happen before I believe it.

Mostyn talks storm lawsuits

The Texas Tribune interviews Steve Mostyn, leading litigator in matters relating to storm damage, about what to expect after Harvey.

TT: How will HB 1774 impact people after Harvey?

MOSTYN: When you lower the penalties … if you lower them down to almost nothing and make it difficult for people to hire lawyers, then the conduct will get worse, so it’s going to be more difficult to get paid for [storm-related claims] because they don’t quite have the same [legal] tools in the chest that they used to … whatever length of rope you give the insurance companies — not all of them but a large, large number of them — they’ll run as far as they can run.

TT: Besides typical insurance policy lawsuits, do you see any other storm-related lawsuits on the horizon?

MOSTYN: There’s been some contact about some of these folks, where there was construction going on in some of these neighborhoods and they had blocked off all the [storm drains]. They did that so they wouldn’t get pollution into the [drainage] systems, and some of those companies didn’t go in and remove them and so some of those neighborhoods flooded.

We’ve had calls about people in Meyerland who bought homes, and on the home disclosure there’s the box checked off that the house has never flooded and maybe it’s flooded twice.”

TT: Who would be liable in that scenario?

MOSTYN: It would be back against the seller probably. And maybe the Realtor if the Realtor made representations.

Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of lawsuits in the near to medium-term future. Sometimes that’s the only way to get justice done. In the meantime, if you or someone you know that has been affected by Harvey think you’re getting a raw deal from your insurance company, call a lawyer.