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No big drop in enrollment in area school districts

Mostly good news.

During the height of Hurricane Harvey, school district officials worried enrollments would plummet as thousands of families fled Houston for Dallas, Austin and other drier regions. While many families lost their homes, it seems most relocated within the region and often within the boundaries of their existing school district.

Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, saw only 1,186 fewer students enrolled on Oct. 2 than on the same date in 2016 – a less than 1 percentage point dip. The district does not yet have estimates on the number of students affected by Hurricane Harvey, as the Texas Education Agency is not collecting much of that information until the end of the month.

In Clear Creek ISD, enrollment is up about 240 students compared to last year, even after 261 students in school the first week did not return after the storm. Katy ISD, which saw widespread flooding and tornadoes, saw enrollment rise by nearly 2,500 students at the official 10-day count mark, but more than 2,800 students are now considered homeless because of the storm.

Guy Sconzo, executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition and former superintendent of Humble ISD, said it’s surprising so many students were displaced but still managed to stay in Houston-area schools.

“It’s absolutely incredible, because areas of Katy were hit hard,” Sconzo said. “Obviously people wanted to stay, and I think that speaks volumes to the communities and school districts.”

It’s in stark contrast to the deluge of students who left New Orleans after Katrina and never returned. That’s not to say that all Houston-area or Harvey-affected students stayed in southeast Texas. Dallas ISD enrolled 276 students from Harvey-affected areas stretching from Rockport to Beaumont; Fort Worth ISD took in 112; and Del Valle ISD outside of Austin has 67. Seven storm-affected students went as far as El Paso ISD.

The TEA is tracking where all the displaced students are, though what all this will mean in the end is unclear. I hope that the relative lack of dispersal means that student performance won’t be greatly affected, not so much because I care about standardized tests but because the students are sufficiently cared for and healthy that they can do their best. And if not, I sure hope there’s a plan to deal with that, as compassionately as possible.

Interview with Jasmine Jenkins of Houstonians for Great Public Schools

For obvious reasons, there’s going to be a lot of focus on HISD, both in the next year as the district recovers from Harvey and tries to fend off a takeover by the Texas Education Agency, and going forward, as these issues and others may fade but will never go away. The Board of Trustees will be very different than the one that was inaugurated after the 2015 election, and could be very different than the one we have right now. There’s been a lot of scrutiny on the HISD Board lately, due in part to concerns (expressed by multiple candidates in the interviews I’ve done) that the Board has not been very effective or collaborative lately. One group keeping an eye on this is Houstonians for Great Public Schools, whose mission is “to increase public understanding of the roles and responsibilities of school board members and to hold members accountable for high performance”. I had the chance to speak with their Executive Director, Jasmine Jenkins, about what that means and what they hope to accomplish. (If the name Jasmine Jenkins sounds familiar, I interviewed her last year when she was running for the Democratic nomination in SBOE 6.) Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

More on HISD IX, and a little on HISD VII Alief ISD

Wanda Adams

As noted before, I did not do interviews in HISD Trustee races in districts VII and IX. In VII, I did interview now-incumbent Anne Sung and challenger John Luman last year when they were running in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Harvin Moore. You can listen to those again if you want a refresher on those two candidates.

As for IX, I just could not get to it. Life is like that sometimes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for you to hear from the candidates in that race – Trustee Wanda Adams and challengers Karla Brown and Gerry Monroe – if you want. There was a debate sponsored by the Forward Times on October 4, and audio of it is available here. In addition, there were articles written about each candidate in the aftermath of the debate by debate moderator Durrel Douglas:

Part 1: Wanda Adams
Part 2: Karla Brown
Part 3: Gerry Monroe

There’s also a recap of the debate, with video embedded from the event. It’s not the same as individual interviews, but it’s a chance to see how the candidates interact with each other. Go take a look or give a listen – the audio should be available as a podcast in the 610 News feed – and see what you think.

Finally, Stace rounds up the candidates in Alief ISD. I wish I had more time to follow races in other ISDs, but alas, I don’t. These elections – for school board and for city council – will have more effect on your daily life than elections for Congress and Senate do. The latter have more power, but the former have more impact. Know who you’re voting for and why you’re voting for them.

Endorsement watch: HISD VII and XI

Last two.

Anne Sung

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VII: Anne Katherine Sung

Anne Katherine Sung won in a runoff for this district last year after former trustee Harvin Moore resigned. Now voters are faced with a rematch between Sung and her former opponent, John Luman.

During her short time on the board, Sung has proved herself an engaged and effective trustee who deserves a full term representing this west Houston district, which covers River Oaks, Briar Grove and parts of Montrose and the Heights.

Sung, 38, brings in-depth knowledge of the educational landscape to the task. For more than a decade, she has been attending trustee meetings and preparing herself in multiple ways to assume a leadership role on the board.

The alumna of Bellaire High School has been a Teach for America Corp. member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher and co-founded an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. She’s currently serving as the chief strategy officer and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston.


Wanda Adams

Houston ISD, Trustee, District IX: Wanda Adams

This troubled south Houston district needs all the help it can get. Fourteen schools within the boundaries, which stretch from the Westbury to Sunnyside, are failing according to ratings by the non-profit Children at Risk.

Despite these problems, none of the challengers provide a compelling case to remove incumbent Wanda Adams from her seat.

While there’s no question that the district is rife with inequity and that some schools need more attention and resources, Adams is one member of a nine-member board in charge of setting policy. The responsibility for these failing schools falls on past superintendents, the entire board and the community, not on a single trustee.

Adams, 50, knows her community well. A former City Council member, this professor of political science at Texas Southern University currently serves as HISD board president and has worked to make key changes to governance. She’s applied time limits to trustees’ remarks to reduce grandstanding at board meetings and has worked to develop a framework to measure district progress.

In the end, I’d say this was a pretty conventional set of endorsements. All incumbents get the nod, and no surprises in the other races. Not that there was much potential for a surprise – as noted before, the slate of candidates is pretty good. I’m not even sure what might have been a true surprise recommendation, other than possibly one of the challengers in XI.

By the way, I have previously noted that right now, the HISD Board has seven women and two men. The range of possible outcomes this November are eight women and one man, to four women and five men. Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are not on the ballot, while District I has only female candidates. Only District III, which has four male candidates, is certain to be represented by a man. I don’t have a point to make here, just an observation.

I did not do any interviews in these races. I interviewed both Anne Sung and John Luman for last year’s special election – you can listen to those here: Anne Sung, John Luman. I intended to get to District IX but life and too many other things got to me. I have a post in the works for that race, and if it goes to a runoff I’ll try again.

Endorsement watch: HISD V and VI

Two more HISD endorsements, two more to go.

Sue Deigaard

Houston ISD, Trustee, District V: Sue Deigaard

Four qualified candidates are running for an open seat in this southwest Houston district, which covers West University, Bellaire and Meyerland. Yet Sue Deigaard stands above them all. Her knowledge of this district is so deep and broad that she talks with the authority of a trustee, even though this is her first run for office.

