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Greg Meyers

Sung and Vilaseca sworn in at HISD

The HISD Board is back at full strength.

Anne Sung

As Anne Sung and Holly Flynn Vilaseca took their oaths of office and became Houston ISD’s newest Board of Education trustees on Thursday, their husbands swaddled their months-old babies in one hand and held holy books in the other.

Sung’s 11-month-old daughter, Sarita, and Flynn Vilaseca’s 13-month-old, Nicolas, hardly made a peep as their mothers became leaders of the nation’s seventh-largest school district.

Sung was elected as the District 7 trustee and will replace Harvin Moore, who resigned from the board last summer. Vilaseca was unanimously appointed by the board Monday to fill the District 6 seat vacated by Greg Meyers, who resigned at the board’s December meeting.

Both new members will serve through 2017. Then their seats will be back up for election.

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Sung and Flynn Vilaseca said top priorities include ensuring equity in terms of the number of talented teachers, funding and facilities across Houston’s campuses. Flynn Vilaseca said she would also like to focus on lobbying the state to abandon “recapture,” which takes money from so-called property-rich districts to assist those with lower property values.

Houston ISD officials have argued that because 75 percent of district students are considered low income, the money it pays to the state for recapture would be better spent locally.

Sung also hopes to make sure the board and district are operating ethically and transparently, particularly in the way it spends money.

Both also plan to focus on improving student achievement, especially among the district’s lowest-performing students.

“We need to bring attention back to doing what’s right for students and preparing them for life after high school,” Sung said. “We need to make sure we align what we’re teaching with what’s happening in the world.”

See here for more on Vilaseca. I’ve heard some chatter that she does plan to run for a full term in November, which will be a race to watch. I look forward to interviewing her down the line. In the meantime, the Board (which elected its officers for the year; Wanda Adams is now Board President) has a lot to deal with, including lobbying the Lege to do something about recapture, dealing with the revelations about special education, continuing the bond-funded construction projects, and so on. Welcome aboard, ladies (*), let’s get to work. The Press has more.

(*) In case you hadn’t noticed (I only just did), with the election of Sung and the selection of Vilaseca, the HISD Board is now comprised of seven women and two men.

HISD Board appoints Meyers replacement

Meet your new Trustee.

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

Houston ISD’s Board of Education voted unanimously Monday night to name former Teach for America staffer Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca as its new District VI trustee.

Flynn Vilaseca, who will replace outgoing Trustee Greg Meyers, will be sworn in at the board’s Thursday regular board meeting along with Anne Sung, the winner of a December special election to replace District VII Trustee Harvin Moore.

Moore submitted his resignation in the summer, and Meyers submitted his in December.

Flynn Vilaseca was the first in her family to attend college and worked for Teach for America in underprivileged HISD and Bryan ISD schools. Most recently, she worked as chief relationship coordinator with ThinkLaw, which aims to enable teachers to teach critical thinking skills through case law. She said she wanted to join the board to help parents and students better navigate the system and their options.

“Public education has played such an important role in my life,” Flynn Vilaseca said. “I found out when I’m a teacher here that my story is not unique. Social capital should be built into the system.”

[…]

Board President Manuel Rodriguez Jr. said of the nine applications the board received, Flynn Vilaseca’s background and understanding of the community in district VI gave her the edge.

“With her education and research backgrounds, being bilingual and having a different cultural experience, having Colombian heritage, those were attributes that gave her an advantage,” he said.

See here and here for the background. The embedded photo is from Ms. Vilaseca’s LinkedIn profile. Here’s a slightly longer bio of her on her employer’s webpage. Among other things, she serves on Mayor Turner’s Hispanic Advisory Board, on the Civic Engagement and Promotions Subcommittee. The official HISD press release announcing her appointment is here. It remains to be seen if she will run for a full term in November or not. Regardless, congratulations and welcome to the Board to Ms. Vilaseca and to Anne Sung, who will also be sworn in on Thursday. Stace has 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.

Who wants to be an HISD Trustee?

Here’s your chance, to fill in for Greg Meyers, whose resignation took effect on Friday.

Greg Meyers

Greg Meyers

Board members plan to appoint a new trustee to fill the vacancy by its Jan. 12 meeting.

To qualify, one must live within the boundaries of District 6, be a U.S. citizen and be registered to vote.

Applications are due at 5 p.m. on Jan. 3. Those interested in the seat should submit resumes and letters of interest to the following address:

Veronica Mabasa
c/o HISD Board Services
Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center
4400 West 18th Street
Houston, TX 77092-8501

Here’s a map of the HISD districts, and here are the requirements to serve. Whoever gets appointed will serve till the end of the year, as Meyers’ term is up in 2017. It will be interesting to see if the Board appoints a caretaker, or someone who plans to run for the seat in November. Of course, as we know, sometimes the former can become the latter, so parse any statements they make very carefully. Good luck to all the applicants.

HISD: Meyers resigns, Lunceford un-resigns

Round and round we go.

Greg Meyers

Greg Meyers

HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, who has served on the school board since 2004, has resigned.

Meyers, who represents District VI for HISD and also served as board president in 2010, announced Thursday that he will vacate his position at the end of the year because he plans to move to a new house outside his current district.

“Every single day, every opportunity I try to commit myself to focus on kids first,” Meyers said. “While I may not be here physically, I will always be here to serve HISD.”

