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Harvin Moore

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.

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.

Sung nips Luman in HISD runoff

By twenty-seven votes.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung narrowly defeated John Luman in a runoff election Saturday to take a seat on the Houston Independent School District board of trustees.

Sung, who turns 38 Sunday, had the backing of the Houston Federation of Teachers. The Bellaire High School graduate taught in the Houston school district after working as a Teach for America corps member in the Rio Grande Valley.

Luman, 51, an attorney and lobbyist, received the endorsement of outgoing trustee Harvin Moore. Luman has been an active member of Briargrove Elementary School’s parent-teacher organization.

[…]

Moore is quitting a year early; Sung will serve through 2017.

Here are the unofficial election night returns. Luman led by 105 votes in absentee ballots, then Sung won early voting by 72 and Runoff Day by 60. There were 6,545 total votes cast, a little bit less what I had estimated. Given the closeness of the election – Sung’s margin is 0.42 percentage points – it would not surprise me if Luman asks for a recount. There may be a few provisional or overseas ballots left to process, but probably not enough to affect the outcome. We’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, congratulations to Anne Sung on the hard-earned victory.

Runoff Day for HISD special election

From the inbox:

vote-button

Saturday, Dec. 10, is Election Day for voters in HISD Trustee District VII and City of Baytown Council District 3. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

There are 178,717 registered voters in HISD Trustee District VII eligible to vote in the Runoff Elections. A map of the boundaries for HISD Trustee District 7 can be found at: http://www.houstonisd.org/cms/lib2/TX01001591/Centricity/Domain/10801/District%207-092614.pdf

Baytown Council District 3 covers the Northwest section of the city with 12,726 registered voters eligible to vote in the Runoff Election. District 3 is in dark blue on the map at: http://baytown.org/home/showdocument?id=2105

Election Day polling locations may be found at the Harris County Clerk’s election website, www.HarrisVotes.com. Voters may also visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965 to obtain a list of acceptable credentials to vote at the polls and view a sample ballot.

See here for some background. You can find your polling location here. As noted before, turnout is low, so your vote really counts. If you live in HISD VII, or Baytown Council District 3, get out there and make your voice heard. I’ll have the result tomorrow.

Runoff early voting: Light turnout

EarlyVoting

Hey, remember that there’s a runoff for the special election to fill the HISD Trustee position in District VII? Well, early voting for it ended on Tuesday, and turnout so far is about what you’d expect for such an election. Here’s the EV by location report for the runoff, which encompasses two races: for Baytown City Council in District 3, about which I know nothing, and on page 2 the HISD election, in which Anne Sung faces off against John Luman. A total of 2,922 votes have been cast so far, of which 1,601 were in person and 1,321 were by mail, with another 3,429 mail ballots sent out but not yet returned. As a reminder, there were 35,879 ballots cast in this race in November, so however you slice it the runoff electorate will be much smaller.

Which makes the result that much more unpredictable, since who knows what the electorate will look like. It could be representative of the district as a whole, which would favor Luman, or it could tilt towards the more motivated parts of the population, which may favor Sung. If you live in HISD District VII and have not yet voted, you can find your polling place for the Saturday runoff here. If you’re not sure whether you live in HISD District VII or not, there are two ways to tell. One, if you had this race on your ballot in November then you are, and if you didn’t then you aren’t. If you don’t remember or for some reason didn’t vote in November (shame, shame), your voter registration card will indicate if you are in HISD or not, but it doesn’t specify what district you are in. You can find that if you look yourself up on the Harris County Tax Assessor website. As I said, turnout for this election is low and will be low, so your vote counts for extra. Show up on Saturday if you live in the district and make your voice heard.

Re-Endorsement watch: Sung in the special

The Chron reiterates their choice of Anne Sung for the HISD VII special election runoff.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung will bring a wealth of educational experience to this position, representing a district with boundaries encompassing a broad swath of near-southwest to near-northwest Houston that includes Wisdom High School, formerly Robert E. Lee, one of the most ethnically diverse schools in Houston, and Lamar High School, which sits smack in the middle of River Oaks, one of our city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Sung has been a Teach for America Corp member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher, and the cofounder of an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. Currently, she’s in the educational nonprofit field, serving as the chief strategy officer and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston.

The Bellaire High School alumna has walked the talk that “education is the foundation of the American Dream.” Sung went on to graduate from Harvard University with Bachelor of Arts and Master of Physics degrees and from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government with a Master’s in Public Policy.

Sung was involved in public education even before she became a parent. In a screening with our editorial board, her answers were nuanced and thoughtful. This candidate – who speaks Spanish and Mandarin – is the best-qualified person to run for trustee in years.

More or less what they said when they endorsed her in November. Early voting starts tomorrow for this runoff and it only lasts seven days, which is standard for runoffs. Hours and locations are here – basically, there’s downtown, the Metro Multi-Service Center on West Gray, and the Harris County Public Health office at 2223 West Loop South. Runoff Day is next Saturday, December 10. I estimate something like six to eight thousand votes for the runoff, so anything can happen. Get out and make you voice heard.