For Deigaard, 48, it is all about HISD, and she said during her meeting with the editorial board that if we found another candidate more qualified, we should support that person. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more prepared for any election.

The daughter of a high-school drop-out, Deigaard was the first member of her family to graduate from college. After receiving a degree from Rice University, she worked in alumni affairs at her alma mater for more than five years. But volunteer experience sets her apart.

For more than a decade, Deigaard has been an advocate for public education. In addition to being a near fixture at board meetings and other district functions, she serves as a parent representative on HISD’s district advisory committee and chairs the communication committee for the Arts Access Initiative, which has a goal of expanding arts education opportunities to all K-12 students at HISD. She has also organized and facilitated community finance and engagement meetings for education advocacy groups and school districts.


Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VI: Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January when long-time trustee Greg Meyers resigned, and she deserves to serve a full term. Vilaseca has gained a reputation for being a steady hand and reasoned voice on the board representing her west Houston district, which includes the Energy Corridor and Sharpstown.

Vilaseca, 36, is the daughter of immigrants and was the first in her family to attend college. She began her career in education as a Teach for America Corp. member and went on to teach bilingual and dual language early childhood classes for six years. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in social and organizational psychology and currently works for a nonprofit in the education space.

Her opponent, Robert Lundin, has an outstanding resume as well. He has served as long-time educator and former HISD employee who resigned to run in this race. Not only does he hold a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in educational leadership, but he also serves as a faculty member at Rice University. In addition, Lundin has an impressive list of endorsements, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige. Lundin and Vilaseca are fluent in both English and Spanish.


Sue Deigaard
Kara DeRocha
Sean Cheben

Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Robert Lundin

The Chron was complimentary to all the candidates I interviewed, which I suppose validates in some way my reason for interviewing them. Mostly it speaks to the level of candidate we have running this time around. That is very much not always the case. Districts VII and IX remain to be evaluated.

An unsatisfying attempt at projecting turnout

So as we all know, this in an unprecedented election, as there are no city races on the ballot. This has everyone wondering about turnout, because the usual drivers of turnout are a Mayor’s race and/or a big referendum, and we have neither of those. What can we guess from past turnout?

There are two components of interest here, overall turnout in the city and in the districts that have contested races. Those races of interest are in HISD, so my first thought was to look at some past elections to see what we could learn from the ratio of voters in each district to total voters in Houston. If that’s reasonably consistent, then we can make a projection for the districts on the ballot based on what we think the top level is.

HISD Trustee terms are four years, so our points of comparison are the years in which the same districts are up. Here are the citywide numbers from the Harris County Clerk:

Year      Turnout
2001      284,748
2005      189,046
2009      178,777
2013      174,620

Yes, there are city voters outside Harris County, but none of them intersect with HISD, so we can safely ignore them. Now here are the totals for the five HISD districts that are normally on the ballot in these cycles:

Dist   2001 Share    2005 Share    2009 Share    2013 Share
I    12,515  4.40  10,159  5.37   9,823  5.49  10,521  6.03
V    21,761  7.64                14,550  8.14
VII                                            12,394  7.10
IX   17,524  6.15  12,372  6.54  12,299  6.88  11,245  6.44

And right here you can see why I called this an “unsatisfying” attempt at this projection. The County Clerk only shows the results for contested school board races, and Districts V, VI, and VII haven’t had a lot of those in recent years. We do have good data in I and IX, and those numbers are interesting. District IX is very consistent. If you know what overall city turnout was, you can make a pretty good guess as to turnout in IX. District I, on the other hand, shows a steady upward trend. I’d say that’s the result of changes in the district, which encompasses a good chunk of the Heights and surrounding areas that have been gentrifying. As such, I’d consider the 2013 numbers to be a floor for this year.

That leaves us with the question of what citywide turnout might be. We do have a model for guessing turnout in elections with no Mayor’s race. Since 2005, there have been six At Large City Council runoffs with no corresponding Mayor’s runoff, and in 2007 there was a special May election with June runoff for At Large #3. Here are the vote totals in those races:

2005 At Large #2 runoff = 35,922
2007 At Large #3 May    = 33,853
2007 At Large #3 June   = 24,746
2007 At Large #5 runoff = 23,548
2011 At Large #2 runoff = 51,239
2011 At Large #5 runoff = 55,511
2013 At Large #2 runoff = 32,930
2013 At Large #3 runoff = 33,824

Those numbers are pretty consistent with my earlier finding that there are about 36,000 people who voted in every city election from 2003 to 2013. There won’t be a Mayor’s race this year, but the school board candidates are out there campaigning, and I expect they’ll draw a few people to the polls who aren’t in that group. Similarly, there will be a campaign for the bond issues on the ballot, and that should nudge things up a bit as well. I think a reasonable, perhaps slightly optimistic but not outrageous, estimate is about 50,000 votes total. If that’s the case, then my projections for the school board races are as follows:

District I   = 3,000 (6% of the total)
District V   = 4,000 (8%)
District VII = 3,500 (7%)
District IX  = 3,250 (6.5%)

You can adjust up or down based on your opinion of the 50K overall estimate. If these numbers represent the over/under line, I’d be inclined to put a few bucks on the over in each, just because there will be actual campaign activity in them and there won’t be elsewhere. I don’t think that will be a big difference-maker, but it ought to mean a little something. All of this is about as scientific as a SurveyMonkey poll, but it’s a starting point. I’ll be sure to follow up after the election, because we may want to do this again in four years’ time, when the next Mayor-free election could be.

Endorsement watch: HISD I and III

We have our first candidate endorsements of the season.

Monica Flores Richart

Houston ISD, Trustee, District I: Monica Flores Richart

In this heated race between three passionate candidates to represent Garden Oaks, the Heights and Near Northside, we endorse Monica Flores Richart.

No other candidate in this race or others has demonstrated such a clarity of vision about the problems vexing HISD’s complicated school-funding system, with specific ire reserved for magnet programs and gifted and talented programs that divert funds toward already-wealthy schools.

“We have never really had a cohesive set of priorities and goals for our magnet program,” Richart told the editorial board while rattling off the statistical specifics with ease. Also on her agenda is a thorough auditing of the school budget, zero-based budgeting and a dedication to equity.

“What bothers me most about HISD is the disparate educational opportunities among the communities.”


Sergio Lira

Houston ISD, Trustee, District III: Sergio Lira

Longtime trustee Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. passed away in July and four candidates have stepped up to fill his seat.

Two stand out: Sergio Lira, an assistant principal at Bellaire High School, and Rodolfo (Rudy) Reyes, a former League City council member and court-appointed child advocate.

Lira, 56, has a record as an outstanding educator and has spent virtually his entire career in the district he is seeking to govern. An educational background is a plus for a trustee, but in a perfect world, a trustee should have experience beyond the immediate classroom.

Reyes has a broad professional background that ranges from employment as a contract specialist for the National Cancer Institute to teaching English to four-year-olds in public school. He currently serves as a court-appointed child advocate.