His term serving on the board was set to expire at the end of 2017. HISD Superintendent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. also announced that District V Trustee Michael Lunceford has decided to serve the remainder of his term through 2017, after previously considering resignation.

See here for the announcement that Lunceford was going to resign. As would have been the case with him, I expect the Board will choose an interim Trustee to fill the remainder of Meyers’ term, which expires at the end of next year. He wasn’t in any competitive elections since I began interviewing candidates, so I’ve never spoken to Meyers. Like Lunceford and the also-outgoing Harvin Moore, he represents a Republican district, so look for Republicans to line up to try to succeed him. Given recent trends, perhaps that will be a former City Council member. I’m sure people will begin making their interest known soon enough. In the meantime, I thank Meyers for his service and wish him the best in whatever comes next. The Press has more.

Strange HISD referendum to be on the ballot

This will be weird.

BagOfMoney

Because of the state’s byzantine financing system, HISD will have to either send almost $162 million in local taxpayers’ money to the state or stand by to see some of the district’s most valuable properties assigned to other school districts by the Texas Education Agency. (Local businesses aren’t too wild about the idea either; HISD has some of the lowest tax rates around.)

In addition, as trustee Mike Lunceford pointed out, losing those properties would just pile on the debt for HISD taxpayers. “We have bonds we have sold based on some of those assets, and [without them] we’re going to have to raise taxes again,” he said.

The board could decide to do nothing and hope it could lobby the upcoming session of the Legislature to change its mind — although attempts to change the school financing system in this state have failed for years — but as Lunceford put it: “If we vote it down, we’re betting that the Legislature will do something right.”

The other sticking point was that if trustees don’t adopt one of the options offered by state law, they can’t set a tax rate. The only way to get the measure before voters was for trustees to vote to send the money to the state, which gives taxpayers a chance to say yes or no to that in the general election on November 8.

So after much gnashing of teeth that the state could do this to a district that has so many kids on free- or reduced-price lunches, school board members passed the measure on a 6-0 vote (by that time three trustees had left) calling for voters to decide the issue. The measure, with admittedly confusing language (set by the state), asks voters to give the district permission to purchase $162 million in tax credits from the state. As trustee Greg Meyers pointed out, the word “credits” sounds great and voters may completely misinterpret what they’re being asked to do.

See here, here, and here for some background. This Chron story from last week adds some details.

If voters say “no” to sending money to the state, the Texas education commissioner then has the power to detach the Houston Independent School District’s highest-value properties and to assign them to property-poor districts. That means the owners of these properties – likely downtown high-rises – would be paying taxes to another school district.

The detachment, however, would not be immediate. The commissioner’s actions would not take effect until July 3, 2017, according to a timeline spelled out in a Texas Education Agency manual.

The Houston school board’s attorney, David Thompson, said during a board meeting Monday that the state Legislature reconvenes in January, before the education commissioner would act. That timeline would give lawmakers the opportunity to adjust the school-finance system if they wanted to do so, Thompson said.

[…]

The district would have to start paying the state in February, if voters approve the recapture measure.

Houston-area districts that paid recapture last year include Galveston, Spring Branch, Deer Park and Sheldon. Galveston ISD paid the most among those, totaling $12.3 million.

HISD officials argue that while the district has significant property wealth, about three-quarters of the students in the public school system come from low-income families.

HISD board member Greg Meyers called a funding system that punishes the state’s largest district “criminal.”

“You can count on it that I will speak my mind,” Meyers said, adding later that he is conflicted about how people should vote. He said he has “serious angst” about having to send money to the state but is concerned that the district could lose property for taxing purposes to repay bonds if the commissioner is forced to act.

Just remember, this is the Legislature’s fault, with a big assist from our gutless Supreme Court. The thought of doing an interview about this ballot item is already giving me a nosebleed. I can’t wait to see what organizations form to support and/or oppose this.

HISD finishes renaming schools

From last week:

Eight names that have adorned Houston school buildings, uniforms and yearbooks for decades will vanish next year after trustees came together Thursday to approve new ones without Confederate ties.

The renaming decisions followed months of controversy that had split the school board, heightened racial tensions, and fueled mixed reactions from parents, students and alumni. Before the votes Thursday, however, the four trustees who initially opposed the renaming process, criticizing the lack of community input, said they would back away from their resistance; in some cases, they abstained.

“Let’s come together and take this energy and really steer it toward our students,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who previously opposed the renaming items. “We’ll get past this. No matter what the name, it’s what happens inside.”

The new names will take effect in the fall. Reagan High School will become Heights High after its neighborhood. Davis High similarly will change to Northside High. Lee High will take the name of former longtime educator Margaret Long Wisdom.

Johnston Middle will become Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School. Jackson Middle will turn into Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence, after the late East End civic leader. Dowling Middle will take the name of Audrey H. Lawson, after the late charter school founder and first lady of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

Lanier Middle will swap only its first name to honor former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier instead of Sidney Lanier, a poet who had served as a private in the Confederate Army.

The board voted in March to change Grady Middle School to Tanglewood.