HISD special election runoff will be December 10

I don’t believe I’ve seen a news story about this.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

The runoff election for the top two candidates to fill the unexpired term of outgoing HISD District VII Trustee Harvin Moore has been set for Dec. 10.

Candidates competing in the runoff are Anne Sung and John Luman.

The runoff election winner will serve the remainder of Moore’s term in office, which runs through 2017. Click here to see a map of HISD trustee districts.

Early voting times are from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 30 through Dec. 2. Early voting on Dec. 5 and 6 is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting locations are as follows:

John Luman

John Luman

Harris County Clerk’s Office
201 Caroline St. #420
Houston, TX 77002

Metropolitan Multi-Service Center
1475 W Gray St.
Houston, TX 77019

SPJST Lodge 88 (the Heights Location)
1435 Beall St.
Houston, TX 77008

Harris County Public Health (Galleria Location)
2223 W. Loop South 1st floor
Houston, TX 77027

Here’s the interview I did with Anne Sung and the interview I did with John Luman. As noted in my analysis of Hillary Clinton’s performance in Harris County, Clinton carried the district, but 1) there were also a lot of undervotes, 2) turnout for the runoff is going to be really low, and 3) Clinton carried HISD VII with crossover votes. I haven’t done all of the numbers, but I can tell you that Dori Garza lost here by a 52-42 margin. That said, lower turnout may benefit Sung more than it does Luman, depending on who is motivated to come out and vote. Pantsuit Nation is touting this race, and it’s certainly possible that Sung will have some more momentum going in. All things being equal, though, this is Luman’s race to lose, and even if he does lose, Sung would have a tough re-election in 2017. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one as we go. If you live in HISD VII, mark the dates for voting on your calendar because they will zip past before you know it.

UPDATE: I have received word that the SPJST Lodge is not available for early voting for this runoff. It had originally been reported as being available, but that has changed. My apologies for the confusion.

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.

Interview with John Luman

John Luman

John Luman

My final interview for the special election in HISD District VII to fill the remainder of outgoing Trustee Harvin Moore’s term is with John Luman. Luman is an intellectual property attorney with engineering degrees from George Washington University and the University of Texas. He’s an active member on the Briargrove Elementary School’s PTO and PTO Executive Committee and helped lead the grassroots movement to stop the Houston Housing Authority’s proposed location of an apartment building that they say would have further burdened the already-overpopulated Briargrove school. Before I get to this interview, I’ll remind you one last time to also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum from last Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Luman, Anne Sung, and Victoria Bryant. Here’s my interview with John Luman:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

As noted, one of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and today I have an interview with Victoria Bryant. Bryant is a graduate of HISD schools and the recipient of a Doctor of Pharmacy from UH. She is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly, and currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the University of Houston Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Education and College of Business. Here’s the interview:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

One of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and I will have interviews with three of them. First up is Anne Sung, who had run for this position before in 2013 (you can listen to my interview with her from that election here). Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and a former science teacher and department chair at Lee High School. She served on Mayor Turner’s Education Transition Team and is now the chief strategy officer and Vice President at the non-profit Project GRAD Houston. Here’s what we talked about:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman. I’ll have interviews with the latter two in the coming days.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Endorsement watch: Sung in the special

The Chron endorses Anne Sung in the HISD special election.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Out of the four names on the ballot, Anne Sung is the only candidate who will be prepared to do a good job immediately. Sung, 38, a product of HISD schools, not only says that “education is the foundation of the American Dream,” but her life demonstrates that dream. The Bellaire High School alumna went on to graduate from Harvard University.

Sung has been a Teach for America Corp member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher, and the cofounder of an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. She’s currently filling another role in the education landscape by serving as the chief strategy office and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston. Her opponents, John Luman and Victoria Bryant, both seem to have what it takes to become strong board members. As a practicing lawyer, Luman would bring analytical skills to board deliberations. Bryant’s background in pharmacy would be useful in a district where 75.5 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. But the breadth of Sung’s professional career has given her a multi-faceted and nuanced perspective on the district that her opponents Luman and Bryant don’t come close to matching. Candidate Danielle D. Paulus did not answer our requests for a screening.

The Chron had endorsed Harvin Moore over Anne Sung in 2013, though they were “impressed” by her at the time. Looks like that good impression has remained. I’ll have candidate interviews for this election in the coming weeks. There’s a lot going on and thus a lot to talk about. If you live in this district, what are your impressions of the candidates? Leave a comment and let us know.

HISD board members against the HISD ballot item

I missed this when it first appeared.

Three Houston school board members on Thursday evening publicly urged voters to oppose a measure that would authorize the district to forfeit $162 million to the state.

Trustees Jolanda Jones, Harvin Moore and Rhonda Skillern-Jones went on the offensive at the live-streamed board meeting, asking voters to join them in voting “no” on the Nov. 8 ballot measure required under the state’s school-finance system.