While his budgetary expertise would be useful, this accomplished candidate seems to equate service on this board with his experience on city council. School trustees need to understand that principals aren’t their primary constituents.

Undoubtedly Reyes would be a quick study, but we’re tipping our hat to Lira, as he seems to be in a better position to govern immediately.

Here are all the interviews I did in these races:

Monica Flores Richart
Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl

Carlos Perrett
Jesse Rodriguez
Sergio Lira

Rodolfo Reyes never replied to the email I sent him asking for an interview. The Chron was complimentary to Himsl, and appreciative of the others. I figure both of these races are going to a runoff, and if so we know who their backup choices are if it comes to that. Early voting starts on Monday the 23rd, so get ready to get out there and make your voices heard.

Interview with Sergio Lira

Sergio Lira

We come to the end of our week with candidates in HISD District III, to succeed Manuel Rodriguez. Bringing us home is Sergio Lira, who has been an assistant principal in HISD since 2006 – he is currently at Bellaire High School – and in Pasadena ISD for seven years before that. Lira holds an EdD from the University of Houston, and also has Superintendent certification from UH. He was the recipient of the 2016 Courage Award from the Texas Organizing Project. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Jesse Rodriguez

Jesse Rodriguez

We continue with interviews in HISD Trustee District III, where four candidates vie to fill out the term of the late Manuel Rodriguez. Today’s interview subject is Jesse Rodriguez, no relation to Manuel, also known as DJ Jumpin’ Jess. Rodriguez has a long and varied background in radio and the entertainment business; it’s hard to summarize, so go look at his About page for how he puts it. He has served on multiple non-profit boards, including the Rusk Athletic Club, the National Hispanic Professional Organization, and the Houston Media Source board, to which he was appointed by Mayor Parker. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Carlos Perrett

Carlos Perrett

On we go to District III, which would normally not be up for election this year, but the untimely passing of longtime Trustee Manuel Rodriguez created a vacancy that needs to be filled. The Board appointed an interim Trustee to finish out the year, but he was chosen with the agreement that he would not seek a full term. Four other people have stepped up to do that, and I have interviews with three of them. First up is Carlos Perrett, who at 21 is the youngest person on the ballot. Many people who run for school board tout their past education experiences in HISD, but Perrett, a graduate of Chávez High School, can speak to much more recent and relevant experience. He was awarded the Kallick Community Service Award in 2017, the Student Leadership Award in 2016, and was a Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones Scholar and Pritzker Scholar in 2014. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Robert Lundin

Robert Lundin

I have one more interview to bring you in HISD Trustee District VI, where longtime Trustee Greg Meyers stepped down last November and Holly Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to fill out the remainder of his term. Robert Lundin is a Rice graduate who has served as a bilingual 5th grade teacher and school support officer at HISD. In between those gigs, he opened YES College Preparatory School – Southwest, consulted on recruiting and training teachers in the UK, and taught at both the University of Saint Thomas and Rice. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

We turn now to HISD District VI, where longtime Trustee Greg Meyers resigned last year. Holly Flynn Vilaseca was selected by the remaining Trustees to fill out the last year of Meyers’ term, and now she seeks election to a full term. The first member of her family to go to college, Vilaseca has degrees from the University of Michigan and Columbia. She was a bilingual pre-k and early childhood teacher for six years via Teach for America, and currently works as Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical-thinking skills. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Sean Cheben

Sean Cheben

We come to the end of my interviews in HISD Trustee District V, to succeed the outgoing Mike Lunceford. There are four candidates in the race but i have done three interviews, which is mostly a reflection of how much time I have available. Today’s candidate is Sean Cheben, a Houston native and Clear Creek ISD graduate who has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech. Cheben has worked at Chevron as a process engineer since his graduation and has served as a volunteer math tutor for fifth grade students at Poe Elementary, his neighborhood school. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Sue Deigaard

Sue Deigaard

We continue with interviews of candidates who seek to win the HISD Trustee seat held by the retiring Mike Lunceford. Sue Deigaard was the first member of her family to go to college, receiving two degrees from Rice University. She has a long record of volunteer service as a parent representative on HISD’s District Advisory Committee, a board member on the Houston Center for Literacy, and a founding board member of the Braeswood Super Neighborhood Council, among others. She is a frequent contributor to the Chronicle op-ed pages and has testified multiple times before the Legislature on education and school finance issue. I should note that I knew Sue at Rice, when we were both in the MOB. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

A couple of race updates

Josh Wallenstein

The county slate is one step closer to being filled out for 2018, as Josh Wallenstein has announced his intent to run for the HCDE At Large Position 3 Trustee seat that Diane Trautman is giving up to challenge Stan Stanart. I had a brief chat with Wallenstein via Facebook over the weekend, but as you can see there’s not much on his page yet, so as of today I can’t tell you anything more about him than that he is running. Wallenstein joins Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Trautman (County Clerk), and Marilyn Burgess (District Clerk) on the countywide Democratic slate, which leaves only County Treasurer without a candidate so far. The Treasurer slot pays something like $96K per year, and if we know anything from Orlando Sanchez’s terms in office, there’s plenty of free time to go along with that. If you’re looking for new career opportunities, that may be something to consider. Also needed on the ballot are a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, which is held by appointee Louis Evans. I feel more confident about the first one being filled than the second one, but we’ll see.

Also of interest is Murray Newman’s rundown of the incumbents and candidates for the various Harris County criminal courts. This encompasses the District Courts, which handle felonies, and the County Courts, which are for misdemeanors and the focal point of the ongoing bail practices lawsuit. Several judges are retiring or have already stepped down and been replaced by appointees, and a few others have challengers in the Republican primary. I tend to know the players in the other judicial races, so this was a very useful reference for me.

Finally, as you may have noticed last week, I succeeded in putting together a 2017 Election page for this year’s races. It was a lot less work than it usually is thanks to the lack of city races, but as you know things have been highly out of the ordinary lately. Anyway, if you have any corrections or additions to suggest, please let me know. Thanks.

Interview with Kara DeRocha

Kara DeRocha

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

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

Interview with Gretchen Himsl

Gretchen Himsl

Today we wrap up the series of interviews with candidates in HISD District I with Gretchen Himsl. Gretchen is a Policy Analyst for Children at Risk, an education-focused nonprofit that among other things puts out an annual evaluation of all area schools, and also works for the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth as a tutor for English language learners. A graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, she spent three sessions working for the House Appropriations Committee on the state budget. For full disclosure, I served on the Travis PTA Board for two years while Gretchen was its President. As noted before, this interview was conducted after Harvey, so it contains questions that are different than those in the first interview. This is the case for all subsequent interviews, so since there won’t be that difference within a race I won’t keep bringing this up after today. Here’s what we talked about:

I am now working on an Election 2017 page like I’ve had in past years. It should be done shortly. I’ll have more interviews next week. Please let me know what you think.