See here and here for the background. My feelings about this haven’t changed since I wrote that second post. I feel confident that in due time, most people will forget this ever happened. It would have been a much better process if HISD had taken the time to put forth a statement of principles and standards for this process and solicited public input to make recommendations for the Board to consider; as John Nova Lomax has written on more than one occasion, the choice of schools to be renamed – or not, as in the case of Mirabeau B. Lamar High School – and the selection of substitute names has been haphazard and uneven, which is a big part of the reason this was as controversial as it was. There’s no reason why HISD can’t do this as a review process, if it wants to. I’ll understand if everyone is just happy to be done with this, but at the very least, we should make sure we know what we’re doing if we ever decide to do it again. In the meantime, I hope that the threatened legal action over these name changes does not come about. The Press has more.

HISD approves its redistricting plan

As we know, HISD now includes all of the former North Forest ISD, and with that new territory came the need to reapportion its Trustee districts. They completed that task last week with a minimum of fuss.

HISD Redistricting Plan

The Houston school board Thursday unanimously approved a redistricting plan that changes all nine trustee districts to accommodate thousands of new voters from the former North Forest school system.

Trustee Greg Meyers, who represents District 6 on the city’s far west side, previously had expressed concerns about the plan, particularly over losing the precinct around Valley West and Milne elementary schools to District 9. Trustees ultimately agreed on a slight change, deciding to keep Valley West Elementary in District 6; the move affects only the campus, not the voters in precinct 525, who now will be represented by trustee Wanda Adams in District 9.

“Throughout this redistricting process, every board member lost and gained,” Meyers said Friday. “This was the best situation that could have occurred.”

The HISD board was required to redraw trustee districts after the state ordered the annexation of North Forest ISD, which added about 53,000 voters in northeast Houston. The plan evens out the number of voters across the nine districts and maintains a majority-minority population in seven of the nine districts.

See here for the background. The post above includes a list of schools that are now in different Trustee districts. You can check here to verify who your Trustee is, though it may not yet be updated to reflect the changes. For the most part, not too much changed, and there will be no special elections to deal with this. Check and see if you were affected, but the odds are that most people will never notice this.

Hoang to challenge Vo

Soon-to-be-former CM Al Hoang is not sitting still in the wake of his unexpected electoral loss.

CM Al Hoang

CM Al Hoang

Houston City Councilman Al Hoang, who narrowly lost his reelection bid in a surprise upset last week, has filed paperwork to challenge state Rep. Hubert Vo for his District 149 seat next fall.

There is much overlap between Hoang’s City Council District F and Vo’s state District 149, both of which center on Alief. Vo, a Democrat, was re-elected to a fifth two-year term in 2012. Hoang, a Republican, will complete his second two-year term on council this year, yielding in January to Richard Nguyen, an employee in the city’s Solid Waste Management Department who beat him by about 200 votes in last week’s election.

Vo said he has heard talk for years that Hoang may challenge him, but said he does not consider the councilman a rival. He also denied whispers that he had propped up council candidates against Hoang.

“It’s not my type. Every single election, if I don’t have this opponent, I would have other opponents,” Vo said. “Ten years ago when I decided to run, I wanted to serve the community. I hope anybody else who’s running for that district will have the same goal that I have.”

Vo acknowledged speaking with Nguyen earlier this year, but he said he merely advised him to have a platform, not simply oppose Hoang. “I gave him some advice, but I never publicly endorsed him, I never helped his campaign,” he said.

Hoang said Vo voiced support for Nguyen on Vietnamese radio, but added, “That’s democracy.” Hoang stressed he is pursuing no personal vendetta against Vo

“I just want to continue the good work I believe I’ve done for that area: Job growth, I want to continue that. I want to get the dollars from the state back so that we can continue work on the infrastructure, and also education,” Hoang said. “I’m a pro-life person because I’m a Christian. Those issues also prompt me to run for District 149. That is the most important distinction, the pro-life and pro-choice.”

I have no idea whether there’s anything personal to this or if Hoang always had HD149 in his sights for his post-Council career. HD149 is a fairly purple district, though Rep. Vo has not had any close calls since his razor-thin initial victory in 2004. He’s also never faced an Asian opponent, which may add a different dimension to the race. Numbers-wise, the district leaned red in the Republican wave year of 2010, though Bill White defeated Rick Perry there by a 53.7 to 44.8 margin. Compare that to 2008, in which President Obama carried the district by a 57.1 to 41.8 margin, and you can see that turnout is definitely a factor. Interestingly, 2010 was a less red year in HD149 than 2006 was, which suggests that demographic change in the district is also a factor. Be all that as it may, this is now the most interesting State Rep race in Harris County.

One more thing: While it is true that there is overlap between Council District F and HD149, it’s not quite true that there’s a significant overlap in the voters between those two districts. What I mean by that can be illustrated by the number of votes in the respective elections. Rep. Vo has run in and won five elections in HD149. Here are the vote totals for each of those five years:

2012 – 42,568
2010 – 29,945
2008 – 45,371
2006 – 23,253
2004 – 41,356

CM Hoang has run for District F three times. Here are the vote totals for those three years:

2013 – 6,126
2011 – 2,641
2009 – 9,565

Both districts are comparable in size – actually, Council districts are a bit larger – but the universe of voters in each is different, because turnout in the odd years is so much lower. While CM Hoang has a leg up on some of the opponents Rep. Vo has faced – and bear in mind, Rep. Vo twice defeated former Rep. Talmadge Heflin, and also beat HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, so he has won against people who have been successful running for office before – it’s fair to say there are a lot of voters in HD149 who have never cast a ballot that included him on it. He will still need to introduce himself to much of the district.

