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Anna Eastman

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HISD

We still don’t know what’s happening with city of Houston elections this fall, but there’s plenty of action with HISD Trustee races. You can see all of the candidates who have filed so far and their July finance reports here. I’ve got links to individual reports and summaries of them, so join me below for some highlights.

Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl
Monica Richart

Kara DeRocha
Sue Deigaard

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Gerry Monroe
Karla Brown
Susan Schafer

Name        Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
Santos      13,161    2,037        0     7,845
Himsl       17,685      832      500    17,352
Richart      5,565    5,996    6,197     5,765

DeRocha     17,676    2,006      355    15,669
Deigaard    22,716      769        0    20,381

Vilaseca    14,043      157        0    13,613
Albert           0        0   30,000         0
Lundin      13,480    1,565        0    11,915

Sung        31,660    1,673        0    29,208
Luman            0        0        0       456

Adams            0    6,484        0       421
Monroe           0        0        0         0
Brown            0        0        0         0
Schafer      4,690    2,543        0     2,026

So we have two open seats, in Districts I and V as Anna Eastman and Mike Lunceford are stepping down, one appointed incumbent running for a full term (Flynn Vilaseca), one incumbent who won a 2016 special election running for a full term (Sung), and one regular incumbent running for re-election (Adams). We could have a very different Board next year, or just a slightly different one. That includes all three of the traditionally Republican districts – V, VI, and VII. Interestingly, there is no Republican candidate in District V as yet, and the Republican runnerup in last year’s special election in District VII has apparently been idle so far this year. Daniel Albert is Chief of Staff for District F City Council member Steve Le, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s a Republican. Robert Lundin is a Rice faculty member who has been an HISD teacher and administrator and also opened YES Prep Southwest. I don’t have a guess as to what his politics may be. Whatever the case, I have to assume there will be more of a Republican presence in these races, but it’s starting to get a little late in the cycle.

The next most remarkable thing is Wanda Adams’ report. I’m not sure if it was filled out incorrectly or if she really did raise no money while spending her account almost empty. I don’t know what to make of that.

Otherwise, and putting the weirdness of the Sung/Luman situation aside, it looks like we have some competitive races shaping up. If you didn’t know anything but what is in this table, you might be hard-pressed to tell who’s an incumbent. I know there’s a lot of activity already for 2018, and I feel like we’re in a bit of a holding pattern until we know for sure what the deal is with city races. I suspect there’s a lot more to come in these races. Maybe we’ll see it in the 30-day reports.

June CEC meeting candidate update report

The June County Executive Committee meeting for the Harris County Democratic Party was a few days ago. There was some official business to take care of, mostly swearing in new precinct chairs, but in addition to the good crowd in attendance there were numerous judicial candidates, there to collect petition signatures to get on the primary ballot. I was pleased to see that among the handouts for the meeting was a document listing all of the judicial positions, incumbents, and Democratic candidates who are aiming to be on the ballot next year. I’ve scanned and uploaded a copy of that document, which you can see here. So far, there is at least one Democratic candidate for every position except the 315th Juvenile Court, the 14th Court of Appeals, Position 5, and Justice of the Peace in Precinct 8. I’ll be surprised if at least the first two of these aren’t filled by the deadline.

There was not a listing of statewide judicial candidates in this document because people file with the state party for that. I inquired about getting a similar document for candidates for other offices, but as most people don’t collect petition signatures to get on the ballot for other positions – you are required to get them for judicial races – the HCDP doesn’t necessarily know who’s running for what at this time. Some people make themselves better known than others. Hopefully more people will be making themselves more visible in the coming weeks. The end of June finance reports will also help locate some candidates.

In the meantime, I do have some candidate news, and the first bit I have is unfortunate. Angie Hayes, who has been running for HD134, announced last week on her Facebook and Instagram pages that due to personal health reasons, she will be ending her campaign. I’m sorry to hear that, and I wish her all the best. I have heard that there is another candidate for HD134 out there, but at this time I don’t know who that might be. If you know anything more, please leave a comment.

The top priorities for State House in Harris County are HDs 135 and 138, with 132 and 126 right behind. Adam Milasincic is running for HD138, against Rep. Dwayne Bohac. HD138 went (very slightly) for Clinton last year, and was roughly 55-45 at the judicial level. Milasincic is an attorney and first-time candidate, and if you want to see some younger people run for office, he’s someone you should check out. If you know of candidates for the other three districts, please let us in on it.

Finally, one election for this year: I reported Anna Eastman’s retirement announcement in May, but I have not mentioned who is running to succeed her. There are three candidates in the race for HISD Trustee in District I. They are Monica Flores Richart, Elizabeth Santos, and Gretchen Himsl. I’ve known Richart and Himsl for years, Richart through previous work as a campaign consultant (she worked with Diane Trautman in the past) and Himsl on the Travis Elementary PTA board. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Santos, but I’m sure that will happen sooner or later. I’ll certainly be doing interviews with them all. I don’t expect there to be any more candidates in this race, but you never know. As noted, the finance reports will give us a better picture of who’s running for what.

No changes to HISD magnet programs

Not this year, anyway.

Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza this week withdrew a plan to deeply cut funding for the district’s magnet programs over the next three years, shelving a proposal that had angered parents and some school board members who consider the specialized academic programs to be jewels in an oft-troubled school system.

The proposed cuts, outlined in a presentation to the HISD board last week, would have eliminated all extra funding per student to many of the district’s 121 magnet programs by the 2019-2020 school year while cutting funding to many of the other programs by hundreds of dollars per student. Only funding for secondary-language and early-college programs were spared.

But after the plan triggered a backlash from magnet school supporters, Carranza and district officials pulled back the proposal and said they instead planned to conduct a review of the district’s magnet funding and programs.

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said in a written statement on Wednesday that the district had no plans to cut funding or make changes to magnet schools for the coming 2017-2018 school year.

“HISD magnet programs are reviewed annually. Discussions about the equitable funding of schools – both magnet and neighborhood campuses – are part of that review process,” Hollin wrote.

She added that a comprehensive review of the magnet program would likely be completed by January.


Magnet schools and programs have been a touchy subject in Houston ISD as their prevalence and prominence has grown. While some are more diverse both in terms of race and economic status than many other district schools, critics have argued that they accept a much larger percentage of white and Asian students than those groups account for district-wide.

Only 8 percent of HISD’s students are white, according to TEA data, yet they make up about 36 percent of students at Carnegie Vanguard High. At DeBakey High, about 50 percent of the students are Asian, even though only about 4.7 percent of students district-wide belong to that ethnic group.

But the district’s demographics don’t match those of the city overall, largely because more-affluent white families have generally opted to send their children to private schools or to other districts. About 15 percent of those 18 and under in the city of Houston are white, according to Census data.

Houston ISD Trustee Anna Eastman said she’s glad the proposed cuts to magnet schools and programs appear to be off the table for next year, but she worries that any future cuts along the lines of the recent proposal would be “incredibly drastic.” She said cutting extra funding to the magnet programs is not the way to bring more diversity to those campuses.

“I think our goal should always be to create schools that draw the diversity of Houston into them and spread it across and throughout the district,” Eastman said. “I don’t think the problems in our other schools is the fault of kids in our magnet programs.”

I haven’t been paying close attention to this, but nothing that happened here surprises me. As the story notes, there have been reviews of the magnet program going on for some time, and they usually don’t get very far because the stakeholders really don’t like the proposals. The last section I quoted above captures the conflict succinctly – this program and its schools are very successful and desirable, but there’s limited space and the schools’ demographics don’t come close to mirroring the district as a whole, and they draw students away from their neighborhood schools, which can suffer as a result. It would be best to have more magnet-style programs in more schools all around the district, but that’s a hard thing to do when resources are scarce. I don’t see anything about this dynamic changing much in the near future.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman has served two terms as HISD Trustee in District I, which is where I live. She has been a leading advocate for having strong accountability measures in place for schools, she was a frequent critic of former Superintendent Terry Grier, and she was the most outspoken Trustee for passing the recapture referendum, both the one that failed in November and the one that passed on Saturday. Her term expires this year, and she has decided that she will not run for a third term. As I did with her predecessor Natasha Kamrani, Eastman wanted to do one last interview to talk about what has happened while she was in office, where things are now and where they are headed going forward. I was happy to oblige, so here’s what we talked about.