Interview with Elizabeth Santos

Elizabeth Santos

There’s about a two week gap between my interview with Monica Flores Richart and my interview with today’s candidate, Elizabeth Santos. In between, of course, Harvey happened, and among many other vastly more important things it affected how interested anyone was in thinking or talking about the 2017 elections as well as everyone’s time and availability. As noted yesterday, with this interview and all others going forward I’ll have asked questions that are different from those I thought I’d be asking about. I apologize for the confusion and trust everyone will understand.

Elizabeth Santos is graduate of public schools in HISD District I and of UH-Downtown, where she earned a BA in English Literature. She is now a teacher at Northside (formerly Jeff Davis) High School. Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more interview to go in District I. Please let me know what you think of these.

Some schools will have longer days

Seems like a reasonable approach, all things considered.

School days will grow longer for students at 11 Houston Independent School District campuses after the Board of Education voted Thursday night to extend school days to stay in compliance with state law.

The next step is for the Texas Education Agency to grant Houston ISD nine disaster waivers for classes missed from Aug. 28 to Sept. 8 due to Hurricane Harvey. If okayed by TEA, HISD students will likely not have to make up those days during the coming school year, but a handful of schools opening in the coming two weeks will need to make up time.

Superintendent Richard Carranza said the district had three options to comply with the state law: cut short already planned holidays, tack days on to the end of the school year or lengthen the school day.

“There is no perfect situation,” Carranza said. “But we are also very committed to make sure the additional time required for students won’t just be seat time. We’re going to have enrichment activities and teachers informed in trauma pedagogy.”

The lengthened school days will only be in effect for the fall semester. Students at all schools will be on regular schedules beginning in 2018.

HISD’s statement about this, which includes a link to the revised academic calendar, is here. Five early release days were also eliminated, which includes one this Thursday. Existing holidays were kept intact on the grounds that people have made travel plans based on them. Hopefully by the end of the fall semester, everyone will be sufficiently caught up that no further alterations will be needed.

Interview with Monica Flores Richart

Monica Flores Richart

So it’s been a very strange election season. I’m sure you don’t need me to go over all the reasons for that again. Let me cut to the chase by saying I will be presenting an abbreviated set of candidate interviews, mostly with HISD Trustee candidates. I’m not going to be able to talk to all of the candidates I’d normally want to, but I’m going to try to talk to most of them. I may wind up revisiting some races in the runoffs. It is what it is this year.

There are three candidates running in HISD I to succeed outgoing Trustee Anna Eastman. Monica Flores Richart is an attorney who has also worked as a political consultant – I met her when she was working with Nick Lampson’s Congressional campaign in 2006. She subsequently became an education advocate with a focus on HISD’s magnet school program, and has served on the Houston Heights Association Education Committee and the HISD Hispanic Advisory Committee. Please note that I conducted this interview before Hurricane Harvey paid us a visit, so as a result my focus is different than it will be in subsequent interviews. I have always tried to be consistent in the questions that I ask candidates, but in this case that just wasn’t possible. Here’s the interview:

I will have more interviews with HISD District I candidates this week and with other candidates going forward.

More on recapture and the Rainy Day Fund

There are some conditions that have to be met to get our recapture money back.

Houston Independent School District won’t have to hand millions of dollars to the state to spend at other schools if HISD needs that money to recover from Hurricane Harvey, but the district will have to apply for that money, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Friday.

The same goes for any of the roughly 250 school districts in declared disaster areas that are required to pay so-called recapture payments to the state as part of the “Robin Hood” program that siphons money from property wealthy school districts to give to property poor ones.

Morath, who leads the Texas Education Agency, said school districts will need to apply for the funds with the state and pay any recapture money not need for Harvey recovery. First, districts will have to exhaust their insurance and federal aid before trying to tap that money, he said.

“They have to have exhausted all their other funding sources first,” said Morath.

See here for the background. I get it, we want to make sure that all sources of recovery revenue are fully tapped. Let’s just make sure this doesn’t turn into a reason to nickel-and-dime the school districts, or to bury them under paperwork. The priority is the kids and their schools and teachers. We should not lose sight of that.

In related news, the state may make a bigger commitment to helping school districts recover.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Education Commissioner Mike Morath signaled Wednesday that the state will use rainy day funds to help schools saddled with Hurricane Harvey-related expenses, but the chances are slim that the state will delay state standardized tests planned for next spring.

Patrick, a Houston Republican, made vows to close to 45 superintendents from storm damaged areas in southeast Texas that he would support holding funding at current levels for school districts losing students due to Harvey, and for increasing money for school systems gaining displaced students.


Morath’s statements came one day after Patrick met with superintendents vowing state aid for storm-related costs not covered by insurance or the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The promise came during a meeting Tuesday between Patrick and administrators of school districts affected by flooding.

In a press release sent late Wednesday, Patrick doubled down on that support, but stopped short of promising the state would cover all costs not covered by insurance plans and federal agencies.

The state aid could help prevent deep financial cuts in the hardest-hit school districts, and it could keep districts’ “rainy day” funds intact. Several districts, including Houston and Aldine ISDs, dipped into their reserve funds this year to balance their budgets.

In a statement, Humble ISD Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen said Patrick “made it clear that it was his goal for districts to be made whole financially, both in terms of funding related to student attendance and facility repairs.” District officials don’t have an estimate of storm-related costs, but Kingwood High School, home to 2,800 students, will be closed for at least several months due to flood damage.

“The state’s intent to protect schools will help make a very difficult year more manageable, and we are encouraged,” Fagen said.

I’m glad, but I’m not inclined to take Dan Patrick’s word on anything, so I’ll want to see how this plays out. I can’t think of a good reason why the state shouldn’t completely fill any gaps that are left by insurance and the feds. There’s plenty of money in the Rainy Day Fund, and using it in this fashion would help districts avoid painful cuts or possibly tax increases. There needs to be a commitment to getting every district, school, and student back to where they were before the storm. If that’s asking for a lot, well, Harvey did a lot of damage. Are we going to shrug our shoulders, or are we going to be up to the challenge?

HISD may get a recapture reprieve thanks to Harvey

Talk about a mixed blessing.

The Houston Independent School District may be able to avoid paying part – or perhaps all – of its over $100 million state-mandated recapture payment.

The potential reprieve comes after a school board lawyer found a state law allows districts that suffer storm damage to use recapture dollars to help campuses get back on their feet.


David Thompson, an attorney for Houston ISD’s Board of Education, said the law is meant to allow districts to use what they would have paid to the state to cover disaster-related costs not covered by insurance or FEMA.

“Think of all the things districts spend money on that you can’t insure or reimburse,” Thompson said. “All the thousands of personnel hours, the transportation costs after all the bus routes are out the window and kids are scattered in different areas.”

Thompson said he doubts the law will allow the district to get out of paying its entire recapture bills for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 fiscal years, which could be over $200 million next year alone. But he said the law will still allow the district to keep a “significant” amount of its local money.

Well, I’m glad that law, which was passed in 2009 after Hurricane Ike, is on the books, and I’m extra glad that David Thompson was sharp enough to remember it and bring it to the state’s attention. The story doesn’t indicate what the process is for this, though I’d imagine that it’s up to the TEA to decide how much recapture money HISD gets to keep and how many times it gets to apply this exemption. HISD’s total costs for Harvey are higher than a couple years’ worth of recapture payments so it’s not a complete solution, but this sure will help. We’ll have to see how the Board makes up the difference.