HISD board approves 3-cent tax increase

It was a close vote.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Property owners in the Houston Independent School District will see their tax bills rise after trustees Thursday narrowly approved the first tax rate increase for operations in a dozen years.

The board voted 4-3 to raise the tax rate by 3 cents to fund a budget that includes raises for employees and millions of dollars for a controversial school reform program.

“I know there are going to be a lot of people unhappy about the motion,” trustee Paula Harris said. “I know that if we didn’t raise taxes that we can’t afford to educate children.”

The rate increase was lower than expected. HISD’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, had recommended a 4-cent increase to fund the budget the board approved in June.

That amount would have given the district a cushion of several million dollars.

The board instead approved a 3-cent increase and took $5 million from savings to balance the $1.6 billion operating budget for this school year.

Trustee Harvin Moore proposed the revised plan, questioning whether the 4-cent increase included “fluff.”

“I wouldn’t call it fluff. I would call it planning,” Huewitt said. “It costs to be great all over.”

HISD’s new tax rate is $1.1867 per $100 of taxable value.

That means the owner of a $200,000 home with the typical exemptions should pay $1,720 in HISD taxes this year. The owner of the same-priced home last year would have paid about $40 less.

See here and here for the background. There was some drama over whether or not the vote would be taken at all on Thursday or if it would be delayed – see School Zone for the details, but the short story is that Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, who would have voted for the increase, was absent. Trustee Greg Meyers, who said he would have voted against the increase, was also absent; it’s not clear if that’s what precipitated the vote going forward or if it was a matter of clarifying the whip count. Anyway, the increase will help fund a 2% pay raise for HISD employees, which is good and needed, and a continuation of the Apollo program, which let’s just say remains a source of dispute. HISD still has one of the lower tax rates around, and for most people the difference probably won’t really be noticed. But you know how it is with these things.

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.

Mayor

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.

Controller

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.

HISD and HCC

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.

Time to evaluate Grier

It’s performance review time for HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

The elected nine-member school board uses an evaluation form that consists of data measurements in categories such as the increase in student college readiness; recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals; and improving the public support and confidence in HISD schools.

Trustees have moved toward an “objective evaluation instrument, instead of a subjective instrument,” said trustee Greg Meyers, who represents HISD District VI. “As data-driven as we are, we wanted an instrument that would aligned with our philosophy.”

The current evaluation allows board members to hold the superintendent accountable for the data results of the district, Meyers said.

But Grier’s performance review is just beginning, said Trustee Juliet Stipeche, who represents HISD District VIII.

“[Friday] was the first day we, as a board, had the opportunity to review the data the administration provided us,” Stipeche said. “Everybody fills out an evaluation form and those are ultimately aggregated.”

Board members will complete the evaluation by Nov. 3, Stipeche said.

I can’t wait to see what they have to say. I’m sure it will have as much bearing on whether or not his contract gets renewed as the election

HISD to hire back some teachers

More good news.

More than 300 teachers and other educators in the Houston Independent School District have been rehired since the massive round of layoffs in the spring, according to newly released data.

Additional HISD teachers could get their jobs back in coming weeks thanks to a better-than-expected budget outlook — though Superintendent Terry Grier warns that a shortfall next year could force another set of layoffs.

[…]

HISD ended up with an extra $18.5 million after state lawmakers decided at the last minute not to cut schools as deeply as they initially had proposed. HISD and other districts also received new federal funds pushed by President Barack Obama’s administration to save teaching jobs.

HISD plans to apply the federal funds to health-insurance costs, Garrett said, noting that the money will disappear after a year.

Austin ISD recently announced that it was hiring some teachers back, too. Again, this is because the final state budget was less draconian than the original House budget, which would have cut $8 billion from education and which is what many school districts, whose own budgets needed to be approved in the spring, acted on. (And just as a reminder, every Republican State Rep voted for that budget.) As the story notes, the extra funding equates to about $85 per student, or one extra teacher at a campus of 600. This makes the net funding cut in HISD $190 per student.

HISD sent layoff notices to 724 employees on teaching contracts in the spring to meet the state’s pink slip deadline. But the district since has been able to rehire 312 of those employees as other staff members resigned or retired and the budget numbers became more definite.

Previous coverage had said “about 730” teachers would be getting pink-slipped. The total number of teachers that had to be let go came down when other teachers decided to retire or resign, but that’s still a net loss of 724 teaching spots, and that doesn’t count the 277 non-teaching jobs that were also eliminated. This announcement reduces by a bit more than half the total number of teaching positions lost, and brings the net job loss number down from a hair over 1000 to about 600. Which is better but still nothing to celebrate, especially since there may be more cuts coming next year. Hair Balls has more.

Having done that, perhaps now the HISD Board can get its own house in order.

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier said Monday he would engage a nonprofit education group and outside financial auditors to review the district’s procurement processes following reports of close relationships between some trustees and vendors.

School board vice president Anna Eastman called for an outside audit last week after news reports about board president Paula Harris and Trustee Larry Marshall contacting Grier and other top administrators on behalf of vendors.

Eastman said she did not know details of Grier’s proposed audit. In an email last week to supporters, she said she hoped an audit would find no wrongdoing and bring about suggestions for “better standards and ethical practices to regain the public trust that I sense is waning.”