The board members are taking a gamble, calling on state lawmakers to revamp the funding system to relieve the Houston Independent School District when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

“We are King Kong in this state,” Jones said, noting that the Houston school system is the largest district in Texas and should have influence.

[…]

Here’s the rub: If the ballot measure fails and the education commissioner detaches property from HISD — an unprecedented move — the district will not be able to tax those properties to fund the repayment of debt. And the district has significant debt, including the ongoing $1.9 billion construction bond program approved by voters in 2012.

The district overall cannot take a position on the measure. However, it has launched an educational campaign, focused on the confusing state-mandated ballot language that will ask voters whether they approve purchasing attendance credits from the state. A “yes” vote to the credits means the district sends the $162 million.

If the funding system does not change, the Houston school district estimates that its “recapture” payment will rise to $257 million in 2017-18, $308 million in 2018-19 and $386 million the following year.

See here for the background. As the story notes, former HISD board member and current “education czar” for Mayor Turner Juliet Stipeche is also opposed to the referendum. I get where they’re coming from, and the escalating recapture payments are daunting, if not crippling. There is definitely an urgency in trying to get the Legislature to do something to avert the problem, or at least to mitigate it. The problem is that there’s no sign that the Legislature, or Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, have any interest in lifting a finger for HISD. Indeed, it’s quite clear that at least on the Senate side, all the energy in 2017 is going to be on making things worse for public education in general. I get the idea, and I don’t think approving the issue does any good. I’m just not sure that defeating it isn’t worse, even if it does have the potential for an upside. See here for the official HISD page on recapture. What do you think about this?

Precinct analysis: HISD Trustee district VII in a Presidential year

As you know, we have a special election for HISD Trustee in district VII on the ballot this November. There’s one Democratic candidate in that race and three Republicans. These races are normally held in odd-numbered years, in which turnout is considerably lower than in Presidential years. Overall turnout in Harris County in 2013 was 13.23%, with turnout in the HISD VII race at 21.86%; this was the highest level among the three contested Trustee races that year. In 2012, turnout in Harris County was 61.99%. There are going to be a lot more people at the polls for this Trustee race than there usually are, is what I’m saying. What effect might that have on the special election?

Well, the conventional wisdom is that Democrats do better in higher-turnout environments. There’s a lot of empirical evidence for this, but just because something is true in the aggregate doesn’t mean it’s true in all specific subsets. Here’s what the numbers look like in HISD VII in 2013 and in 2012:


Pcnct  Moore   Sung   Moore%   Sung%   Romney    Obama  Romney%   Obama%
========================================================================
54        79    222   26.25%  73.75%      531      444   54.46%   45.54%
70       271    375   41.95%  58.05%    1,487      825   64.32%   35.68%
129      473    373   55.91%  44.09%    2,369    1,279   64.94%   35.06%
135      377    205   64.78%  35.22%    1,366      657   67.52%   32.48%
139      199    317   38.57%  61.43%    1,027      965   51.56%   48.44%
177      102    134   43.22%  56.78%      628      398   61.21%   38.79%
178      198    177   52.80%  47.20%      878      375   70.07%   29.93%
204      261    537   32.71%  67.29%    1,411      939   60.04%   39.96%
217      480    226   67.99%  32.01%    1,388      633   68.68%   31.32%
227      377    118   76.16%  23.84%    1,089      289   79.03%   20.97%
233      298    351   45.92%  54.08%    1,496    1,310   53.31%   46.69%
234      629    280   69.20%  30.80%    2,327      606   79.34%   20.66%
269      398    125   76.10%  23.90%    1,278      282   81.92%   18.08%
272       77    132   36.84%  63.16%      404      660   37.97%   62.03%
282      112    186   37.58%  62.42%      765      481   61.40%   38.60%
303      541    165   76.63%  23.37%    2,052      404   83.55%   16.45%
312      247    246   50.10%  49.90%    1,286      982   56.70%   43.30%
421       11     19   36.67%  63.33%       45      169   21.03%   78.97%
431       38     40   48.72%  51.28%      309      867   26.28%   73.72%
432       35     55   38.89%  61.11%      158      402   28.21%   71.79%
434      176    128   57.89%  42.11%      657      319   67.32%   32.68%
435      303    304   49.92%  50.08%    1,515      716   67.91%   32.09%
436	 257    215   54.45%  45.55%    1,232      762   61.79%   38.21%
491      144    123   53.93%  46.07%      680      438   60.82%   39.18%
567       78    109   41.71%  58.29%      280      748   27.24%   72.76%
569      184    219   45.66%  54.34%    1,192      910   56.71%   43.29%
570       38     90   29.69%  70.31%      414      484   46.10%   53.90%
684        7      4   63.64%  36.36%       58       38   60.42%   39.58%
809        1      2   33.33%  66.67%       10       17   37.04%   62.96%
839       36     37   49.32%  50.68%      113      464   19.58%   80.42%
902      165    246   40.15%  59.85%      869      576   60.14%   39.86%
								
Total  6,621  5,773   53.42%  46.58%   29,314   18,439   61.39%   38.61%
Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Did that upend your view of this race? It upended mine. Before I get into what this may mean for the candidates, let’s try to answer the question why Republican turnout improved so much more in the Presidential year – or if you want to look at it more chronologically, why it deteriorated more in the off year. Here are a few thoughts about that.