(Note: we were interrupted twice by the Eastman dogs barking. I paused the recorder till we could restore order, so if there are a couple of places where it sounds a little weird, that would be why.)

I should note there are two candidates already in for HISD District I, and I expect there will be at least one or two more. I’ve got a post on who’s running for what in HISD planned for the near future. I will of course be interviewing candidates in the fall.

What HISD is saying about recapture

Here’s their official webpage. I think you’ll be able to discern their position.

HISD voters will be asked on May 6 how the district should pay its Recapture obligation to the state of Texas: by Purchasing Attendance Credits or through Detachment of Commercial Property. Here’s the language that will appear on the ballot:

“Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the State of Texas with local tax revenues.”

A vote FOR means Purchasing Attendance Credits by writing a check to the state for local property taxes. It also means:

  • The district will continue to make annual recapture payments as long as property wealth grows.
  • Our total tax collections will continue to grow to offset these payments as property values rise.
  • The district will have more capacity in the future to fund schools.

A vote AGAINST Purchasing Attendance Credits means Detachment of the most valuable non-residential, commercial properties from the district’s tax roll. The properties will be reassigned to other school districts for taxing purposes. It also means:

  • Under current law, those commercial properties will be permanently detached, and the district will permanently lose those tax collections for district operations.
  • The district will lose debt service tax collections used to pay back bonds, which is debt used to build schools.
  • The district will face budget cuts and have less capacity to fund schools.

There’s more, but you get the idea. In addition, Trustee Anna Eastman, who was one of the louder voices in favor of the November referendum, has am op-ed touting this one as well. Please note that the referendum wording is dictated by state law – HISD has no discretion, so don’t gripe at them if you don’t like it. The HISD Recapture Flyer (English version) and Recapture FAQ came home as printouts in my fourth-grade daughter’s weekly folder, so at least one school is getting the word out to parents. Have you received any official communication on this, from your school or an elected official? Leave a comment and let me know. Remember, early voting begins on April 24 and runs for a week, with the final vote on May 6.

Recapture re-vote will happen

Mark your calendars for May 6.

On Thursday, the board voted 5-3, with one abstention, to put another referendum on recapture on the May 6 ballot. Placing a second referendum on the May ballot will cost the district $800,000, according to an HISD spokesman

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who campaigned in favor of not paying recapture with the first referendum, said HISD called the state’s bluff, and, in turn, the state called HISD’s bluff, but the state has the upper hand.

“The TEA offered this; the TEA is the same agency that has the power to take this district over. If they take over, do you think they’ll send people who care about equity or our kids? Their whole agenda is not about our kids,” said Skillern-Jones, who voted in favor of the second referendum.

But Trustee Jolanda Jones, who spearheaded the effort to reject paying recapture, said the whole reason for the first referendum was to get the Texas Legislature to move on overhauling school finance.

She said if the district pays recapture this year, the recapture fees will keep going up each year, essentially robbing the district of more and more money.

“The only reason they’re paying attention is not because we have a great lobbying team, it’s because we voted no,” Jones said.

About 10 speakers at Thursday’s meeting lambasted the idea of the board reversing its stance on paying the recapture money. Ken Davis, principal of Yates High School, said the TEA’s lessening HISD’s recapture bill is not a favor.

“That’s not a gift -they’re still taking money from our schools,” Davis said. “Push back on that. You are all standing at a time where you set a standard for what the rest of the state does. Stand up and take a step forward.”

See here and here for the background. According to the HISD News Blog, Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford, and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca voted for the approval of election, while Diana Dávila, Jolanda Jones, and Manuel Rodriguez voted No, with Anne Sung abstaining. I know Eastman was a Yes vote on recapture back in November; she is the only Trustee that I’m certain favored it at that time. I appreciate what Jolanda Jones is saying here, but I lean more towards what Rhonda Skillern-Jones is saying. I think this reduced bill for recapture, which came about after the TEA reinterpreted existing law to give HISD and other districts a break for allowing a larger homestead exemption, is the best we’re going to get without the Legislature getting involved, and I would not bet on that happening. This isn’t the outcome we really wanted, but it’s a lot better than where we began. I think we should declare victory, take the half-a-loaf being offered to us, and make an extra push for a genuine legislative fix in 2019. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

HISD board moves to change some school names

There may be more to come at a later date.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The five-trustee majority also voted to rename Henry Grady, Richard Dowling and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson middle schools and Robert E. Lee High School.

Now, a committee at each school, including a teacher, student, parent and alumnus, will be charged with proposing a new name to the district administration. The policy then calls for the superintendent to make recommendations to the board for a vote – expected to take place in May, according to the meeting agenda.

[Outgoing Board President Rhonda] Skillern-Jones had included eight schools on the renaming list, but trustees agreed to remove four – Lanier and Johnston middle schools and Davis and Reagan high schools – to allow for more discussion.

[New Trustee Jolanda] Jones, who represents Lanier, posted Wednesday on Twitter that she supported changing the school’s name. However, on Thursday she proposed removing the campus from the immediate renaming list to host a meeting at the school.

“Sidney Lanier was a confederate soldier despite what some say,” Jones posted on social media. “I would vote 2 change an anti-Semitic name if asked 2.”

Numerous parents and students from Lanier dressed in the school’s purple color and urged the board to keep the name. Sidney Lanier, they said, is better known as a poet than as a soldier in the Confederate army.

“This is clearly a very important question, and it brings out a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue,” Adriane Arnold, president of the Lanier parent group, told the board. “It is something our kids will be discussing at Lanier moving forward.”

Trustee Harvin Moore tried to postpone the renaming item “indefinitely,” but it failed on a 4-5 vote. He and Eastman said their votes on the board-driven items were not statements on the merits but on the process.

“I don’t think my vote represents pro-celebration of the Confederacy at all,” Eastman said.

Skillern-Jones backed the idea of renaming schools after the shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers in Charleston, S.C.

Skillern-Jones, who is black, said later that her colleagues should not have been surprised that she packed the agenda.

“I decided to stop listening to all the reasons why we can kick the can down the road and become more proactive about stopping that inequity that has persisted in this district since I came here in kindergarten,” she said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Skillern-Jones discussed her plans to push this issue in the interview she did with me last year; she described it as something she was proud to do. The specific list of schools to be renamed generated a lot of discussion, mostly having to do with Sidney Lanier. Texas Monthly wrote a piece sympathetic to Lanier, mostly expressing the viewpoint of former Lanier teacher and champion debate coach Jim Henley. Henley and Mike Bordelon, writing in Gray Matters, expanded on that. Andrea Greer pushed back. I support the overall move to rename these schools, though I’m still thinking about the Lanier case, but I will note two things. One, having a school named for oneself is a privilege, not a right. Two, however one feels about the particulars, having this discussion has been a very good thing. I’ve sure learned a lot from it. It’s easy to go through life without giving much if any thought as to why certain places are named the way they are, and what those names may mean to people. I know this because I’ve done it. Talking about these names, and hearing about what others think about them, has been enlightening, to say the least. If this conversation and the possibility of changing some names makes anyone uncomfortable or upset, consider that not talking about it and leaving things as they are because no one is interested in talking about it also makes people uncomfortable and upset. The Press has more.

No decision on interim Superintendent

The HISD Board of Trustees is still deciding how to proceed in the wake of Superintendent Terry Grier’s resignation.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Trustee Anna Eastman said after [Tuesday’s board] meeting that she continues to have a lot of questions about how the job-order contracts have been administered. Among other things the audit showed that the district’s Construction and Facilities Service Department wasn’t asking for detailed information about costs before writing big checks to contractors and that it was cutting up the same project into different pieces so that it could come in under the $500,000 state-mandated threshold and grant contracts without having to ask permission from that pesky school board.

“Someone’s got to be held accountable for it. There’s been too many ‘oops.’” Eastman said. “I have concerns about people with less authority in the organization taking all the responsibility. I think leadership has to take responsibility for anyone in the organization thinking that was ok or that was the right thing to do.”