On Monday, Houston Independent School District Trustee Greg Meyers confirmed he had contact with Grier related to an impending deal with the University of St. Thomas, where Meyers works.

I’ve included Eastman’s email beneath the fold. This is a step in the right direction, but as the story notes the nonprofit group that Grier wants to engage for this is one that does business with HISD, which would seem to be less than optimal for these purposes. It would also help if there were more competitive elections for HISD Trustee – so far, as far as I know, none of the four Trustees up for election have opponents – and if people paid more attention in general to these elections. That’s not something an outside entity can fix, however.

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No more cuts for HISD, for now

As we know, the HISD Board of Trustees had originally set its budget based on the initial House appropriations, which cut almost $8 billion from public schools. The budget that’s in the works now would “only” cut $4 billion, so HISD has a little more money than it planned for. But don’t expect them to un-lay off anyone.

A better-than-expected budget proposal from the Texas Legislature has left HISD with $22 million more than district officials had projected for the upcoming school year. But that doesn’t mean the 724 teachers, librarians and other school-based educators who got pink slips will be rehired.

[HISD Superintendent Terry] Grier has not recommended what to do with the extra money, but his spokesman, Jason Spencer, said the superintendent would caution against spending on personnel because the funding could dry up the following year. HISD, like other districts across Texas, will face a shortfall in the 2012-13 year based on the Legislature’s proposed two-year budget.

HISD expects to lose $79 million in state funding for the upcoming school year, a 5 percent cut. Next year, the loss of state money would rise to $127 million, or 9 percent, based on the latest state budget plan, which could be finalized this week.

HISD board members Greg Meyers and Harvin Moore suggested Monday that the district save the surplus for 2012-13, when the budget picture is worse. “It’s been a disastrous (legislative) session for us,” Moore said.

I think that’s a reasonable position to take, as things are unlikely to get any better next year unless the Howard Amendment manages to stay in the budget. Even then, I wouldn’t hold my breath. I hope the extra funds can stave off any further staff reductions for 2012. Hair Balls has more.

More on the magnet schools report

I guess it’s just as well that I never made it all the way through that audit on HISD’s magnet schools, because it seems that neither Superintendent Terry Grier nor the Board of Trustees are all that wedded to it.

Grier and the trustees have yet to release a counterproposal, saying they first want to hear from parents. But in interviews and public meetings last week, they dropped hints about the ideas they do — and don’t — support. Grier also has acknowledged that some of the popular schools deemed too crowded to continue their magnet programs might not be too full after all, according to the principals.

This much is clear: The proposal from Magnet Schools of America, released a week ago, will not become HISD’s new master plan.

“From the very beginning, we said that we can either adopt some, all or none of it,” said outgoing school board president Greg Meyers. “Clearly, after seeing it, we’re not going to adopt all of it.”

But that’s not a guarantee the magnet schools will be spared budget cuts.

“I’m not trying to take away success,” said newly elected board president Paula Harris. “But could people lose money? I think the opportunity to lose money is definitely there.”

The report is here, in case you missed it. As long as HISD makes good use of the feedback it’s going to get at the public hearings and adopts practices that help control cost while making successful programs available to as many kids as possible, I’ll be happy. Many of these meetings will take place on Tuesday the 25th at 6:30 – see here for times and locations.

The audit on HISD’s magnet programs

The long-awaited audit has arrived.

Students in Houston ISD’s prestigious magnet schools could find themselves shopping for new campuses if district leaders act on a critical audit that suggests eliminating nearly half the programs.

The long-awaited audit, released on Friday, proposes that the district cut 55 of its 113 magnet programs, stripping the schools of extra dollars, the coveted label and free busing for students who live outside the neighborhood.

Many of the programs aren’t drawing enough students to continue, while others should adopt new themes and get a second chance, the audit says. At some of the most esteemed high schools, such as Bellaire, Lamar and Westside, the auditors suggest ending the magnet programs because of campus crowding. Students still could try to transfer into them but wouldn’t get busing.

The auditors also recommend removing the entrance criteria for most magnet schools in favor of a central lottery to ensure fairness. But auditions for fine-arts programs at middle and high schools should remain, the report says, and students still would have to test into gifted programs.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said parents shouldn’t panic about the suggestions in the report. District officials plan to solicit community feedback in coming weeks before Grier makes a final proposal to the school board for approval in March.

“I know this could be upsetting to folks,” Grier said. “That’s why we’re going to extreme lengths to go out and listen to people.”

More from the Press.

Board president Greg Meyers also seemed eager to emphasize no immediate changes are taking place.

“The Comprehensive Magnet Program Review provides a starting point for a community conversation about how we can strengthen HISD’s popular magnet program,” he said. “Some of our magnet schools consistently rank among the top campuses not only in Texas, but in the nation. We are committed to maintaining that level of excellence while also strengthening our schools that need help.”

The following was sent by Mary Buchanan Nesbit, who was quoted in the Chron story, to the HISD Parent Visionaries group on Facebook:

I am hopeful that you have had a chance to read through the MSA magnet review without going into cardiac arrest as I have heard from many of you. If not, I hope you will find time this weekend. Most trustees have scheduled their community meetings for next week. Typically, Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, Paula Harris and Anna Eastman hold their community meetings on the Tuesday before the monthly BOE meeting which is next week. Mike Lunceford holds his meetings on Thursday. You may want to look for such an email or contact board services.