Don’t expect any STAAR slack

Sorry, kids.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Wednesday morning that the state was not likely to let students displaced by Hurricane Harvey delay a required state test this school year — or to change the way school districts are graded at the end of the school year.

“I would say, given the information I have, it doesn’t look likely that we would be able to make too many changes on assessment, and for that matter, on accountability,” Morath told the State Board of Education. “We haven’t made any final decisions yet. But we still want to make sure students know how to read, write and do math.”

Educators and advocates for fewer state tests said they were dismayed by Morath’s statement and hope he will consider waiving requirements for southeast Texas districts that have had to postpone classes. State Rep. Dan Huberty, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he has heard from constituents on the matter and will hold a public hearing in the next few weeks to consider how the Legislature can help schools impacted by August’s storm.

Huberty, a Houston Republican, said he plans to invite educators from all impacted schools to testify.


“We had a dramatic and traumatic event just occur that affected so many folks in the southeast Texas area,” said Bret Champion, superintendent of Klein ISD, located just north of Houston. “We absolutely are about teaching rigorous material around academics, but we also provide for an awful lot of social-emotional wellness” for traumatized students.

Champion suggested the state consider moving the test dates back. Klein ISD students missed seven days of classes, as administrators surveyed flooded buildings. Teachers and students are still cleaning out flooded homes, and some have lost everything. “A little more time to be able to assess that would be helpful,” he said.

Two advisory groups of educators, legislative representatives and businesspeople meet twice a year to discuss the accountability system for school districts and advise Morath on how to implement it. Laura Yeager, who has served as an adviser for the past two years, said she will bring up waiving accountability grades for school districts at the upcoming October meeting.

“I’m not sure how they can rate a district or student on growth when they have lost or gained so many students,” said Yeager, who is also a board member of Texans Advocating for Meaningful State Assessment, which has lobbied the Legislature for fewer state tests.

I hope Commissioner Morath will take his time making a final decision. Champion and Yeager have both raised valid concerns that should be taken seriously. It may be that displaced students will do just fine and the overall effect of Harvey will be minimal, but if it isn’t there shouldn’t be a penalty for that. Morath and the TEA need to keep an open mind about this.

Endorsement watch: HGLBT Political Caucus, CVPE, and GPS

From the inbox:

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC met on September 9, 2017. At the meeting the membership voted to endorse the following candidates:

Kara DeRocha for HISD School Board Trustee – District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca for HISD School Board Trustee – District VI

Anne Sung for HISD School Board Trustee – District VII

Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for HCC Trustee – District IV

Pretta Vandible Stallworth for HCC Trustee – District IX

We also voted to endorse the following propositions:

Propositions A, B, C, D and E

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC will hold a public forum on September 22, 2017 at 7pm at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Montrose, Room 217A & B. (Enter through the North Entrance on Hawthorne Street where the parking lot is located.) The public forum will highlight Elizabeth Santos, Gretchen Himsl and Monica Flores Richart, candidates for HISD School Board Trustee – District I. The membership will take an endorsement vote at the end of the public forum. The Membership will also vote on the recommendation of the screening committee in the HISD School Board race for District III.

I was just saying that we are only now beginning to see campaign activity again post-Harvey, and a part of that is the group endorsement process. The GLBT Caucus endorsements hit my mailbox late on Sunday, and on Monday I found out about a couple of others that have come out. Here’s Community Voices for Public Education:

Elizabeth Santos in HISD District 1
Kara DeRocha in HISD District 5
Holly Flynn Vilaseca in HISD District 6
Anne Sung in HISD District 7

CVPE members voted to not endorse in District 9 and will screen HISD District 3 candidates in the near future.

Yes, everyone is going to have to go over this again once the filing deadline comes for District III, which was extended to allow people enough time to make the decision to run following Manuel Rodriguez’s death. I am aware of one candidate in District III so far, and I am sure there will be others.

One more set of endorsements, from Houstonians for Great Public Schools:

District I – Gretchen Himsl

District V – Sue Deigaard

District VI – Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

District VII – Anne Sung

District IX – Wanda Adams

I’ll post more as I see them. I suppose it’s well past time for me to create an Election 2017 page to track all this, too.

What will this school year be like?

School has finally started for most of HISD and many surrounding districts, but with the devastation and disruption of Harvey, what can we expect from this academic year?

Many students in Houston ISD lost everything – their homes, their school supplies, their clothes, their toys.

Some are staying in the mega-shelters at the George R. Brown Convention Center and NRG Park. Others were flown by military helicopter to Dallas and San Antonio, where they have already started school. Still more are shaken after being plucked from their flooded homes by boats and Humvees.

With more than 600,000 Houston-area students set to return to the classroom Monday, teachers and school officials wonder how many will show up – and if they’ll be ready to learn.

And at some schools, business as usual will be a distant memory.

“It’s hard to focus on the lesson of the day when you’re worried about, ‘How is my home? How is my family?” said Ezemenari Obasi, associate dean for research in the University of Houston’s College of Education. “Those questions and worries become more salient than the lesson plan at school.”


While school can help provide some sense of normalcy, Obasi said paying attention to lessons and regurgitating a year’s worth of knowledge during hours-long standardized tests could prove much more difficult for flood-affected students.

He said the brain’s ability to focus can be severely hampered after experiencing significant anxiety, especially for children and teens’ whose brains are still developing.

“It’s really difficult to assess a person’s capacity when they’re not 100 percent available to focus and attempt the task,” Obasi said. “Many things we measure in schools involve students having to focus. They have to have good spatial processing or cognitive abilities, and if you can’t focus, it’s going to be extremely difficult to do anything, let alone ace an important standardized test.”

Obasi said stress can cause a host of physical and mental ailments, from sleeplessness and an inability to concentrate in the short-term to addiction and diabetes in the long-term.

Exhaustion is a real concern, Obasi said, as many have issues falling asleep and staying asleep during times of significant stress. On top of that, anxiety can hamper the brain’s ability each morning to release cortisol, a hormone that helps people get out of bed and going, making such tasks exponentially more tiresome for students.

Then there are the constant distractions – random triggers that will remind students of the worst days of their lives, questions about where their family will live, uncertainty about where their next meal will come from.

There are so many challenges facing HISD this year, from schools that aren’t ready to open and in some cases may never be to teachers who are still dealing with their own damaged houses and cars to students who have been displaced to points unknown. Indeed, quite a few of these students are now homeless, for who knows how long.

The Texas Homeless Education Office estimates that about 35,000 to 40,000 students have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. On top of that, more than 200 school districts and charter schools statewide canceled or delayed classes, some indefinitely.

Jeanne Stamp, the office’s director, said some families have relocated to Dallas and San Antonio but Houston is sure to see their already large number of homeless children balloon.

Federal protections require schools to immediately enroll children who have lost their regular homes, including those affected by a natural disaster.