As for the interim question:

“The board cannot name an interim unless we officially reassign the superintendent to other duties which he has to agree upon,” said Eastman. “It would have to be a negotiated agreement, or we would agree on a quicker termination of his contract and I don’t think the board is interested in that or the superintendent.”

Eastman said she thinks the board should concentrate on finding a new superintendent and wait till after Grier’s March 1 departure to appoint an interim. “I’d like to see a person [new superintendent] in place before the next school year. Dr. Grier started in September so basically the organization that was in place was his predecessor’s organization.” Eastman also said it was important for any new board members to be part of the process, as well as the community.

Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones thinks the board should work quickly in moving along the process for a new superintendent, but not so fast that they don’t get input from all aspects of the community to make sure that person is a good match for HISD and its demands.

As for the interim spot, Skillern-Jones said, “I don’t think it’s unanimous around the board that we not appoint one now. We have a superintendent who is out on leave. He has an acting deputy superintendent which is in place [Don Huewitt] I have some trouble with that situation as it exists. We suspect that the superintendent may be out on medical leave for a long period of time. And I have some concern about where responsibility rests in that situation.

“Does it rest with the superintendent who is physically absent or does it rest with the deputy superintendent and who gets to decide where that responsibility rests is the board? So until we have a clear cut picture of who’s responsible, who’s actually at the helm, and who we hold accountable then I’m uncomfortable with that as a situation. So I think that should be temporary. It may not be popular opinion. We’re looking at six months out of a nine-month school year. A lot of things can happen. Who do we hold accountable and in what way? “

See here and here for the background. Both Eastman and Skillern-Jones make good points, and I’m not sure myself what the best course of action is. I think it’s all right to keep Huewitt in place to run things, but the chain of command – and of accountability – needs to be established and agreed upon by all. It would also be nice to have a new Superintendent in place well before the start of the 2016 school year, for the reasons Eastman identified. Frankly, the sooner the Board can get the job search going, the better.

HISD postpones redrawing school boundaries

This stuff is hard, y’all.

HISD School Map

The school board [had planned] to vote Thursday on the district’s biggest rezoning plan in recent years, involving more than two dozen campuses.

The proposal mostly would redraw attendance boundaries to shift homes from more crowded schools to campuses with space. The major impact may not be immediate, however. As a nod to surprised parents, the district plans to allow current students and those entering kindergarten this fall to stay at their old schools if they choose.

Superintendent Terry Grier and his staff said in January that the rezoning plan was driven by concerns from the Texas Education Agency that HISD had too many elementary school classes over the state’s cap of 22 students.

Grier told the school board Monday, however, that he spoke recently with Education Commissioner Michael Williams and does not expect the state to crack down on the district. This fall, HISD requested size waivers for 1,499 classes – far more than the 80 sought by Dallas ISD, the state’s second-largest district.

Still, Grier said, he thought most board members wanted fewer waivers, and rezoning is a common way for districts to even out enrollment.

“It’s frustrating to my staff to do what you asked us to do and then get called out publicly and go to meetings and get pounded on,” Grier told the board.

Parents, particularly on the city’s west side, have packed recent meetings about the rezoning.

In response, Grier’s administration has revised the plan. The biggest change involves removing fewer homes from the Bush Elementary zone and turning Shadowbriar Elementary, about 4 miles away, into a magnet school that would take overflow from Bush, Ashford, Askew and Daily.

The hope is that Shadowbriar’s specialty program – the theme has not been picked – would reduce crowding by drawing students voluntarily from nearby campuses.

The plan also calls for reducing crowding or expected enrollment growth at Lyons, Smith, Tinsley and Young Elementary schools. Their attendance boundaries would shrink, with students rezoned to other schools.

See here for the background. The Board ultimately tabled the proposal and will ask for a more comprehensive plan, one that will presumably draw fewer complaints from parents who are no longer in the zone they wanted to be in. I notice on the Chron’s interactive map that the two popular schools in my neighborhood, Travis and Harvard Elementary Schools, are both affected by this plan, but only in a minor way in that no current students would be zoned out. People looking to move into the Heights in the future, however, would be wise to stay on top of this.

HISD hires its defenders for the teacher evaluation lawsuit

I have to say, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this.

Earlier this year, seven teachers sued the Houston Independent School District in federal court over their evaluation system.

That system uses a statistical formula and student test scores to grade teachers.

At its meeting this week, the Houston school district decided to hire a high-profile law firm to fight that case.

The board will pay those legal fees with a grant from Houston billionaire John Arnold, who helped created that same system to grade teachers.

With a 6-2 vote, the trustees approved hiring the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLP, to defend Houston’s teacher evaluation system in federal court.

“I think there’s the potential for this to be a high-profile case and I think it’s important for the district to have the best representation possible in this and any situation that we confront through the legal system,” said HISD Trustee Anna Eastman.

See here for the background. I have no issue with HISD being represented by top-notch counsel, and I can certainly see the merit in having what is likely to be an expensive legal bill covered by someone other than the taxpayers. But this raises an important and uncomfortable question: Whose interests are being represented by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher – HISD’s, or John Arnold’s? If the HISD Board of Trustees finds itself in disagreement with John Arnold over the legal strategy employed by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, who will the lawyers listen to? If the Board decides they want to negotiate a settlement, but John Arnold insists on pushing through to a verdict, whose opinion carries the day? What if Arnold threatens to cut off the spigot and leave HISD with the remaining bills if they don’t do things his way?

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic here, but my point is that lawyers represent clients, and this arrangement has the potential to complicate that relationship. Perhaps the Board has thought all this through and gotten an agreement in writing from all relevant parties about who gets to approve the decisions that will need to be made during this process. If they haven’t however, then all I can say is that billionaires tend to think they’re in charge, especially when it’s their money being spent. I just hope everyone went into this with their eyes open.

One more thing:

These particular outside lawyers just won a groundbreaking case in California.

There a judge ruled that California’s teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional.

That decision was controversial, to say the least, and there’s a good possibility it may not survive appeal. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the main point of this story, I just wanted to mention it.

Last stand against school closures

Last chance, too.

Community activists called Tuesday for HISD to spare two schools from closure in a last-ditch effort that included filing a federal civil-rights complaint alleging racial discrimination.

Charles X. White, president of the city’s South Park Super Neighborhood group, said he had asked federal authorities to investigate HISD’s proposal to close schools in mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Houston school board is set to vote Thursday on Superintendent Terry Grier’s scaled-back proposal to close Jones High School in the South Park neighborhood and Dodson Elementary near downtown. He first proposed closing five small schools.


Grier has said the Jones and Dodson buildings are needed to house students from other campuses being rebuilt under the district’s 2012 vote-approved bond issue.

After the new schools are built, Grier said, Jones could be reopened as a vocational school or one for gifted students. Dodson could be turned into a middle school with a specialized program.

Trustee Paula Harris, whose district includes Jones, said at a board meeting Monday that she supported reopening Jones with a new theme but called for it to happen next year – not years after using the space during rebuilding.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. A spokesperson for the Office of Civil Rights confirmed there was a complaint filed with them, but I’m sure we won’t hear anything further on that until some action is taken. A Chron op-ed from earlier in the week lays out a pretty good case against the district taking steps to close Jones and Dodson at this time:

In her Sunday op-ed “Low-performing schools drag down kids and districts” (Page B9), trustee Anna Eastman said HISD should close struggling schools and re-open them as charter/magnet schools. More specialty schools do not necessarily mean more access for children most in need. When HISD closed Third Ward’s Ryan Middle School last year and re-opened it as a magnet school, only 11 percent of the enrollment included neighborhood children.

Moreover, contrary to common expectations, research on 60 school districts shows that student performance actually declines following school closures. HISD has closed 19 schools since 2010, sending many students from exemplary to lower-performing schools. We know of no parent who would want that.

Grier defended the closure proposal with a November 2013 HISD report implying these schools have seen long-term enrollment declines. However, this ignores the district’s own research showing that enrollment changed less than 3 percent over the past 10 years at each elementary school targeted for closure – schools that met state standards every year.

Enrollment declines at Jones are due in part to HISD’s removal of its Vanguard “gifted” program and a revolving door of leadership. And when the expensive and controversial Apollo program was imposed on Jones – with its fixation on excessive test prep – families fled. Parents don’t want the school to close; they want HISD to clean up its mess and invest in quality programming.