From the HISD website, “After conducting a comprehensive audit of the district’s magnet offerings—which included tours of every magnet campus—MSA representatives suggested that several bold improvements be made to help more parents find the best schools to meet their children’s unique needs and academic interests.”

Clearly, what HISD views as “bold improvements” and what many parents, teachers, and principals view as “bold improvements” are very different things. How does denying economically disadvantaged, minority students or any students for that matter access or transportation to high quality programs at Lamar, Westside and Bellaire benefit students and our city as a whole? How does changing the theme of an existing high performing magnet benefit the students who choose the school? How does creating a diversity cap or limit of 8% white students in a magnet program create greater access for all students? How does centralizing control of student assignment to individual campuses empower parents with real choices? Lastly, why is the expectation that every magnet school represent the racial make-up of the school district as opposed to the racial make-up of the city? If the goal of this magnet audit is to reduce diversity, limit access, reduce choice and create greater inequity for students, these recommendations knock it out of the park.

I’m still working my way through the report, which you can see here. I’ll be very interested to see what feedback the trustees get at the engagement sessions, about which you can learn more here. I’m wondering if it might be a good idea to get away from the practice of magnet programs at various schools and instead just have more magnet schools, which might allow HISD to serve as many students more efficiently. At the very least, we know that small specialized high schools – like HISD’s DeBakey and Law Enforcement – tend to have better performance in large urban school districts. Why not make more of them, and redirect magnet programs there? Also, as a PTA board member at Travis Elementary, I can attest to the issue of some magnet and Vanguard programs becoming increasingly unavailable as the schools draw more students from their own neighborhoods. That’s an issue that needs some attention. Anyway, read the report, attend the meetings, and let your voice be heard.

HISD versus Prop 1

This would be a tough obstacle to overcome.

HISD Board President Greg Meyers on Wednesday raised the specter of teacher layoffs if the school system is forced to pay an estimated $2.5 million to $3.5 million a year in drainage fees under Mayor Annise Parker’s plan to implement the ballot initiative should voters approve it in November.

“There are some high emotions against this measure from several board members,” Meyers said. “I can’t speak for every one of my colleagues, but I do know there are concerns.”

Meyers said the new fee — which he called a tax — would put the Houston Independent School District in a financial pinch.

“While we understand the benefits of reduced flooding, we also have to look at the complete impact that it’s going to have on us educating our kids,” Meyers said. “If you start looking at the impact, about 70 teachers will have to potentially be laid off.”

The cost to the school district represents less than 1 percent of its $1.6 billion operating budget.

“We don’t feel one taxing entity should tax another taxing entity,” Meyers added.

I can understand that argument, but schools are affected by flooding, too. What would HISD do about this if Prop 1 fails? Is doing nothing acceptable to them? That’s what I’d like to know.

As for the claim about “potentially” laying off teachers as a result of this, that sounds like a negotiating tactic designed to force Mayor Parker and Council to reconsider its no-exceptions stance. Indeed, in the end, the HISD board voted unanimously to ask for an exemption on the fee. I generally believe that there’s always a way for a deal to be struck, but I have the feeling that the Mayor is going to hold the line on this, as to do otherwise would open a large can of worms. Which means that attempting to defeat Prop 1 may be HISD’s only recourse. It’s not clear to me what that might mean in practice, but it did draw a sharp response from the Vote For Prop 1 campaign. From their press release:

The Vote FOR Prop 1 Campaign regrets to learn that the Houston Independent School District is taking a position against the best interests of our city, taxpayers, and most importantly our children.

HISD should do a more responsible job of managing taxpayer funds before laying off teachers and opposing a fiscally responsible plan to keep its students safe.

In short, HISD should cut the waste, not the teachers.


The full release is beneath the fold. In the “Timing is everything” department, I note this Hair Balls item:

Several months ago, Houston ISD superintendent Terry Grier delivered dread news to an aghast school board: HISD was short by $37 million (actually it was originally set at $39 million for a couple days) in its bond fund projects money.

Almost immediately, some people well acquainted with the district’s finances engaged in some heavy-duty head scratching. Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett couldn’t figure out where this sudden deficit had come from and gave it a tougher look.

Well, today, Grier announced he was “Pleased, but a bit embarrassed to announce that instead of a $37 million shortfall, the district has a $73 million surplus.”

According to Garrett, HISD has historically kept its bond-projects money in three pockets: change orders, so-called “owner’s contingency” or project contingency funds and budgeted reserves and contingency for inflation.

When one person in the bond office decided to review the funding, his ensuing report was “in error” because he didn’t know about all the reserved funds, Garrett said.

[…]

Trustee Anna Eastman warned Grier that the under budget/over budget news means: “We’ve got some work to do to rebuild the trust of the public.” Larry Marshall pressed the point later with Grier, asking if he “got it?”

Grier acknowledged he did.

Oops. Good news, but still: Oops. Martha, who doesn’t care for the Prop 1 attack on the HISD board, has more.

UPDATE: John isn’t happy, either.

UPDATE: Stace disagrees with Martha and John.

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Trustees still dithering about replacing Davila

Still no action from the HISD Board of Trustees regarding Diana Davila’s open seat.