It’s important to keep in mind that odd year elections are different from even year elections, in that there generally isn’t much in the odd years for Republicans in Houston. Bill King last year was the first serious Republican candidate for Mayor since 2003, and he wasn’t running on the kind of culture-war issues that tend to boost Republican turnout in even years. There wasn’t much to draw Republican voters to the polls in 2013, at least in these precincts, so their turnout lagged more compared to 2012 than Democrats’ turnout did.

Along those lines, Anne Sung ran a campaign that strongly identified her as a Democrat and a progressive, which may have helped her draw some people out, or at least ensure that some of the people who had come out anyway continued down the ballot to vote for her. Harvin Moore is a Republican, but he doesn’t have a Republican brand, if you will. You wouldn’t know he was a Republican unless you paid close attention. The difference in branding may have affected some voters in a way that benefited Sung.

Of course, it’s not always about partisan labels. Moore was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Terry Grier; in fact, Moore was the trustee who proposed extending Grier’s contract more than a year before it was to expire. Sung was a critic of Grier’s, and identified herself as such in the campaign. It may be that the closeness of the race was more a reflection of that dynamic than anything else.

Anyway. The point I’m making here is that the higher turnout we’ll see in this race does not necessarily accrue to Anne Sung’s benefit, which is not what I had originally thought. Before I looked at the numbers, I would have said that her best bet to win would have been to achieve a majority in November and avoid a runoff, where turnout would be miniscule. Think Chris Bell in the special election for SD17 in 2008 as a parallel, or what I had thought would be a parallel. In reality, given what we saw in these numbers, I’d say Sung’s job is just to make it to the runoff, then try to drum up enough turnout among friendly voters in that race to win. Conversely, each of the three Rs should want to be the other person alongside Sung in that runoff, and reap the advantage of the district’s natural Republican lean. An R-versus-Sung runoff is preferable to them than an R-versus-R runoff, which will be more about persuasion than turnout.

Field set for HISD special election

Four candidates have filed, so no one else got in since my last post.

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Four candidates have applied to run in a special election to be a trustee for the Houston Independent School District. The filing deadline was Aug. 25.

The District VII seat is open because Trustee Harvin Moore is resigning a year before his term ends.

[…]

The candidates include John Luman, a lawyer and lobbyist. He’s leading a fight to stop a proposed affordable-housing project in west Houston. Ann Sung is a former HISD teacher who now works for an organization that helps low-income students go to college. Victoria Bryant is a pharmacist who started her own home health care company. The final candidate is Danielle Paulus.

See here for the background. I’ve told you what I know about Anne Sung and Victoria Bryant, so here’s what I (and Google) can tell you about the other two. The story mentions Luman’s leadership in the movement to stop the Fountainview affordable housing project – see here for a bit of background on that story, which I confess I have not followed beyond the headlines. Luman’s name also comes up in some unflattering stories. His co-counsel at Bracewell and Giuliani, in an intellectual property lawsuit, was found to have lied to the judge in the case about some facts that came up during the trial. The case, brought by their client, was dismissed with prejudice. Lisa Falkenberg wrote about this when it happened in August of 2014; the O’Connor’s Annotations blog highlighted the key aspects of how it all went down. It was Luman’s co-counsel who was accused of lying, but in the end both of them left the firm shortly afterwards. I have to believe that this will come up in the campaign, though perhaps not until a runoff.

As for Danielle Paulus, other than being Eric Dick’s wife, there’s not much I can find. Here’s her Facebook page, which reminds me that I’m told Eric Dick did not care for my tone in that previous posting. I’m sure I’ll do better from here on out. This also reminds me that Eric Dick is a candidate for the Harris County Department of Education this November, as the member from Precinct 4. He’s the Republican candidate in a Republican district – this is Jack Cagle’s precinct, which is the most Republican precinct in the county. Which is to say, Eric Dick is finally going to get himself elected to something this fall, where he will join with incumbent HCDE Trustee Michael Wolfe to do the sort of things you’d expect those two characters to do. Isn’t that great? Those are six-year terms, too. I do not expect Danielle Paulus to join her husband in becoming an elected official, but Lord knows stranger things have happened. Anyway, the drawing for ballot order is today. There aren’t a whole lot of interesting local races this year, so I figure this one will get some attention as we go along.

Three more candidates announce campaigns for open HISD Trustee seat

From the inbox, candidate number 1:

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, announced her candidacy today, August 15, for Houston ISD Trustee in District VII. The position is up for election this November with the resignation of Harvin Moore, one of the board’s longest-serving members.

District VII includes River Oaks, Memorial, and Briargrove, and is home to some of the best schools in the state. But this year the district faces the daunting budgetary challenge of funding school operations without disrupting classroom standards.