As community opposition has grown, officials now say Jones and Dodson are needed as “swing space” – temporary buildings for schools during a rebuild. HISD policy does not authorize school closures for this purpose.

Here’s the Anna Eastman op-ed they reference. At this point, while HISD may have a good demographic argument for pursuing these closures, they seem to be weak on procedure and on community engagement about them. I’d like to see more done to address those issues before any further action is taken. There will be a rally by anti-closure forces outside the Hattie Mae White building tomorrow at 1:30 – see beneath the fold for details.


HISD to take action on “Redskins” nickname

Good for them.

Houston school district officials, plunging into a national controversy, are considering a policy change that would ban mascot names that might play on racial, ethnic or cultural stereotypes.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier is expected to propose a new policy that would require changing the mascots of the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians, Welch Middle School Warriors and Westbury High School Rebels.

Specifically, the proposal would prohibit the use of “any race or ethnic group” as a mascot, nickname or descriptor of any Houston school. Officials said the mascots of Lamar, Hamilton, Welch and Westbury would fall outside the policy.

The issue is scheduled for discussion Monday at a school board review meeting. The board could vote on the change at its regular meeting on Thursday. The new mascots would be in place for the 2014-15 school year, and initial discussions of the transition have begun.


“The time has come for the Houston Independent School District – the most vibrantly diverse school district in the nation – to acknowledge that some decisions made generations ago need to be reconsidered,” [Superintendent Terry] Grier wrote. “Traditions are important. But respect for cultural difference and sensitivities matters more.”

Anna Eastman, the school board president, said the board does not intend to dictate mascot names, but to set guidelines.

The new policy would bar names with inappropriate connotations, Eastman said, adding that it is up to school district administrators to determine which mascots need replacing. Local groups at the schools will then select new mascots where needed.

Eastman said she expects some public comment on the policy change.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. I know that people feel strongly about mascots and school colors,” she said. “I wish we would see the same level of passion to the fact that we have kids who can’t read.”

Good to hear, and I couldn’t agree more with Anna Eastman. Honestly, if anyone gets more than a little upset about this, they need to rethink their priorities.

As the story notes, earlier this week Sen. Rodney Ellis wrote an open letter to Grier asking for something to be done.

On Tuesday, State Senator Rodney Ellis tweeted out a letter he sent to HISD Superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier (view the tweet here). In the letter, Ellis requested the district start a process to change Lamar’s mascot (Redskins) and any other derogatory mascots in HISD.

“I recently met with local Native American leaders, all of whom expressed sincere concern about the use of Lamar’s inflammatory manscot name,” the letter reads.

In an October column by Randy Harvey (click here for the column), Lamar school officials acknowledged the nickname was wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.

The actual mascot was eliminated. Any new teams, groups or awards are known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are called Rangerettes.

“I know that the leadership of HISD and Lamar High School do not intend to offend anyone with the mascot’s name, but, simply put, times change,” the letter reads.

As noted, you can see his letter, which is quite congenial, here. I of course agree with him, as does the Chron editorial board, and I applaud him for taking this step. I don’t know if this had a direct effect on the subsequent actions by Grier and the board or not, but either way it’s encouraging.

By the way, I saw this in the Chron’s Sports Update blog, which was their Rice Owls blog when I first subscribed to it. Somewhere along the line, the blog morphed into a catchall sports section news blog, and the feed was redirected. I personally think this story belongs in their Metro section, or at least in the Houston Politics blog, but at least it was somewhere. I’m glad for that little bit of serendipity that allowed me to see it, since I would not have subscribed to that feed on my own.

One last thing from yesterday’s story:

“I’m not sure a change is really necessary,” said Frank Staats, a 1975 Westbury graduate and vice president of the school’s alumni association.

Images of the school’s Rebel mascot have been changed to make any connection to the Civil War barely noticeable, Staats said.


At Lamar, which his daughter attends, Staats said he understands the name is a greater concern. However, “it doesn’t bother the kids, from what I know,” he said.

Staats said in 20 years of alumni participation, he’s never heard a complaint about the Westbury Rebel name from students or alumni.

I suspect that’s because most people don’t really think much about it. If that is the case, then hopefully people will be equally indifferent about the proposed changes.


Some unhappy changes are about to occur at Houston schools.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

HISD officials unveiled a plan Thursday to cut funding and end bus rides next year for transfer students at 20 struggling magnet schools, tackling a politically tough topic that has confounded the district for years.

The campuses will be the first to feel the consequences of the school board’s policy, passed in May, to end the specialty programs that draw few students from outside the neighborhood or post low test scores. Until now the board has put off eliminating any of its 115 magnet programs – roughly 40 percent of its schools – amid protests from parents.

The campuses on the hit list will lose a combined $2.3 million in extra funding next year.

In addition, the hundreds of students who transfer to the schools and now get district transportation will have to arrange other rides.

Superintendent Terry Grier described the decision bluntly.

“If you don’t meet standard, you should not be a magnet school,” he said.

The HISD Board of Trustees approved the change to the magnet school policy back in May, and while Board President Anna Eastman disputed Grier’s assertion that no Board vote was needed to affirm these cuts, there was no opposition from any Board member or education-related group noted in the story. With HISD still struggling with the deep budget cuts in public education from 2011 and the property tax rate about to go up to fund pay raises and the Apollo program, I’m sure this savings will offer some relief.

Here’s the list of schools affected by this:

* The 20 campuses that will lose their extra magnet funding and busing next year are Burbank, Elrod, Law, Pleasantville, Wesley and West University elementary schools; Attucks, Deady, Dowling, Henry, Holland, Jackson and Key middle schools; and Jones, Lee, Madison, Sharpstown, Westbury, Wheatley and Worthing High schools.

* Those on probation are Crespo, Garden Villas, Helms, MacGregor, Pugh, Ross and Wainwright elementaries; Hogg and Long middle schools; and Kashmere, Scarborough, Sterling and Washington high schools.

Helms and Hogg are in my neighborhood. Helms has a dual-language program that some friends of mine have their kids in. Hogg has been aggressively pursuing upgrades to its IB and STEM programs in part to make the school more attractive to Heights-area parents. I hope they can close whatever gaps they face. The school on these lists that surprised me was West U Elementary. According to Harvin Moore, who responded to an email query I sent, West U Elementary has only about 40 magnet kids, in a school of 1100 students. I guess they draw plenty from their neighborhood. Which is ideally what it should be – every neighborhood should have a school that resident want their kids to attend. We’ll see how this plays out. Hair Balls, which takes a negative view of this action by HISD, has more.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Endorsement watch: HISD

Clearly, this is an early endorsements year for the Chronicle, as they follow up their HCC recommendations with their endorsements in the contested HISD Trustee races.

District 1: Anna Eastman, the board president, has been a thoughtful leader and a strong advocate for tightening the board’s ethics policy. We heartily endorse her re-election.

Eastman, an HISD parent, joined the board four years ago. She believes that the turnover among the district’s best principals and teachers is too high, and that HISD needs to pay more attention to retaining and developing its staff, and not focus only on non-renewal of low performers: “You can’t fire your way to excellence.”

She argues that openness is the best way to fight graft. “Corruption isn’t overt,” she says. “You don’t see bad people lurking in the corners. It’s far more subtle, an assumption about the way that influence works. The best way to fight it is to make as much as possible accessible to outside third parties.”

About Apollo 20, she says, “The program has noble, worthy origins, and I think it’s done an incredible job at changing school cultures. But it’s very, very expensive. The analysis that we’ve done to date shows that its biggest impact comes from the math tutors, which are the expensive part, but we haven’t seen whether their effects last beyond a year. Are there sustained performance gains?”

District 7:Harvin Moore, a member of the board since 2003, has been perhaps the strongest supporter of Superintendent Grier. Though we are impressed by his challenger Anne Sung, we endorse Moore as a steady hand and a master of HISD’s details.

Moore is a fan of technology-aided “blended learning,” which he says could help eliminate benchmark tests that consume too much classroom time. He supports expansion of Apollo 20: “It’s shown astounding results in math. And no one doubts that it’s reduced the dropout rate.”