Trustee Larry Marshall called for holding an election in November but his motion failed 3-5, mostly along racial lines. The board plans to screen possible appointees during a public meeting Tuesday and might still decide to call a November election.

Three of the four minority board members — Marshall, Carol Mims Galloway and Manuel Rodriguez Jr. – voted for the election.

The five trustees voting against the election, at least for now, were Harvin Moore, Greg Meyers, Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford and Paula Harris. Harris is black, and the others are Anglo.

[…]

The trustees voting against the election did not say they had ruled out the idea but said they wanted to meet with possible appointees first. The board must decide whether to call an election by Aug. 24 to meet candidate filing deadlines.

Moore said that he supports elections and pointed out that an election will happen in November 2011. He characterized the board’s decision as whether to call an “extra” election.

Eastman echoed Moore’s suggestion for a public forum to meet possible appointees.

Marshall had tried to make this same motion at Monday’s meeting but wasn’t permitted to do.

Trustee Larry Marshall tried to make a motion to act Monday, but board president Greg Meyers stopped him. Marshall was the only trustee during the public discussion to hint what the board planned to do. “I thought the sentiment was that we would vote to hold an election,” Marshall said.

Trustee Manuel Rodríguez Jr. responded than an election was Dávila’s preference, but said trustees really hadn’t discussed it. Marshall disagreed. “I thought we had considerable discussion,” he replied.

If the Board thinks it’s best to appoint someone, then get a process going already. I don’t know what’s taking so long. Yes, any appointee will have to face the voters next year, but he or she will have the advantage of doing so as the incumbent. I honestly don’t see the downside to letting the voters decide this year as well. The Chron agrees.

Given the unanswered questions surrounding the multiple resignations, it would be best to put HISD’s District VIII seat on the November ballot.

The Chronicle editorialized in 1993 that “a vote of the people is almost always preferable to an appointment. An election is a great leveler in that it avoids a situation of a few people anointing one unelected candidate with the advantages of incumbency when the four-year term ends.”

That sentiment remains equally valid today.

I don’t understand the Board’s reluctance on this. Hair Balls and the School Zone liveblog of Thursday’s meeting has more.

UPDATE: There will be a public forum on Tuesday at 11 AM at Furr High School for people who are interested in being appointed to Davila’s seat and for people interested in meeting those people.

What will the HISD board do with its open seat?

HISD Trustee Diana Davila announced her intention to resign on July 16. That became official on the 30th. The HISD Board of Trustees has the option of appointing someone to replace her, or to call a special election. So far, nobody knows what they plan to do.

If the board decides to appoint a successor, it must do so within 30 days of the vacancy. The vacancy technically begins Aug. 7 — eight days after Dávila submitted her resignation letter. That means the board must name a replacement by Sept. 6. The appointee would serve through the next regular election, in November 2011.

If the board decides to call an election, it must do so within 90 days of the vacancy. That puts the deadline at Nov. 5, which means the election would be held during the general election on Nov. 2. The person who won the election would serve through November 2011.

School board President Greg Meyers said trustees could discuss the issue at their agenda review meeting on Monday, and he expects a decision before Aug. 25.

Given that it would fall on the regular Election Day, my preference is for a special election. We’ll see what they decide.

HISD strategic direction meetings

From an HISD press release:

HISD will be holding two interactive, live TV shows to gather comments and feedback from the community. The first will be on Monday, June 28, from 7:00–8:00 p.m., on the HISD channel, and will be hosted by KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall, Board President Greg Meyers, and Superintendent Terry Grier. Viewers will be able to phone, e-mail, and Twitter their comments during the live show.

The second show will be broadcast on Univision 45 Houston from 5:00–10:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 29. The program will be hosted by Board Trustees Diana Dávila and Manuel Rodríguez along with Univision on-air news talent. Throughout the evening there will be periodic updates and interviews during Univision’s regular programming.

The development of the long-term Strategic Direction is a six-month effort that started in February 2010 and will culminate in August with the release of a final plan. The goal is to create a set of core initiatives and key strategies that will allow HISD to build upon the beliefs and visions established by the HISD Board of Education and to provide the children of Houston with the highest quality of primary and secondary education.

Over the past two months, HISD has been gathering input from employees, parents, students, and members of the Houston community, including faith-based groups, nonprofit agencies, businesses, and local and state leaders. After analyzing feedback and conducting diagnostic research, a number of core initiatives have emerged. They include placing an effective teacher in every classroom, placing an effective principal in every school, developing rigorous instructional standards and support, ensuring data driven accountability, and cultivating a culture of trust through action.

For more information about HISD’s Strategic Direction, visit www.houstonisd.org/strategicdirection.

There’s more information at that last link. Please participate if you can.

All in the family, HCC-style

I noted last night and this morning that the HCC Trustee seat in District 8, which was left open at the last minute by Abel Davila, will be filled by his brother-in-law Arturo Aguilar. (Davila is married to HISD Trustee Diana Davila.) It turns out that Aguilar is not the only family member of an elected official who will be inheriting an open HCC Trustee seat. The candidate in District 6 is Sandra Meyers. Like Aguilar, a Google search for her yields basically nothing, but when I looked at her name this morning, I realized it rang a bell. Turns out, if you check the “About” page of HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, his wife’s name is “Sandie”. I have since confirmed that Sandie-wife-of-Greg Meyers and Sandra-soon-to-be-HCC-Trustee Meyers are one and the same. (Campos notes this as well; I figured this out before I saw his post.) And so she, like Aguilar, will walk into an elected position that has a six year term without being vetted by the public. Neither Meyers nor Aguilar has a campaign website I could find, and the Chronicle story that mentioned them was devoid of information beyond their names.