“Education is key to keeping Houston and Texas an economic powerhouse,” Bryant said. “As a mother with children enrolled in HISD schools, I will fight for a quality education system that will give them the tools they need to compete in a global economy.”

Bryant is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly. She currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Houston’s College of Education and its College of Business.

“Victoria Bryant is an advocate for education with extensive experience in medicine and health care,” said Tony Buzbee, attorney and River Oaks resident. “Her business background will be crucial to solving the district’s budget shortfalls and modernizing our schools.”

Years ago education opened many windows of opportunity for Bryant, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who resettled in Houston in the 1970’s. Bryant attended Carnegie High School and the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. “My dad did everything he could to make sure I had every opportunity in the world – and it started with a great education,” said Bryant. “Here in our district, we have incredible teachers and involved parents. That said, we have much more to do to educate and empower our children for success. As we invest in their future, I am your voice on the board.”

See here for the background. Anne Sung, who ran against Moore in 2013, has also announced her intention to run for the seat. I found this 2014 Houston Business Journal story on Victoria Bryant while googling around for her.

Sung and Bryant are joined by two others: John F. Luman, III and Danielle Paulus are also listed as candidates on the HISD webpage about the special election. Paulus, as you can see from her LinkiedIn profile, is also known as Danielle Paulus-Dick, and appears to be the wife of Eric Dick, which made my eyes roll so hard. I asked around and learned that both Bryant and Luman have Republican primary voting histories – Danielle Paulus appeared on this list after I had done that, but we do all know about Eric Dick – while Sung is a Democrat, so the basic contours of this campaign are clear, if there are no others jumping in. The filing deadline is tomorrow, August 25, so the clock is ticking. Whoever emerges victorious, in November or a December runoff, will have to do it again in 2017 for a full term. I’ll check back afterwards to see what the final lineup will be.

Anne Sung will run for HISD

From Facebook:

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

I am running for HISD School Board-Position 7 in November 2016 and I invite you to join me in my campaign.

As a proud graduate of TH Rogers and Bellaire High School, I know how important a high quality education is to every Houstonian. I am a former educator and Teacher of the Year with 7 years of experience teaching physics and leading change in Texas public schools as well as 3 years as Chief Strategy Officer for Project GRAD. I understand Houston communities and higher education and know what it takes for our schools to be successful.

Together we can rebuild trust and buy-in across HISD, bringing administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the community at large together so every HISD school delivers a quality education.

This race will be a sprint and with your support I know we can win. Join us at at http://anne4hisd.com/.

This is to replace Harvin Moore, who has announced his resignation and expressed a preference for there to be an election and not an appointment. He got his wish for that, as reported at the end of this story. Sung ran for the Board in 2013 against Moore – you can check out my interview with her from 2013 here – and could do well in a Presidential turnout year, given how the vote went that year. The winner of the November special election would have to run again in 2017 for a full term. Now that we know there will be one, I expect other candidates to make their interest known.

Harvin Moore to resign as HISD Trustee

Best wishes.

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore, one of the Houston school board’s longest-serving members, said Thursday that he is resigning his seat.

Moore, who has served on the board since late 2003, has asked the board to call an election for November, a year before his term is set to expire. Moore said he expects voter turnout to be high with the presidential election. The board could decide to appoint someone to the post, but Moore said he supports the democratic process and intends to serve until a replacement takes office.

“I wanted to stay on until we had a new superintendent named, and I’m pleased with the choice,” Moore said in a message to the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

“After serving for 13 years, I’ve decided to resign to spend more time on my business and family,” Moore said in a statement. “I’m proud of the significant improvement in teaching and quality of principals and district leadership HISD has achieved over those years, and also the huge increase in the number and quality of magnet and neighborhood schools, including some of the most innovative and successful in the nation.”

I’ve chatted with Moore a few times, and interviewed him in 2013, when he was last on the ballot. He always struck me as a good guy, knowledgeable and caring about Houston’s schools. I wish him all the best in whatever comes next. If he gets his wish and there’s an election this November to replace him, it could be interesting. His district leans Republican, but it includes some usually low-turnout Democratic turf. In a Presidential year, especially with Donald Trump on the ballot, who knows what effect that could have? That said, this would be a non-partisan race, very likely with multiple candidates and a strong chance of a runoff, which would then be held in a much lower turnout environment. Plus, whoever wins that race would have to run again for a full four-year term in 2017, and that as things stand now would happen with n citywide races on the ballot, though possibly a bond issue and revenue cap referendum. So again, who knows? Be that as it may, my thanks to Harvin Moore for his service. The Press has more.

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.

HISD considers a different kind of redistricting

It would likely be just as contentious as the usual kind.

HISD School Map

Houston school officials may rezone students from roughly two dozen elementary schools over the next few years in an effort to meet the state’s class size limits.

District officials presented a proposal to the school board Thursday morning. It would be the largest redrawing of attendance boundaries in years.

HISD trustee Harvin Moore acknowledged that he expects concerns from parents.

“It’s hard to find a popular change in boundaries,” Moore said.