Moore, who has served on HISD’s audit committee, says that the best way to fight corruption on the school board is to have a strong superintendent. And he argues that high teacher turnover has been good for the district: “We retained 90 percent of the most highly functioning teachers, and we exited 52 to 54 percent of the lowest.”

District 9: Of the three candidates vying to replace long-time board member Larry Marshall, a magnet for scandal, we believe that Wanda Adams, currently a member of Houston City Council, would do the best job. She is energetic and active in community affairs.

To fight corruption, she suggests that HISD make school board candidates’ campaign filings available in ways that are easy for the general public to search. And she says that when a board member has shown shaky ethics, it’s up to other board members to hold him or her accountable.

She presents herself as a consensus builder. And she is conscious of the changing needs of District 9, an historically African-American area with a growing Hispanic population.

I just finished publishing my HISD Trustee interviews, but in case you missed them, here they are:

Anna Eastman, District I
Hugo Mojica, District I
Harvin Moore, District VII
Anne Sung, District VII
Wanda Adams, District IX

As I’ve said before, I support Anna Eastman, who is my Trustee and who I believe has done an excellent job. I’m glad to see the Chron support her as well, not that I expected otherwise.

HISD race overviews

The Chron takes a look at the three contested HISD races.

CM Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

The District 9 race in south Houston sees the return of W. Clyde Lemon, an attorney who held the seat for two years until Marshall ousted him in the 1997 election.

“Here we are, wanting to move the focus back to children being the priority in public education,” said Lemon, 57.

City Councilwoman Wanda Adams, whose term is expiring, and HISD teacher Coretta Mallet-Fontenot also are vying for the seat.

As a way to engage students and their parents, Lemon said he would like to see Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops based at elementary schools. He also suggested offering bonuses to draw teachers to the neediest campuses.

To help with public trust, Lemon said, he thinks HISD board members should have to file personal financial disclosure forms, as state lawmakers do.

Adams, 46, said campaign contributions should be posted online in an easily searchable system like the city’s.

With the area’s growing Hispanic population, Adams said, she wants to make sure there are enough bilingual teachers on staff. She also said HISD should seek partners to tutor struggling students at all campuses, not just prioritize the 20 schools in the Apollo reform program.

Mallet-Fontenot, 42, a second-grade teacher at Law Elementary, said the Apollo label has driven students away. She criticized the “revolving door of teachers and administrators” in the district and said teachers need to have more input in their job evaluations.

I’m just quoting from the District IX section here because I interviewed all of the candidates in the other contested races – Anna Eastman and Hugo Mojica in District I; Harvin Moore and Anne Sung in District VII. Wanda Adams was the only candidate I interviewed in District IX. These are important races, and one factor not mentioned in this story is the divergent opinions among Board members about Superintendent Terry Grier. Eastman is a prominent critic, while Moore is a big supporter. There’s potential here for Grier to wind up facing a very different Board, one way or the other. That’s worth keeping an eye on as well.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

I still have some Houston elections to cover here, but for this week we turn our attention to the HISD Trustee races. I have five interviews to bring you for these races, beginning with my Trustee in District I, Anna Eastman. Eastman, the current Board President, is serving her first term after winning a runoff in 2009 to succeed Natasha Kamrani. A former social worker, Eastman headed up Travis Elementary School PTA Ad-Hoc Transition Committee while it was undergoing expansion, and served as its PTA President for two years. I don’t usually state my preferences in these interview posts, but since I have already said that I plan to vote for Eastman I’ll say it again here, so there’s no confusion. Here’s the interview:

Anna Eastman interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.


Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.


Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.


The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

July campaign finance reports, HISD and HCC

Ericka Mellon did me the favor of the heavy lifting for HISD Trustees.

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Campaign finance reports filed this week show at least two non-incumbents are entering races for the Houston school board this November, while contributions for most trustees generally were smaller following new board-imposed restrictions.

Board president Anna Eastman, who represents District I, which includes the Heights, faces a challenge from Hugo Mojica, executive director of the Greater Northside Chamber of Commerce. Eastman raised more than any other trustee or candidate this reporting period, bringing in nearly $18,300 since January. Mojica, who formerly worked for the Project GRAD nonprofit that contracted with HISD, raised more than $2,100.

In south Houston’s District IX, now represented by Larry Marshall, a former HISD trustee, W. Clyde Lemon, has filed to run. Marshall, entangled in a bribery lawsuit, canceled his fundraiser in late June and raised no money this reporting period, which ran from January through July 15.

It’s unclear if Marshall, first elected in 1997, is seeking re-election. Marshall could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday.

Lemon, an attorney who represented District IX in the mid-1990s before Marshall’s election, raised $2,550 this reporting period. He has $923 on hand. Marshall has more than $18,000 on hand from prior fundraising.

The other seats on the ballot this November are District V (Mike Lunceford), District VI (Greg Meyers) and District VII (Harvin Moore). No other candidates have filed to run. They have until Aug. 26 to file.

I couldn’t have put it any better than that. Go see the full post for Mellon’s summaries. If you want to see the reports themselves, you have to go to the HISD Trustees webpage, then click the link for the trustee in question, and from there you’ll see a link for their finance reports. The downside to this is that there’s no easy way to find reports for a challenger like Hugo Mojica. To be honest, I’m not even sure where these reports get filed, so I don’t know where to look for them other than on the Trustees’ own pages, which obviously isn’t enough. If it’s HISD that gets the reports, then my request to HISD is this: Please make it possible to find all candidates’ reports online. If Larry Marshall doesn’t run again, there’s likely to be a multitude of candidates. We deserve to know what their funding sources are.

As for HCC, their campaign finance reports page does list one challenger, Kevin Hoffman, and since they have all the reports available via that page they can easily add others as needed or appropriate. However, as of this writing they don’t have the July reports available yet, just the January ones. I’ll check back again later and let you know when those are up.

Show them the data


Terry Grier

Terry Grier

A major donor to HISD’s key school reform effort is putting its remaining $3 million check on hold amid concerns that detailed research about the success of the program is lacking.

The president of the Houston Endowment, Ann Stern, wrote a letter to top school district officials this month criticizing the recent progress report on the Apollo program for not including “meaningful” student performance data.

Stern said in an interview Tuesday that she is optimistic the foundation ultimately will award the remaining money to the Houston Independent School District, but she wants to see more a detailed research report.

“We are hoping to be able to make this payment,” she said. “We have not canceled anything.”

The Houston Endowment pledged $6 million to the Apollo reform program in 2011 – assuming certain conditions were met – and has paid half that amount. The final $3 million payment was scheduled to be made by Wednesday.


On Tuesday, [Harvard researcher Roland] Fryer emailed [Superintendent Terry] Grier to explain that he and his team were working on a final study but are waiting on information such as whether students transferred schools or enrolled in college. The transfer data is crucial to analyzing test scores, he said, because if a student spent, say, six months at a high school and then moved to a new campus before taking the exams, the student’s results should be weighted.

Fryer said he hoped to have the final evaluation complete by Nov. 1.

“In my view, if it’s not good enough to turn in for academic publication, it’s not good enough to show a Board or a funder,” he wrote.

See here for the most recent update on Apollo, and the letter Stern sent to Grier and Eastman is here. I don’t see anything particularly objectionable about this request, and I’m as interested in seeing this data as Stern is. It’s pretty straightforward – if Apollo works as advertised, we should find a way to fund as much of it as we can. If not, there are better ways to spend that money. Let’s let the data help us figure that out.

HISD budgets for teacher pay raise and more Apollo

Whether that will mean a tax hike, and if so how much, remains undetermined.

Houston ISD employees will see a 2 percent pay raise and many schools will receive more money to help struggling students under the budget that trustees approved on a 6-3 vote Monday.

Left unsettled was whether property owners will face an increase in the tax rate next year. The school board won’t adopt the rate until October.

The district’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, said after the board meeting that the budget will require a 4-cent increase in the tax rate unless circumstances change. Property values may rise more than expected, for example, or the board could agree to cut programs or dip into savings.

“We’re talking 4 cents if nothing changes,” Huewitt said.


Trustees Juliet Stipeche and Mike Lunceford, who voted against the budget, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Grier’s reform program called Apollo. The spending plan continues the program at 20 schools while giving another 126 campuses with low test scores extra money to spend on tutoring or other efforts to boost achievement.