I’m sorry, but this stinks. Meyers, at least, was known to be a candidate before deadline day, and the seat she will occupy was known to be open for longer than that. I don’t know why no one else filed, but at least someone else had the chance. Aguilar got in under the wire when Davila pulled his last-minute retirement act. I have a problem with uncontested open seats, never mind ones that will be handed to the family members of current elected officials. That doesn’t serve democracy, or the interests of the constituents of those districts. And let’s not forget, the position of HCC Trustee has often been a stepping stone to candidacy for other offices. City Council candidates Mills Worsham (whose seat Meyers is getting) and Herman Litt are or were HCC Trustees. Yolanda Navarros Flores, who ran in the special election for District H, is a trustee. Jay Aiyer was a trustee before running for Council in 2005. Jim Murphy, who was succeeded on the Board by Worsham, won election as State Representative in 2006. With a six-year term and no resign-to-run requirement (something that State Sen. Mario Gallegos attempted to address this year), HCC Trustees get numerous opportunities to run for other offices without having to give up their existing gig.

I had a chat with Sen. Gallegos about this today. He was the one I’d heard talking about what had happened in District 8 last night, and to say the least he wasn’t happy about it. To sum up what Sen. Gallegos told me, he said he thought Davila had deceived his constituents and denied them the right to choose the trustee for themselves. He informed me he had no idea who Aguilar was – “I wouldn’t recognize him if he walked into my office right now, or anyone else’s,” he told me – even if Aguilar was Diana Davila’s brother (he is, I learned from another source) or Abel Davila’s sister’s husband. He noted that at least two other people had expressed an interest in filing for the seat, but decided not to run because everyone was supporting Davila. That support is now gone, and I can report that one of those people, a retired HISD principal and lifelong resident of Magnolia Park by the name of Eva Loredo, will file to run as a write-in candidate. I confirmed this with Ms. Loredo, so at least the people who are aware of her will have an option besides skipping the race. It’s better than nothing.

Finally, Campos and commenter JJMB in my earlier post note that something similar happened in HD132 back in 1992, when then-Rep. Paul Colbert stepped down on the day of the filing deadline, and now-Rep. Scott Hochberg, who worked for Colbert, filed in his stead. That was wrong, too, though at least Colbert and Hochberg weren’t related to each other, and the voters had to wait only two years to rectify the situation if they thought it warranted it. Hochberg, of course, is an outstanding State Rep, so the outcome was a good one. Maybe that’ll happen here, who knows? It just would have been nice for the voters to have a say in it, that’s all.

UPDATE: Just got a call from State Sen. Gallegos, who added that he has had a conversation with State Sen. Rodney Ellis, who is equally upset about what happened, and that the two of them plan to prefile legislation next November to allow for an automatic 24 to 48 hour extension of the filing deadline in the case of a non-partisan/non-primary election where an incumbent drops out or announces his or her retirement within 24 hours of the deadline. In other words, the next time this happens, filing for the office would be kept open for another day to allow other candidates to enter. He said a law like this already existed for primaries (Greg alluded to it in response to JJMB’s comment), and this would simply extend the concept to other elections. He said State Sen. John Whitmire was in Austin but he and Sen. Ellis would consult with him and get him on board as well. I think this is a great idea, and support its passage in the next legislative session.

UPDATE: Sandra Meyers’ website is SandieMeyers.com.

The HISD Trustee races

Most of the electoral action this fall will be for City of Houston races, but there are also five HISD Trustee seats on the ballot, one of which will be open. School Zone reports on the two races that will be the highest profile.

District I: Natasha Kamrani, who is wrapping up her first term, has not announced whether she will seek re-election. Expect word soon. Alma Lara, a former principal in HISD, is planning to run for Kamrani’s seat. She’s filed paperwork naming a campaign treasurer and has a Web site. Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers who had a public spat with Kamrani last year over holding bad teachers accountable, is praising Lara. “She’s a great principal,” Fallon told me. “We had a great relationship with her. I think she has a really good chance. She’s so wired into the community.” Fallon also supported Kamrani’s opponent four years ago.

District V: Dianne Johnson, elected in 2001, is not seeking re-election. “I think eight years is enough,” Johnson told me. “If that’s enough for the president, it ought to be enough time for a board member. It’s probably time to give other people other opportunities. It’s probably time for Dianne to look for other opportunities.” Michael Lunceford, a parent whose children have graduated from HISD, is running to replace her. No one else has filed paperwork yet.

Greg Meyers, Harvin Moore, and Larry Marshall are all running for re-election, and likely won’t face much of a challenge. I live in District I and am friends with Kamrani, but it’s fair to say her time in office has been rather tumultuous. That race will be one to watch whether or not she runs again. Be sure to read the comments on that School Zone post, as Gayle Fallon mixes it up with some of the usual anonymous gripers. As for Dianne Johnson’s to-be-open seat, I know nothing at this point about Michael Lunceford, and found nothing of use via Google. All I can say at this point is I’m sure there will be more candidates.