The Houston Independent School District required 1,499 waivers from the Texas Education Agency this year to exceed the state’s 22-student class size cap. The district’s goal is to cut the number of waivers by 50 percent next school year.

The full Chron story is here, and you can see the current school boundary maps here. There’s a list of potentially affected schools at the first link above. This sort of thing is never easily done or lightly undertaken, but the goal of reducing the number of class size waivers is a good one, and will hopefully make everyone want to get this done. The Board will vote on this in March, so contact your board member if you have any questions or concerns.

Precinct analysis: Two quick takes

I had wondered if partisan affiliation might be a factor in the HISD 7 race between Republican incumbent Harvin Moore and Democratic challenger Anne Sung. Like Houston races, HISD Trustee races are officially non-partisan, but also like Houston races, people tend to know what team everyone plays for. What did the precinct data tell us?

Dist Moore Sung ==================== C 1,278 2,046 F 148 223 G 4,921 3,126 J 240 358

That’s pretty strong evidence right there. Sung got 61.6% in Democratic district C, Moore got 61.2% in Republican G. District G was the bigger part of HISD 7, so Moore won. For a Democratic challenger like Sung to win a race like this in the future, she’d either need to at least double the turnout in the District C part of the district, or she’d need to win a decent number of crossovers, or both. So now we know.

Since I’ve been advocating that people who didn’t like Dave Wilson’s election to the HCC Board of Trustees need to take their frustration over it out in the runoff for HCC 1, it’s fair to ask what Zeph Capo‘s path to victory is, since Yolanda Navarro Flores got about 48% of the vote in November. Precinct data suggests what that path is:

Dist Flores Capo Hoffman ============================== B 103 18 34 C 3,516 2,561 1,956 G 245 175 197 H 1,851 431 610 J 201 50 105

Basically, Zeph Capo needs to win the District C part of the district. That’s the biggest part of the district in terms of turnout, but it needs to be maximized, and Capo needs to get Kevin Hoffman’s voters to come to the polls for him. Kevin Hoffman confirmed for me via email that he has endorsed Capo in the runoff – he also shared this open letter he sent to the Board with his hopes for their direction going forward – so if you supported Kevin Hoffman in Round One, you have no reason not to support Zeph Capo in Round 2. Capo has a lot of ground to make up, but he also has a lot of potential supporters available if he can reach them.

The HISD elections and Terry Grier

The Chron writes about the possible effect of the HISD Trustee elections on Superintendent Terry Grier and his agenda items like Apollo and revamped teacher evaluations. Of the three contested elections, the one that has the greatest potential to swing the way the Board operates is in District VII.

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

The closely watched District 7 race pits incumbent Harvin Moore, a staunch supporter of Grier, against Anne Sung, a former teacher critical of Grier’s strategies.

[…]

The board’s 6-3 vote approving the district budget in June highlighted the divide among trustees. The wedge issue was an allocation of $30 million to continue the Apollo program and to expand its key elements – small-group tutoring and a longer school day – to more campuses.

Moore, who voted with the majority on the budget, argues that HISD is headed in the right direction under Grier. Voters last year approved a $1.9 billion construction bond issue, the largest in Texas history, and the district won the national Broad Prize for Urban Education in September for its academic improvement.

Moore said he has talked to Grier privately about improving his communication with the public and is pleased with the progress.

“He’s still a strong-minded individual, and I think that’s a strength,” Moore said.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Sung taught at Lee High School, one of the Apollo campuses, and said the program pushed short-term gains on state tests rather than deeper learning. She also said she would like to see less emphasis on test scores in teachers’ job evaluations.

Adams said she hasn’t studied the evaluation system enough to weigh in. She wants to expand the small-group tutoring that has proven successful in the Apollo program across the district.

The Houston Federation of Teachers union, which has bashed the teacher evaluation system and generally stayed neutral on Apollo, endorsed Sung and Adams.

“No one went out and recruited people that just hated the superintendent,” union president Gayle Fallon said. “We recruited people who supported teachers. Teacher evaluation is a very big issue with us.”

The board had been moving to include test scores in the job appraisals before Grier arrived, but he has supported holding teachers accountable based on the data.

Sung has run a strong race. She’s outraised Moore and has garnered an impressive array of endorsements, mostly from Democratic-leaning organizations. That to me is the X factor in this race – partisan affiliation. HISD races, like city of Houston races, are officially non-partisan, but anyone who is paying attention knows what team a given candidate is on. Sung is a Democrat, Moore is one of three Republicans on the Board (Mike Lunceford and Greg Meyers are the others). I unfortunately don’t have any electoral data on HISD districts so I can’t make any quantitative statements, but it should be clear at a glance that District VII would be considered a solid Republican district in any context where partisan identity mattered. I have no idea how much it might matter in this context. Both candidates have focused on the issues, but I’m sure they’ve been busy letting fellow team members in the district know that they wear the same colors. It would be foolish not to. Again, I have no idea how much of a factor this will be. I do believe it is a factor, just one that isn’t readily measurable. This is definitely one of the races I’ll be watching closely.