That federal law allows homeless children to either stay in the school they were attending or enroll in the school in the neighborhood where they are currently staying, with transportation costs divided equally between the two districts if there’s a funding dispute.

The Texas “Third Choice” law goes even further, allowing homeless students the choice to enroll in any school district in the state, regardless of their school of origin or the location of the place where they are staying.

But the state law doesn’t require transportation to be provided, something Michael Santos, an attorney with the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, urged schools to offer in order to comply with the over-arching federal law.

“That falls under the obligation to remove barriers for the student attending school,” Santos said. “Transportation is controversial and it’s expensive.”

For Houston, the transportation issue could be even more heightened as many displaced families are likely to have to commute across the sprawling metro area, between where they want to go to school and where they’re stuck sleeping at night.

“Sometimes public bus passes help get kids to school. Sometimes parents have a vehicle but don’t have funds for gas,” Stamp said. “It is a very costly piece of the service but it’s a necessarily piece of the service.”

Hey, you know what one of the ancillary effects of HISD going into recapture was? They lost state funding for transportation. Hell of a time for that to happen, with all these students needing to travel farther to go to school, right? Layered on top of all that is the takeover threat from the TEA if certain campuses don’t show sufficient improvement on the STAAR test. I don’t know how the state can enforce that threat in good conscience this year given the extreme exogenous circumstances HISD must deal with, but as yet there’s been no discussion, let alone decisions, to that effect.

The point is that this was going to be a tough year for HISD no matter what, but before Harvey hit you could see a path to holding off the TEA from doing anything undesirable. It’s a lot harder to see such a path now. And as bad as HISD has it, some others have it worse. This is why some folks are petitioning for a halt to STAAR testing for the ISDs affected by Harvey. I don’t think that will get anywhere, and to be honest I’m not sure that it should. But I do know that the TEA and the Lege need to take a far more measured approach to accountability this year. No one – no student, no school, no district – should be penalized for having to go through all this.

Harvey and the elections

Labor Day weekend of odd-numbered years is considered to be the opening weekend of Houston election season. The filing deadline has passed, so the fields are set and people (supposedly, at least) begin to pay attention. Candidate forums are held, endorsements are made, Chronicle candidate profiles are written, that sort of thing. Sure, some candidates have been at it for weeks if not months, but by tradition this is when things are officially underway.

This was always going to be a weird year in Houston, as we were either going to have no city elections or a mad dash for candidates and campaigns to get up and running, thanks to the 2015 term limits referendum and subsequent litigation. As someone who follows these things closely, I was partly enjoying the lull and partly beginning to fret about getting candidate interviews done for the HISD and HCC races we will have.

And then Harvey came to call. In addition to the devastation and misery, as well as triumph of the spirit, it has knocked the usual campaign schedule for a huge loop. I know of at least one candidate whose house flooded, but every candidate has suspended their campaign activities, out of respect for the victims and to pitch in for the recovery. I have no idea at this point when enough of us will feel normal enough to get back to the usual business of running for office and picking candidates to vote for. Election Day is November 7, so early voting will begin October 23. I think it’s safe to say we’re going to get that mad dash to the finish line, though likely with a lot of hearts not really in it. Though I totally understand this, it is a bit of a concern. HISD has even more challenges ahead of it, and two-thirds of its Trustee seats are up for a vote. Three Trustees are stepping down. One Trustee was appointed earlier this year to fill out the term of a Trustee who resigned. Another Trustee won a special election last December for the same reason. Only one Trustee who had previously been elected to a full term is on the ballot, current Board President Wanda Adams, and she has several opponents. The HISD Board will be somewhere between “very different” and “completely remade” net year. It’s a pretty big deal. The HCC Board has three contested elections, two for Trustees who won special elections to fill out terms, and one to succeed the disgraced Chris Oliver. Again, the potential for change is big.

The good news, I suppose, is that while basically no one is paying attention to any of these races, there are at least fewer races for them to not pay attention to. Imagine if we had a full slate of city elections going on now, too. Campaigns attract money and volunteer energy, two things that are desperately needed for Harvey relief right now. I have to say, I’m not unhappy with the way events in the term limits lawsuit played out.

Two more things. Harvey’s destruction was not limited to houses. It flooded out churches, schools, community centers, government offices, and many other places. Some roads are still under water, and Metro has not yet fully restored bus service – you can’t have buses on roads that are under water, after all. Some of these places are places where voting happens. Some of them may be ready by October 22/November 7, some may not be. Some may not be ready by next March, when the 2018 primaries are currently scheduled. It would be nice to know what kind of shape our polling locations are in, and what the contingency plans are for the sites that may not be ready in time. One possible solution, as put forth by Nonsequiteuse, is to allow people to vote wherever they can/wherever they want to. For a low-turnout odd-year election like this, a bunch of precinct polling places were always going to be combined anyway. It’s a small step from there to say that all polling locations will be open to all voters, as they are during early voting.

Also, too: Remember how I said that there will not be a Rebuild Houston re-vote on the ballot this November, but we should expect one maybe next year? This leads me to wonder, what exactly is the argument at this point to put this up for another vote? More to the point, what is the argument against having a dedicated fund, paid for by a fee charged to property owners based on their impermeable cover, these days? After reading enough hot takes on how a lack of zoning and unchecked development are to blame for Harvey to make me gag, I can only imagine what kind of punditry would be getting committed if we also had a ReBuild re-vote in two months. The principle at the heart of this litigation was that the people (supposedly) didn’t know what they were voting on because the ballot language was unclear. Does anyone think we’re still unclear on this now? Just a thought.

Most but not all HISD schools will open Monday

Here’s the latest.

Nine storm-damaged Houston ISD campuses will remain temporarily closed when many district students return to classes for the fall following a two-week delay caused by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza said Thursday. Meanwhile, students at nearly 80 schools won’t return to classes until either Sept. 18 or Sept. 25.

District officials released specific campus information about the nine schools that won’t immediately re-open. They are Scarborough, Hilliard, Robinson, Mitchell, Kolter, Braeburn and Askew elementary schools; Burbank Middle School; and Liberty High School

Those campuses were home to about 6,500 students in the 2016-17 school year, with all serving between 450 students and 950 students.

“Some of those schools will probably not open for the rest of the school year,” Carranza said. “Some schools will have co-location for a matter of weeks, sometimes months, and in some cases, longer than that.”

Information about where students from the storm-damaged schools will start classes, as well as information about which schools will open on Sept. 18 or Sept. 25, was to be released Thursday evening. Of the district’s 284 schools, 202 will be ready to open on Monday, Carranza said.

See here for the full announcement, and here for the database where you can look up your school’s opening date. Both of the schools my girls attend are among the 202 opening on the 11th, which had been the previous goal for all schools. Circumstances change, and you can’t send kids to a school that isn’t safe for them. It’s gonna be a hell of a year. The Press has more.

The case for calling a Harvey special session

Rep. Gene Wu disagrees with Greg Abbott’s decision.