Board president Anna Eastman, who also opposed the budget, said she disagreed with distributing money based on overall school results rather than tying funds to needy students at any campus.

See here for the background. There won’t need to be an increase to cover the construction bonds that were issued last year, thanks to rising property values, so any increase will be driven by these items. The pay raise was a must – among other things, some nearby school districts have bumped their teachers’ pay, so HISD needed to keep up or risk losing talent. Sure is nice when a job market operates like that, isn’t it? As for Apollo, it remains controversial. There’s a lot more one can say about it, but that about sums it up.

HISD contemplates tax hike

It’s not as much as they once thought they would raise them, since enough money was restored by the Legislature to stave off the need to raise taxes for that purpose.

Superintendent Terry Grier’s budget proposal, released Monday, would increase the tax rate by 2 cents and would expand his Apollo school reform program, a three-year-old effort that some trustees have not embraced.

If the board agrees to hike the tax rate more – by 4 cents – Grier proposed giving raises to teachers and other staff.

“I don’t mind paying more taxes,” Grier said at a board meeting Monday. “We know some of our schools need more help.”

A 4-cent increase would cost the owner of an average $209,000 home roughly $60 extra, assuming no change in value.

Taxpayers in the Houston Independent School District already were expected to face a 1-cent increase next year to help fund the recent bond issue for school construction, but that may not be necessary. HISD’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, said Monday that higher property values may mean the district can delay the first tax increase related to the bond.

On the high end, HISD property owners would see a 5-cent tax increase in 2014 – if the 1-cent bond-related hike remained and if the school board approved another 4 cents for the general operating budget.

Trustees won’t formally adopt a tax rate until October, but they are scheduled to vote Thursday on a budget based on the rate they expect to approve.

The district’s current tax rate of $1.1567 per $100 of assessed value is the lowest among local school systems.

K-12 Zone has more on the budget considerations. They key driver here is the Apollo initiative, which remains a point of contention. The Chron op-ed pages on Wednesday had pro and anti Apollo articles, which I’ll leave you to read. I don’t feel like I know enough to make a judgment on this. HISD Board Chair Anna Eastman has some good discussion of the pro and anti pieces, if you want more reading. I need to give it some more thought. In the meantime, we’ll see what direction the Board takes.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.


Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.


There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

HISD revises magnet school policy

This has been in the works for a long time.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

The [HISD Board of Trustees] voted unanimously on a revised policy governing its beloved magnet school program, saying the schools would be held more accountable for academic performance and their ability to attract students.

While some of the 113 magnet programs are nationally recognized and draw waiting lists, others have languished over the years.

“Woo! We finally passed a magnet policy,” board president Anna Eastman said immediately after the vote.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier took his excitement to Twitter.

“HISD approves Magnet Policy after four years of discussion!” he wrote.

The policy does not address individual schools – a politically tougher topic. Grier and the board have said no changes will take place for the coming school year.

Yeah, it’s when the board gets around to deciding the fate of individual schools that stuff will start to get real. Be that as it may, I think this is sensible. HISD has a lot of great magnet schools, but that doesn’t mean they’re all worth keeping, or at least worth keeping as is. It’s perfectly reasonable for them all to have to demonstrate their value. This preview story has some more details.

The policy that the school board is set to approve Thursday is general, but makes a point that magnet programs should have “fair and equitable” resources and should be held accountable for academic performance. The proposal also calls for magnet schools to strive for at least 20 percent of their students to come from outside the neighborhood, but Eastman suggested this week that the provision should be loosened.

“We have to use common sense,” Grier said in response. “We’re not interested in hurting schools that are attracting kids.”

Data obtained from HISD show that 50 of 113 magnet programs don’t meet the 20 percent standard.

The programs drawing the fewest students from outside the neighborhood – fewer than 15 – are Worthing, Scarborough, Kashmere and Lee high schools, Long Academy and Ryan Middle. Combined, those schools are receiving more than $558,000 in special magnet funding this year, the data show.

The school board already has agreed to close Ryan and reopen it next year as a magnet school focused on health careers, modeled after the prestigious DeBakey High School for Health Professions.

In all, HISD gave about $17 million extra to its magnet schools this year, and the district spends another $10 million on transportation. The funding for programming varies widely. Six magnet programs got no extra money this year while three – Carnegie Vanguard High School, Parker Elementary and Garden Villas Elementary – received more than $400,000 each.

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who helped revise the magnet policy, said she hopes it will spur better programs with more relevant themes. Once the board approves the new policy, Grier’s staff plans to write more detailed standards such as specific academic benchmarks.

There’s certainly room to massage the 20 percent standard – at the very least, if things are working well at a school otherwise, there should be some discretion to leave things be. Ultimately, the goal should be to keep what’s good and fix or get rid of what isn’t. The details are obviously important, but let’s not get so bogged down in them that we lose sight of that.

HISD to begin laptops for all program

Starting small, and presumably growing from there.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Houston ISD officials announced Thursday that they are prepared to give students at up to 18 high schools their own laptops next school year, becoming among the first big-city districts to launch a one-to-one computing program.

“This is a way of transforming what and how we teach,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told the school board.

Grier first pitched his laptop idea to the public during his State of the Schools speech in February. His chief technology officer, Lenny Schad, confirmed to the school board Thursday that the district is ready to proceed with the first batch of high schools next school year, doling out the laptops to teachers first semester and giving them to students in January. Schad’s team is finishing up an analysis of the high schools to see exactly how many are technologically ready to get the laptops next year. The number won’t be more than 18, he said, emphasizing that the district doesn’t want to rush the roll-out.

See here for the background. Starting with this pilot program would address one of the concerns raised in February by board President Anna Eastman, who was concerned about rolling out a program like this all at once. It’s not clear yet where the money will come from for this – the story estimates the price tag at $10 million – but I’m confident there will be grant money and/or partnership opportunities out there for it. HISD is not the first school district to propose something like this, so there will be examples to follow if need be. I look forward to seeing the results of this experiment.

Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood gets an early start

From the inbox on Friday:

Today the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast ACTION FUND Inc, (PPGCAF) voted to endorse the following candidates for the November City Election. Each of the endorsed candidates has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well being of Texas women and families. PPGCAF encourages all Houston registered voters to cast their ballot for candidates who support women’s health education, information and services. 


  • Annise Parker for Mayor
  • Ronald Green for Controller
  • Stephen Costello for Houston City Council At-Large Pos. 1
  • C.O. Brad Bradford for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4
  • Jerry Davis for Houston City Council District B
  • Ellen Cohen for Houston City Council District C
  • Ed Gonzalez for Houston City Council District H
  • Mike Laster for Houston City Council District J
  • Larry Green for Houston City Council District K
  • Anna Eastman for HISD Board of Trustees District I

A copy of the release is here. I’m still a little too focused on the legislative session to pay that much attention to the city elections, but I’m not going to let a slate like this pass by without notice. The only mild surprise on this list is CM Costello, who started out as a Republican in good standing but who has been a pragmatic moderate in office. He drew a challenge from the right in 2011 and will likely draw another this time around, but he was still viewed with considerable skepticism by left-leaning groups despite winning numerous endorsements from Democratic clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this time around.

The PPGCAF will likely have more endorsements to make as the open seat contests come into greater focus; it’s possible they’ll take a side against an incumbent or two, depending on who files for what. I’ll be curious to see if they take a position in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is a Democrat but will almost surely face a strong challenge or two. The same is true for HIDS Trustee Larry Marshall. Speaking of HISD, Anna Eastman now has an opponent, Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for District H in 2009. As I noted before, there are currently no open seats in HISD. Campos had an update on who’s filed designations of treasurer so far. Needless to say, that list is a work in progress. This is as good a time as any to ask what rumors and rumblings you’ve heard lately. Leave a comment and let us know.

Charters apply to take over North Forest ISD

Fine by me.

In a potentially groundbreaking move, three of Houston’s top-performing charter schools are making a pitch to run the long-troubled North Forest school district.