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.

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.

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 Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore has been the HISD Trustee in District 7 since 2003. A former national bank examiner for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Moore is now the senior vice president for finance and operations at a local aerospace company. He had a long history of involvement in education before being elected to the HISD board, having tutored and taught at-risk students in New York and Houston, and serving on the boards of things like Teach For America-Houston, KIPP Academy, the Houston Teachers’ Institute, and the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Reading Institute for Teacher Excellence, among others. He also blogs about education matters on his website; there’s a transcription of an interview he did with the Houston Business Education PAC that you might want to read in addition to listening to my interview with him:

Harvin Moore 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.

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.

Early extension for Grier

This was a surprise.

Terry Grier

The Houston school board gave Superintendent Terry Grier a big but not unanimous vote of confidence Thursday, extending his contract through 2016 and awarding him $115,000 in bonuses for the last year.

The board voted 6-2 to approve the surprise two-year extension, and the lone absent trustee said later that she opposes the longer term.

Trustees supporting the extension said the move sends a strong message that Grier has performed well, while opponents lamented that the decision gives the board less leverage to hold him accountable.

[…]

The board’s action comes one month after voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.9 billion bond issue pushed by Grier. HISD also was a finalist for the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

“His success in continuing to build and retain the world-class team he has created in Houston depends on top-notch people believing the superintendent has the confidence of his board and is here for the long term,” said trustee Harvin Moore.

Grier, who has run the state’s largest district for three years, said he was “pleased, honored and humbled by the board’s vote of confidence.”

“While we’ve made good progress, we have much work to do, and I’m very excited to be part of a school district and city that values consistent, rigorous education for all of its children,” he said.

Trustee Juliet Stipeche said she opposed the extension, particularly because it was only 10 months ago that the board agreed to extend Grier’s contract through 2014.

“We as a board have a tremendous responsibility of holding the superintendent accountable,” she said. “And if we’re consistently and chronically extending his contract, then the board cannot serve that function.”

I agree with Stipeche. I think Grier has generally done a good job, and it was right to extend his contract through 2014, but there was no reason to take this action now. What if we’re not as happy with the next two years? If it is the Board’s job to hold the Superintendent accountable, then the Board needs to wait until it has full information before undertaking a vote like this. They should have waited.

Grier’s bonus structure may be tweaked, too.

Several school board members said Friday, a day after granting Grier more job security, that they plan to discuss revising his new contract to increase the size of the bonuses he can earn. Grier received bonuses totaling $115,000 out of a possible $125,000 for his performance last year.

Houston Independent School District trustees declined to reveal the amounts they are considering but said they first want to revamp the criteria that determine the bonuses.

Grier’s base salary is $300,000, plus $19,200 in stipends for his car and cellphone. Several trustees said they don’t foresee giving Grier a standard raise – teachers received 2 percent this year – but instead will look to increase his bonus potential.

“What I think is appropriate is having a significant portion of his remuneration be based on performance,” said trustee Harvin Moore.

I’m okay with this, as long as the standards for achieving the bonuses make sense and are easy to quantify and understand. Let’s take a little more time with this, and put a little more thought into it, than we did with the contract extension, OK?

Please place the blame where it belongs

Stories like this concern me.

Public opinion of the Houston Independent School District plummeted this year amid severe state budget cuts, while support of the superintendent also dropped, according to a new survey.

Among parents surveyed this spring, 54 percent said HISD was headed in the right direction, down from 79 percent two years ago.

Survey results indicate that the steep decline in confidence in the state’s largest district this year is partly due to budget cuts, which were being discussed around the time of the poll.

About six in 10 parents this year said they were satisfied with the performance of Superintendent Terry Grier, who has rolled out numerous changes since taking the helm two years ago. Grier’s predecessor, Abelardo Saavedra, generated support from about seven in 10 parents.

“What I have been hearing from parents for the past year is mostly what the poll showed — that the state budget cuts are the wrong direction for our public schools,” said HISD Trustee Harvin Moore. “But I’m also seeing a lot of frustration from parents about some of the initiatives the district has taken.”

Moore said parents were most upset by proposed changes to the specialty magnet school program, including plans to end some popular offerings and to eliminate busing to some campuses.

We can argue all we want about whether HISD took the best courses of action to deal with the legislative budget cuts, but let’s be very clear about this: The reason the board implemented cuts was because they were forced to do so by the Legislature. If you’re unhappy about that, it’s the Legislature – and the Senate, and the Governor, and the Lieutenant Governor – where you need to aim your ire. Specifically, it was the Republicans who pushed for the cuts, blocked any attempt to find alternate sources of funding to mitigate the cuts, and voted for the cuts, whom you need to hold responsible. To do anything else is to not understand the situation, and thus leave yourself vulnerable to a repeat of it in two years’ time. The only way to get a different outcome next time is to hold responsible for their actions those who caused this problem.

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.

HISD contemplates a tax increase

They’re not saying it explicitly yet, but the inference is clear.