Rep. Gene Wu

The historic level of damage and suffering caused by Harvey requires that we tap into our state’s Rainy Day Fund. Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to not call a special session of the Texas Legislature to access emergency funding will worsen the long-term economic effects of one of the most powerful storms to ever land on our shores.

Abbott has stated that there is no need for a special session, implicitly saying that there is no need to tap into the Economic Stabilization Fund — our state’s savings account, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund — and that existing resources are sufficient to deal with the widespread devastation caused by Harvey.

However, if there has been one lesson that I’ve learned in my three terms in the Legislature, it’s that existing resources are never adequate in Texas. Our schools continue to be some of the worst funded in the nation, half of our rural hospitals are on the verge of closing, and we barely maintain our existing infrastructure. Texas mostly skates by on a combination of luck and creative accounting. But more importantly, what we have budgeted for are common occurrences and normal disasters. The historic level of damage from Harvey is anything but common.


The Rainy Day Fund is available right now. The Texas Legislature needs to only meet for a few days and send a bill to the governor to access the funds. There is strong bipartisan support because members understand the desperate need for a quick response. In this past legislative session, conservative members argued that the fund should not be used for “reoccurring” expenses because we needed to save it for one-time emergencies. This is that emergency.

The state could provide immediate, low-interest or no-interest small loans to help businesses rebuild quickly. The money could go to help Houston ISD to repair the more than 200 schools that suffered flood damage, including 53 with critical damage. Harris County could use the funds to expedite repairs so that courts and the jury assembly center are not closed for the next three months. Outside of the Houston area, entire cities need to be rebuilt. Simply leaving local counties and municipalities on their own to rebuild means a slower recovery — possibly causing businesses to close or leave our state, and taking jobs with them.

See here for the background. I guess I’m not fully clear on what the Legislative Budget Board can and cannot do, and what gaps there would be if only the LBB gets to act. I do think Rep. Wu is right on about appropriating money to the schools and school districts that have been heavily damaged by Harvey. I can’t think of a better use of Rainy Day Fund money than to make schools safe and available for students again. Again, if the LBB can do this, great. It will be a lot less messy that way – I mean, if you think the jackasses of the Freedom Caucus won’t try to screw with an emergency appropriations bill for school repairs, I have to ask what Legislature you’ve been watching – but if the LBB can’t do that, then a special session it needs to be.

Many schools were damaged by Harvey

This will add so much more disruption to the Harvey recovery efforts.

More than 10,000 Houston Independent School District students are expected to start classes in temporary quarters as officials work to repair hundreds of campuses damaged by Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza said Saturday.

Carranza said the district still plans to start school on Sept. 11, though officials have not yet decided which campuses will be temporarily closed or where displaced students will be sent. Those calls will be made no earlier than Tuesday, he said.

“There is that slight chance there will be a delay past Sept. 11, but we’re working with all due haste to make sure we’re going to meet that deadline,” Carranza said. “There has always been the caveat that we will not put students and staff in harm’s way.”

The damage estimates come as school districts across the Houston area struggled to open their doors after widespread flooding. Cy-Fair ISD on Saturday pushed its start date back to Sept. 11, citing sewage issues at several schools.

Humble ISD set a Sept. 7 return date, but alerted parents Saturday that Kingwood High School could be closed all year.

“Flood waters devastated KHS,” according to a notice posted on the district’s website. “The building is unsafe and unhealthy.”


In Houston ISD, at least 200 of the 245 schools inspected were found to have sustained damage, officials said. Of those, 53 sustained “major” damage and 22 had “extensive” damage, the most severe label given by district officials.

Another 30 or so schools were still being inspected, including 15 that had been inaccessible because of severe flooding around the buildings, HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said early Saturday. The district operates 280 schools.

“There may be a situation where a school is so badly damaged that we may not be able to re-open that school,” Carranza said, after a tour of waterlogged Hilliard Elementary in northeast Houston on Saturday. “It’s too early right now to make that call.”

There’s too much to try to capture in excerpts, so go read the rest. Pretty much everything is on the table – sharing school buildings with different shifts for classes, busing kids to other schools, who knows what else. How will this affect things like STAAR testing and the TEA takeover threat that the district faces? No one knows right now. It’s going to be a crazy, disjointed, bizarre year, here and in other districts. Honestly, given that some districts that were directly in the path of Harvey when it was still a hurricane are unable to function at all and will have to send their students to another district altogether, it could be worse. It’s still pretty bad, and it will be bad all year. We will get through it, but it’s going to take a lot of effort and in the end a huge amount of money.

HISD will begin classes on September 11

Another week off for students.

As Houston ISD continues to sort out which of its schools were damaged in Tropical Storm Harvey, school officials are postponing the start of the school year until Sept. 11, two weeks after school was supposed to start.

In an email to campus leaders, Houston ISD said school administrators in Texas’ largest school district will report for duty on Sept. 5, while teachers will report to their schools Sept. 8. Students will return Sept. 11.

Superintendent Richard Carranza told the Chronicle more than 35 campuses have been damaged in the storm, though its unclear how many of those sustained extensive damage and how many received minor damage.

“We are eager to get our students back into the classroom and learning. We want to provide the stability of a routine, as well as the three nutritious meals a day that so many of our families depend on,” said HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza. “But we also need to be sure that our campuses are safe and that Houston’s infrastructure and roads are ready to handle transporting our students safely to school. Our team is currently assessing any damages to our more than 280 schools from Hurricane Harvey, and I want to thank them for their efforts.”

In the email to principals, Carranza wrote that at least seven campuses would be re-routing students or would start a bit later. The email did not specify which schools were among the seven.

See here for the official announcement. I’m sure everyone, including most of the students, are ready to get back to school, as doing so will help restore a sense of normalcy. It’s hard to fault the district for wanting to ensure that all their facilities are safe first. Good luck to everyone figuring out what to do with their kids for another week.

A smattering of Harvey news

If you are among the lucky ones whose house or apartment remained dry and you want to help those in need, here’s a handy guide to where and how to volunteer. If you want to go to the George R. Brown to help at that shelter, they have a real need for people to work the night shifts. There are lots of smaller shelters, many outside Houston, that could really use your help.

Via Swamplot, here’s a crowdsourced map with more information. Find a need and do something about it.

If what you can give is money, the Greater Houston Community Foundation remains a fine option, though there are plenty of others worthy of support.

All HISD students will receive three free meals per day this year. The HISD Foundation, which exists to help students, is also accepting donations to help families recover from Harvey.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg has also set up a Harvey relief fund, which you can donate to here.

Port Aransas was truly devastated by Harvey.

Houston’s airports will reopen today. Metro buses will return to service on some core routes on Thursday.

The Astros will return to Minute Maid on Saturday.

Even monster trucks were pressed into rescue service during the height of Harvey.

Michael Skelley and Anne Whitlock have set an example for us all. In a slightly different universe, Skelley would be in Congress.

Former Houston mayor Bill White, who welcomed some 200,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees, was himself displaced by Harvey. He, along with former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and former Houston Mayor Annise Parker are now assisting Harris County officials with the shelter at NRG Stadium.