The charter groups — KIPP, YES Prep and Harmony — are asking Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to approve their plan, instead of having the Houston Independent School District take over North Forest ISD, KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg confirmed Friday. The idea is still in the developmental stage, but the North Forest school board unanimously signed off on the concept Thursday night, said board president Charles Taylor Sr.

Williams ordered the annexation of North Forest into HISD last month after the former state education commissioner gave the district a one-year reprieve from closure. North Forest has long suffered academic and financial problems.

Under the plan, Feinberg said, the school board would collect taxes, but the charter schools and a nonprofit management group would run the district with power over spending, hiring and other decisions.

The partnership would be the first of its kind in Texas, marking unprecedented cooperation between the three popular charter schools. They typically start their own campuses from scratch, rather than try to turn around a struggling district.

“If I didn’t believe we could do it, we wouldn’t be trying to contribute as part of the solution,” Feinberg said. “At the same time, we recognize how difficult this work is and how very few examples we have of anywhere in the country of where it’s worked. But this is the work that ultimately needs to happen to convince our state leaders, our local leaders and society in general that not just all children can learn, but all children will learn.”

The Chron story adds a few more details.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, has thrown her support behind the plan. State lawmakers who represent North Forest could not be reached for comment, though Feinberg acknowledged some weren’t warm to the idea.


If the TEA approves the charter deal, the goal is for the new model to fully take effect in 2014, said Chris Tritico, an attorney for North Forest.

Many issues would have to be resolved: Would teachers have to reapply for their jobs? Who would run which campuses? What if students did not want to attend the longer school hours KIPP and YES traditionally require? Who would coordinate the food service, the busing, the program for students with disabilities?

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said the district is moving forward with plans to annex North Forest “until we hear otherwise.”

Anna Eastman, the president of the HISD board, said she thinks the charter idea “merits consideration.”

“My only goal in this conversation is making sure the kids in North Forest end up on top,” she said. “A struggling, traditional ISD willing to relinquish management to three high-performing charters, with a good track record, could prove to be a model for other district and charter partnerships.”

One presumes that anything would be an improvement over the current status. KIPP, YES, and Harmony all have strong track records, so there’s plenty of reason to think they could do a good job. I think HISD would also do a good job of it, but they have a full plate already, and perhaps NFISD could benefit from more focused attention. If nothing else, this could help answer the question whether charters like these can produce the same kind of results as they have on their own with a student body that didn’t seek them out. The one thing I would insist on is that the teachers do not lose their collective bargaining ability. NFISD should still be a normal public school district under this plan. Assuming that is the case, I think this is a worthwhile thing to try, and if it goes through I will be eager to see what happens.

Senate committee restores some money to public education

Emphasis on the “some”.

Texas public schools would get back a chunk of the $5.4 billion in state funding they lost two years ago under a budget proposal adopted by the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.

But they probably should not expect much more than the $1.5 billion the committee added to the 2014-15 state budget, said Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands.

“It is going to be very difficult given the other demands we have in the budget to add any more,” said Williams.

Williams plans to pay for all the demands, including water projects, highways and some form of tax relief, without exceeding the constitutional spending cap. That would leave about $1 billion of projected state revenue over the next two years unspent. Lawmakers could exceed the cap with a simple majority vote in both the House and the Senate, but there is little appetite within the GOP to do so.

Many Republicans are also reluctant to increase education spending until the Texas Supreme Court rules in the pending school finance litigation. A district court judge found the school finance system unconstitutional earlier this month.

“Based on the politics of the state, we will not see the $5.4 billion that was cut last time go back into” education, said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.

More from the Trib:

The money would come on top of the proposed $35.1 billion in general revenue for public education, which unlike the 2011 budget did, accounts for new students expected to enroll in the state’s public schools. The additional funding approved Thursday would also restore some of the $5.4 billion reduction in state funding that lawmakers passed during the last legislative session. The full Senate must still approve the Finance Committee’s recommendation.

During Thursday’s hearing, lawmakers on the committee suggested they might fight for more education funding, including money for measures like early college high school programs and the Student Success Initiative, which provides remedial help for students who fall behind.

The $40 million for pre-kindergarten — which Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands and chairman of the committee, referred to as a “down payment” — would replace a fraction of the $200 million in competitive grants the Legislature eliminated in 2011 for full-day programs for low-income children. The funds would be distributed proportionally to school districts based on eligible student populations.

Again, note the partial and incomplete nature of this. The Observer highlights one salient feature.

Finance chair Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) said the new amount would mean “no net revenue losses for any school district for 2014.

You may recall that HISD was talking about raising their tax rate to make up for an operational shortfall next year, which was caused by the 2011 budget cuts. If this extra funding, which keep in mind only represents 28% of the $5.4 billion that had been cut in the first place, prevents the need for that, it would at least be something. That question hasn’t been answered yet.

Anna Eastman, president of the Houston Independent School District’s board, called the Senate panel’s decision a step in the right direction.

“It’s good news and I’m glad to see the state making this effort, but I still think it doesn’t come close to restoring the large cuts made two years ago,” Eastman said. “We’re at a place right now where we have a big gap to fill to maintain what we’re doing.”

Until that gap is closed, Eastman said, HISD cannot consider hiring new teachers or taking on additional costs.

Texas State Teachers Association President Rita Haecker said lawmakers can restore all $5.4 billion cut from school spending in 2011 “and meet other important state needs without raising anyone’s taxes.”

Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick, who also serves on Finance, disagreed, citing other pressing needs, finite dollars and a constitutional spending cap. The $1.5 billion increase is recommended on top of the committee’s starting-point budget, which accounted for student enrollment growth.

“We don’t have those dollars. It’s not a choice,” said Patrick, R-Houston. Asked whether it may be an option to exceed the spending cap, which would require a majority legislative vote, Patrick said, “Not in my world.”

So yes, it is a choice, just not one that Dan Patrick wants to make. But it’s very much a choice, and don’t let anyone mislead you about that.

Assuming this survives the full Senate and the House, this is good in the sense that it’s not bad, but it’s not good in a quantitative sense. How can it be, when schools are still down almost three quarters of the original total? I’ve been trying to come up with a snappy analogy for this, but really, what it comes down to is simply the fact that the Lege cut a bunch of money last time, and has now restored just enough of it to keep things from getting worse, but not enough to make anything better. We’re stuck with this until the Supreme Court rules on the school finance appeal. Just take a look at that chart I embedded above of inflation-adjusted dollars per student, provided by the office of Rep. Gene Wu, and you’ll see how little that $1.5 billion will do.

On a side note:

The committee left just one piece of the education budget in limbo: funding for a new charter school authorizer that would be created under Sen. Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 2—a seven-member appointed board to oversee the state’s charter schools.

It was a telling diversion in an otherwise agreeable budget meeting to watch a pair of Democratic senators try to make Patrick, the usually tight-fisted tea party favorite, defend the extra cost of his school reform plans.

Dallas Democrat Royce West began by saying he wasn’t convinced Texas should create a separate board for authorizing charter schools. That’s already the State Board of Education’s job, West said. He worried about putting charter school approvals in the hands of an unelected board and questioned how they’d be held accountable.

The move clearly irritated Patrick, who said he wished West had told him about his reservations sooner. (West said he already voted against it once in their workgroup, which should have been sufficient notice.) Members of the charter school authorizing board, Patrick said, would probably need Senate confirmation, and might answer to the State Board of Education—though those details aren’t final yet.

SB 2 is still pending in Patrick’s education committee after a hearing last week. The Legislative Budget Board has estimated Patrick’s bill would carry other huge costs to the state, growing every year—from $24 million in 2014, up to $55 million in 2018. Those costs include students coming from private or home-schooling into a charter school, new funding for charter school buildings, and state employees to oversee all the new schools.

Today’s argument focused on what the new Charter School Authorizing Authority would cost.

“Why would we turn to more government as a solution?” Houston Democrat John Whitmire asked Patrick. “Because I know that’s not your philosophy; I do listen to you closely.”

“Instead of fixing the agency that is in charge of this responsibility, you want to turn and create a new bureaucracy, more state employees, and I promise you this [charter school authorizer] budget will not remain where it is,” Whitmire said.

“I will bet you, whoever evaluates us,” Whitmire said, “this will be a measurement by the folks that advocate less government, that we’re creating another governmental entity. It is what it is.”