Houston ISD board president Paula Harris said today that raising property taxes, dipping into the district’s savings account and suing the state over school finance inequities are all possibilities.

Harris noted twice that HISD has the lowest tax rate of all school districts in Harris County ($1.1567 per $100 of assessed value). The district also offers a special tax break known as an optional homestead exemption, which reduces the taxable value of homes by 20 percent.

Under a legislative budget proposal, districts with lower tax efforts get cut the deepest.

During a news conference at Pin Oak Middle School this morning, Harris echoed comments she made in February that a local tax increase was a possibility.

“Everything is still on the table,” said Harris, who spoke at the news conference with Houston Federation of Teachers President Gayle Fallon and an HISD parent activist, Sue Deigaard.

Hair Balls noted this as well. Of course, this is what Rick Perry wants the school districts to do. If they all raise their tax rates – quite a few are already at the maximum level, but many of them are like HISD and still have room for a hike – the end result will be that the state will be on the hook for less money. HISD Trustee Harvin Moore has been writing about this and other aspects of the legislative shortchanging of public education, and it’s worth your time to read what he’s been saying. You should also read this op-ed by parent/activist Sue Deigaard.

There’s one other thing that’s on the table as well: Litigation.

Under the legislative budget proposal, HISD officials say the district faces a loss of $78 million in the upcoming school year and $126 million in 2012-13.

HISD officials had been planning for a state funding shortfall of $160 million in the upcoming year, so the proposal is better than expected. Still, Harris said, that’s no reason to celebrate.

“That’s like someone punching you in the face twice and saying, ‘Be glad we didn’t punch you three times.’”

Asked if HISD would consider joining an expected lawsuit against the state over the school finance system, Harris noted that the district participated in a similar suit years ago.

“I cannot say we would sit this one out,” Harris said.

Pretty much everyone expects there to be a lawsuit. Rick Casey’s column, linked in the excerpt above, spells it out. The only question at this point is how long till the suit is filed. The question of what the State Supreme Court will do with it this time is another matter. I don’t know how much having the facts on our side will count for.

HISD’s budget and magnet meeting

A whole lot happened on Thursday evening with HISD.

Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier proposed a major shake-up Thursday night to the district’s popular magnet program, calling for 25 schools to lose the special status and for funding increases or reductions in others.

“This stands to change the landscape of the entire Houston Independent School District,” Trustee Anna Eastman said at a meeting packed with more than 300 parents, students and teachers who showed up to lobby for their schools.

In a three-hour presentation, Grier’s administration also laid out several controversial cost-cutting moves, such as changing bus schedules, closing four small schools and ending the college-readiness program Project GRAD.

McDade, Grimes, Rhoads and Love elementary schools would have to close their doors this fall under the plan.

Grier’s proposal to end the magnet programs at 25 schools scales back the massive cuts recommended in January by consultants hired by the school board. The $269,000 audit by Magnet Schools of America proposed eliminating 55 of the 113 magnet programs.

Trustee Harvin Moore called Grier’s magnet plan “way better” than the audit but expressed concerns about proposed funding reductions to many of the Vanguard schools, which serve gifted children. Moore and a few other trustees asked that final decisions about the magnet schools not be rushed at a meeting set for next week.

“I don’t think one week is enough time for the board or the public, who we report to, to look at this,” Moore said, prompting applause from the audience.

I recommend you read Ericka Mellon’s liveblog of the proceedings for a more comprehensive blow-by-blow account of what happened. There’s a whole lot to digest, and it’s hard to say how much of it will get modified or dropped as a result of a changing budget picture – the operating assumption was that the state would cut public education by $5 billion for the biennium, not $10 billion, so the assumptions made in their budget are more likely to be too optimistic than too pessimistic – or pushback from parents and trustees. And as Hair Balls makes clear, to a large degree what the Board can do is constrained by what the Legislature may or may not do.

Throughout the recommendation, Moore reiterated to the audience that the budget cuts were being made because of a failure of the state to shore up money for HISD, not because of money mismanagement at the school district level.

“Whatever we come up with, we want to make sure we convey to the state what will happen if they don’t act,” he said. Melinda Garrett agreed. “We have to wait. If we don’t, everyone in Austin will think we just rolled over,” she said. The school board said they are lobbying in Austin for more funding.

Other ways to scrounge for HISD include increasing taxes and reducing the homestead exemption, which could create $23 million by cutting it five percent. But Moore warned that once homeowners and taxpayers agreed to take on the state’s financial responsibility, there would be no going back. Another way would be to temporarily cut the salaries of teachers, but such a measure is illegal in Texas.

“You can’t touch any teacher salaries, and that’s the bulk of the money in this district,” Garrett said.

All the more reason to get involved now, and make sure your voice is heard.

Beyond that, the main thing that concerns me is the proposed change to school start times, which would greatly affect our morning routine along with everybody else’s. Take a look at the liveblog and the documents it contains to see how you and your school may be affected, and give feedback to your trustee. The West U Examiner has a good writeup as well. What do you think about all this?