Whatever your status was and is during Harvey, undocumented immigrants have more to deal with and worry about.

HISD cancels classes for a week

Another effect of Harvey.

Houston Independent School District schools and offices will be closed all week, from Monday, Aug. 28 through Friday, Sept. 1, due to widespread damage from Tropical Storm Harvey.

HISD officials have been closely monitoring the forecast and have determined that the storms and heavy rains that affected parts of the city make conditions too dangerous for school to begin any sooner. Many in our HISD family will be dealing with the task of cleaning up the damage Harvey left behind. As a result, all HISD schools and district administrative offices will be closed all week.

Schools and offices are expected to reopen at their regularly scheduled time on Tuesday, Sept. 5. (Monday, Sept. 4 is the Labor Day holiday.)

For additional updates, please visit, or call the HISD Inclement Weather Hotline at 713-556-9595. You can sign up for HISD text message alerts to receive updates on school weather conditions by texting YES to 68453. You also can follow the district on Twitter and Facebook: and

Other school districts are taking similar action. As I told my daughters yesterday morning when this news was announced, expect to start summer vacation a week later as a result. Sorry, kids.

As for the overall effects of Harvey, well, Houston’s worst storm on record is a succinct summary. I was checking Facebook all day yesterday and kept seeing updates from friends who had evacuated their homes, were dealing with water in their homes, or were hoping that the water wouldn’t get any closer. I’m high and dry, but there’s basically no way into or out of my neighborhood right now. It’s an amazingly helpless feeling, accompanied by a strong sense of guilt for being one of the lucky ones. If you want to help, here’s one way:

Because of the devastating and widespread flooding already seen in the Greater Houston area from Hurricane Harvey, United Way of Greater Houston has established a Flood Relief Fund to help with the recovery needs of those most impacted. All monies raised by United Way’s Flood Relief Fund will be used to help with both immediate, basic needs and long-term recovery services such as case management and minor home repair.

“Our first priority will be safety, shelter and basic needs such as food and essentials for those affected,” said Anna M. Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. “Once the community is stabilized, then United Way will focus on long-term recovery efforts. Since this situation is still unfolding, we realize the needs will be great.”

As a leading community resource in times of disaster, United Way invests in first response efforts through its partnerships with organizations such as American Red Cross and Salvation Army. Babin explained that United Way of Greater Houston maintains a disaster reserve fund, which will be tapped for this storm effort, however because of the widespread devastation already seen, the needs of those impacted will far exceed existing resources.

Babin added that, following disastrous storm events like Hurricane Harvey, United Way serves as the convening organization to bring together non-profit and community partners as well as civic and government stakeholders from throughout the Greater Houston area to coordinate recovery efforts, both assessing the needs and providing support where it is needed most.

In addition, United Way operates 2-1-1 Texas / United Way HELPLINE which is the community’s key information source before, during and after a storm. United Way’s 2-1-1 is the one call for those impacted who don’t know where to call, providing the most updated information on shelters, basic needs assistance and,once the flood waters subside, long-term recovery support.

“We know that damage from a storm of Harvey’s magnitude can be a major setback for individuals and families, especially the most vulnerable,” said Babin. “We also know that Houston is a very generous and caring community, so we are urging those who can help to please do so by contributing to the flood relief fund.”

Go here to make a donation, or text UWFLOOD to 41444. If you want other ways to help, Texas Monthly compiled a handy list for you. Thanks, and stay safe.

HISD cancels classes on Monday

Hello, Harvey.

Not that Harvey

All HISD campuses and administrative offices will be closed on Monday, Aug. 28 and all campus and district activities canceled due to the threat of inclement weather.

Classes are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, Aug. 29. However, the district will continue to monitor developing weather conditions and will determine whether classes can safely resume on Tuesday. The district will make that decision by noon on Sunday, Aug. 27.

All HISD campus-based activities and district events – including professional development and recruiting sessions – taking place after 2 p.m. are canceled for Friday, Aug. 25. In addition, the Houston ISD Athletic Department is canceling all athletic activities for Friday, Aug. 25 and Saturday, Aug. 26. This cancellation includes, practices, scrimmages and any scheduled games.

As a precaution, all non-essential employees at school campuses and central office will be dismissed by 2 p.m. Friday. Essential employees, including facility and transportation staff, will be released at a time determined by their department. HISD officials are monitoring the weather, and should it be necessary, the dismissal time will be updated to an earlier hour.

For additional updates, please monitor or call the HISD Inclement Weather Hotline at 713-556-9595. We also encourage HISD staff and parents to sign up for text alerts to receive the most up-to-date information on school closures or delays by texting YES to 68453. Please ensure your number is updated with your school. You can also follow the district on Twitter and Facebook: and

I presume by now that you’ve figured out what your emergency supply needs are and where you can get information about Hurricane Harvey, so I’ll spare myself the work of posting a bunch of links. That said, Space City Weather is a great resource, and you should check it regularly. This thing has gotten pretty damn big, and it could be quite damaging to Corpus Christi and points nearby. Stay safe, and for crying out loud if you must be on the roads be careful and don’t drive into any high water. Don’t make the news for a bad reason, OK?

No charter amendments on the fall ballot

Just bonds, school board and HCC races, and the mostly boring constitutional amendments. Oh, and Heights Alcohol 2.0, if you live there.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston voters will face $1.5 billion in city bonds and nine community college or school board races this November, but will not be asked whether to give firefighters a pay raise or change the pension plans given to new city employees.

Monday was the last day on which candidates could file for the November ballot, and on which local governments could call an election. That means the clock ran out on the citizen-submitted petitions seeking the change in city pensions and backing the firefighters’ push for pay “parity” with police officers of corresponding rank.

There are exceptions to Monday’s deadline. Houston ISD trustee Manuel Rodriguez’s death in July means candidates looking to fill his seat have until Sept. 6 to file for office. Candidates who meet today’s filing deadline also can withdraw from the ballot as late as Aug. 28.

In broad terms, however, the fall election campaign is set.


State law sets no deadline by which petitions seeking changes to a city charter must be tallied.

“We’ve always done first one in, first one out,” City Secretary Anna Russell said late Friday. “We are still working on the 401(k) (petition) as we do our regular work.”

The petitions, if validated by Russell’s office, could be included on a May ballot.

And I think that’s fine, and will likely allow for a more focused discussion of that issue as there won’t be anything else for Houston voters to consider; the 401(k) item no longer has anyone advocating it, so the pay parity proposal would be all there is. Given the lack of city elections on this November’s ballot, it’s not clear that a May 2018 referendum would have much less turnout, especially if both sides spend money on it. I’m sure the firefighters wanted their issue to be voted on now, but having to wait till May is hardly an abomination.

I hope to have a finalized list of candidates for HISD and HCC soon. HISD has some candidate information here, but there’s not a similar page for HCC. I’ve got a query in to find out who’s running for what and will report back later. I’m starting on the interviews for 2017, and will have an Election 2017 page up in the next week or so.