I wouldn’t take that bet.

Laptops for all

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier would like to bridge the digital divide in HISD.

Terry Grier

Superintendent Terry Grier said his goal is to equip all 130,000 students in grades three through 12 with a laptop and hopes to start with at least some high schools next year. He will try to rally community support for the concept during his State of the Schools speech on Friday and plans to submit a formal proposal to the school board in coming months.

Details, including the price tag, are still being worked out, though one estimate puts the first-year cost for leasing hardware and software for high school students at roughly $10 million. Students would return the laptops when they graduated or left for some other reason.

“Technology is not something of the future. It’s here,” Grier said in an interview this week. “It’s not about teaching kids how to use computers. They already know. It’s about how we teach. It’s about how we engage students.”


HISD’s recently approved bond measure includes $100 million for technology infrastructure such as wiring. Grier suggested at a recent school board retreat that some funding could be diverted from textbooks. The HISD Foundation also is willing to try to raise money to offset some costs, said executive director Krista Moser.


HISD board president Anna Eastman said she wants to see a plan that would phase in the technology or start with a pilot program.

“At face value, giving every kid a laptop is potentially really exciting – the thought of a kid not having to lug around a lot of textbooks, teachers being able to access open-source,” she said. “That said, it’s really expensive and it would be an ongoing cost.”

Such technology efforts fail when schools don’t plan enough and don’t focus on the lessons they want students to learn, said Howard Pitler, a technology expert at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

“At its worst, (districts) bring in a laptop or an iPad for every student, just using it to take notes. Don’t spend $600 on a spiral notebook,” Pitler said. “At its best, the computer changes the focus of learning from teacher-directed to student-centered.”

As we know, the McAllen and Fort Bend ISDs have been distributing iPads to their students. It’s too early to know how well that’s going, I think the potential of such a program is clear. Eastman’s concerns are valid, and Pitler’s caution should be heeded, so we’ll want to have a plan before proceeding. But I think this is a good vision for Grier to have, and I’d like to see it happen.

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.


As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.


I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.


It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

How big should those high schools be?

This is a question that HISD is asking itself as the Board of Trustees considers the $1.9 billion bond proposal, much of which is to be spent on high schools. A number of HISD high schools have had large drops in enrollment, but many of these schools also have badly outdated facilities and would be in line for rebuilding. The question is, what should their capacity be?

For example, Yates – which had about 960 students last fall – would be built to hold 1,200 to 1,800. Two decades ago, the school’s enrollment topped 2,000.

“We’re trying to right-size,” [HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier said. “That’s up for debate and discussion.”

Part of Yates’ low enrollment is a result of students who live in the neighborhood choosing to attend other HISD schools. Two years ago, 840 students made this choice, according to the latest district data.

Overall enrollment in the Houston Independent School District has held pretty steady in recent years, with some campuses crowded and others much emptier.


In the Heights, Reagan High School Principal Connie Berger said a major renovation to the campus five years ago has improved morale among students and teachers. Enrollment was on the rise before the construction and continues to grow, to 2,040 last year.

The story is different two miles north at Booker T. Washington High School, where enrollment has dropped almost in half since the early 1990s to about 820 students last year.

“People like new things, and they like nice things,” said Vincent Gray, athletic coordinator and head basketball coach at Washington. “If you’re a parent and you ride to Booker T., we have a lot of good things going on. But from the outside you’d think, you can take your kid right down the road to Reagan. It’s real nice. It’s real pretty.”

Trustee Anna Eastman expressed some skepticism with the idea of “if you build it they will come”, and I agree that simply updating the physical plant is no guarantee. On the other hand, a crumbling building is surely a turnoff, especially when there are better options nearby. The real question is whether HISD thinks it can raise enrollment overall at its high schools, or if it thinks that this round of construction is more likely to simply shuffle the population around. That will be a big driver of these sizing decisions. In the case of schools such as HSPVA, one would expect that they’ll fill up at any reasonable size. But how much of any projected enrollment growth will be the result of existing students changing where they go, and how much will be new students entering the system? That’s the $1.9 billion question.

HISD Board renews Grier’s contract

It was not unanimous.

Terry Grier

The Houston school board on Thursday extended Superintendent Terry Grier’s contract through June 2014 in a split vote that signaled the controversial chief has bridges to build with the newer trustees.

The five trustees who were on the board that hired Grier in 2009 supported the extension, expressing their confidence in his leadership and the gains in student achievement. Three trustees elected after Grier’s appointment abstained from the vote, while another newer trustee opposed the deal.

Trustee Harvin Moore, who made the motion for the two-year extension, acknowledged that Grier and the board need to improve, particularly in listening and in rolling out changes.

“He did well on his performance review, but he didn’t get perfect marks,” Moore said.

Trustee Anna Eastman, the lone trustee to vote against the extension, said she knows Grier is passionate, but she is concerned about the mood in the Houston Independent School District.

“I fear the culture of this organization is struggling,” she said. “And I worry that these gains will (not) be sustainable.”

Eastman later added, “I will be available for a big fat ‘I told you so’ if it’s warranted.”

Trustees Mike Lunceford, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche abstained from the vote.

As Campos and Stace have observed, this isn’t exactly an overwhelming vote of confidence in Grier. A handful of votes go the other way in the Rodriguez-Fonseca election, who knows what might have happened. For what it’s worth, I think Grier has done enough to warrant an extension, but he’s also done enough to have been denied that extension. I hope he puts some thought – and action – into the reasons for that.

On a side note, prior to the Board meeting Texas Watchdog ran a report saying that the vote on Grier’s contract was illegal, according to a lawyer specializing in open government. They subsequently took that down with the explanation that said attorney had revised his opinion. The Examiner explains:

The attorney quoted in a Texas Watchdog article as saying a probable vote by HISD trustees to extend Superintendent Terry Grier’s contract would be “illegal,” said he was not accurately informed about the agenda item and that such a vote “would withstand a legal challenge.”

“This is not a question of legality and criminal law,” Joel White, an expert in law pertaining to open meetings and records, told the Examiner. “This is a question about whether an item was adequately posted.”

The reporter for Texas Watchdog, a nonprofit investigative news agency whose HISD coverage is utilized by the Examiners, did not provide him with a written copy of the HISD board agenda and left out critical wording when explaining it to him verbally, White said.

The attorney called HISD’s attorney, David Thompson, “a good lawyer, and they’re going to have to trust what he tells them.”

Although White said he found the wording “slightly problematic,” he said he had conversed with Thompson Thursday and “saw and heard nothing that would rise to the level of a legal challenge.” State open meetings laws require that agendas be posted 72 hours in advance of a public meeting and outline circumstances for employee matters to be discussed in closed executive session.

Glad we got that cleared up. I can only imagine what kind of fuss there would be now if that allegation were being pressed. Hair Balls has more.

Audit says HISD isn’t cost sensitive enough

An audit of HISD’s procurement process says the district could be paying too much for some things.

The audit, conducted by the nonprofit Council of the Great City Schools, found that the district’s purchasing standards “under-value” a vendor’s proposed price in some cases, which means the district could be paying more than it should.

Last year, HISD spent $530 million on classroom supplies, equipment, travel and various services.

When selecting vendors, the district rates them on various factors, which can vary depending on the project. Construction projects give the greatest weight to price, between 55 and 100 percent, the audit found. However, in other cases that were not identified, the district weights price as low as 12.5 percent.

Texas law does not require school districts to use the lowest bidder.

Trustee Mike Lunceford, chairman of the HISD board’s audit committee, said he wants the administration to start providing reasons why it did not select the vendor with the lowest price.

“When we’re voting, it should be very clear, if it’s not the low bid, why,” Lunceford said. “We should be going with the low bid.”

HISD also was knocked in the audit for not disclosing the evaluation criteria in most of its requests for proposals, except for those in the construction area, and for changing the standards in the middle of the process in some cases.

See here for some background. Price isn’t everything, and there are good reasons to consider other factors – hiring practices, environmental issues, a preference for local businesses, and so forth – but these things need to be clearly spelled out and agreed upon, and there needs to be consistency in applying the standard. I’m glad to see these issues brought to light, and I trust the Board will now take the appropriate steps to address them.