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HISD Board of Trustees

Carranza’s parting shot

I’ve been sitting with this for a couple of days, and ultimately decided it was not worth much more than a shrug.

Former Houston ISD superintendent Richard Carranza did not mince words in an interview published this week about his disappointment in HISD’s failure to pass major reforms he championed during his 18-month tenure, suggesting the district lacked the appetite for changes that would boost outcomes for lower-income and minority students.

“As soon as I left, it seemed like people just didn’t have the stomach to take the fight,” Carranza, who left to become chancellor of New York City public schools in April, said in an article published by The Atlantic.

In a couple of parting shots four months after leaving from Houston, Carranza told the news magazine that HISD leaders have resisted changes that would benefit historically underserved students, creating inequitable access to quality education among students from all backgrounds. His comments cut to key questions about the district’s dedication to impoverished and minority students, while also raising the specter that Carranza’s abrupt departure contributed to the proposals stalling.

In The Atlantic article, which largely focused on his immediate reform efforts in New York City, the 51-year-old lamented HISD’s current campus funding model and the geographic layout of its magnet schools, which he said have favored students from more affluent and white backgrounds. In the months before his departure, Carranza proposed shifting toward a more centralized funding model that largely would benefit schools in lower-income and predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

[…]

“Carranza didn’t leave any definite plans on the table. Only ideals,” HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “For me, there were conceptual changes that were never fully vetted or fleshed out by the administration.”

The district also was dealing with a large budget deficit and contentious plans to surrender control over 10 chronically low-performing schools, prompting a few trustees to question whether HISD was tackling too much at one time.

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan ultimately shelved the plan a month after Carranza announced his move to New York, pledging a committee to study the district’s resource allocation methods. That committee is scheduled to meet in private for the first time on Aug. 7, with recommendations provided to HISD administrators by December. Forty members have been invited, though not all have committed to date, HISD officials said.

HISD trustees largely have agreed the district’s magnet school system needs reform, but they have been unable to agree on the extent of needed changes. Various community factions also have been divided on whether to tweak the system, including a vocal grass-roots group that lobbied against Carranza’s proposal this year.

Carranza’s proposals, which as Skillern-Jones rightly notes were more big picture ideals than detailed plans, did run into resistance, but then all big changes do. You need to put in a lot of effort and resources to show what will happen and why it will be better and what the short-term costs will be and just generally educate, engage, and get buy-in from an array of stakeholders who will be directly affected and may have concerns about things you hadn’t thought of. It’s certainly possible that the resistance will be too fierce to fully overcome and that what ends up getting implemented is a series of patches and compromises and watered-down versions of your original vision, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’d be more inclined to take Carranza’s complaints seriously if he’d been in town longer than five minutes and had done some of the real work that was and still is going to be needed to make such big changes.

HISD is optimistic about not being taken over (yet)

I hope it’s warranted.

Several of Houston ISD’s longest-struggling elementary and middle schools posted significant gains on state standardized tests in 2018, including all three campuses that must meet Texas academic standards this year to avoid triggering major sanctions, according to preliminary data released this week by the district and the Texas Education Agency.

District leaders are “hopeful” those strong gains will be enough for HISD to stave off campus closures or a state takeover of its locally-elected school board when final results are released in mid-August, a top HISD administrator said this week. At the same time, a few of the district’s chronically underperforming schools appear less likely to meet state standards this year, putting HISD at risk of punishment next year if those campuses do not show immediate improvement.

The largely positive results offer another glimmer of hope for HISD as it seeks to avoid state intervention tied to its failure to improve performance at its lowest-performing schools in recent years, a possibility that has roiled the district for months. District officials already were buoyed by an earlier release of preliminary data, which showed strong gains in grades 5 and 8, as well as high schools. The latest data include results for grades 3, 4, 6 and 7, providing a fuller picture of elementary and middle school performance.

Headed into the 2017-18 school year, 10 HISD schools had to meet state academic standards to avoid triggering sanctions after receiving at least four straight “improvement required” annual ratings. However, it is expected six of those schools will receive a one-year academic accountability reprieve due to Hurricane Harvey, leaving four campuses — Mading and Wesley elementary schools, Woodson PK-8 and Worthing High School — at risk of triggering punishment this year.

HISD administrators said they cannot yet conclude whether those four campuses will meet standards before Aug. 15, when the state makes it official. However, after analyzing the available test scores and reviewing Texas’ revised accountability system, district staff are cautiously optimistic all four campuses will shed the “improvement required” label.

“We’re hopeful. The data looked good for the campuses,” Carla Stevens, HISD’s assistant superintendent of research and accountability, said in an interview this week. “You can see there’s progress for a lot of these schools, and that’s what we’re counting on.”

See here for the background. Obviously, I hope they make it, but even if they do there will still be next year to contend with, as the schools who qualify for the waiver will need to be up to standard by then, so there’s no time to relax. We’ll know the answer in a few weeks.

HISD approves its budget

In the end, they took what they initially rejected.

Houston ISD trustees unanimously passed a $2 billion budget Monday that is nearly identical to the one they narrowly rejected two weeks ago, signing off on significant cuts and agreeing to draw as much as $17 million from the district’s rainy-day fund.

At an hourlong early-morning meeting, trustees said they wanted to pass balanced budgets after back-to-back years of dipping into reserves, but they ultimately approved the spending plan ahead of a June 30 deadline.

[…]

The approved budget calls for about $83 million in spending cuts, which will result in hundreds of layoffs of support service staff. Hundreds of teaching positions also will be eliminated, but HISD administrators said they expect the vast majority of those jobs will be cut through attrition.

The budget includes about $17 million in new spending on dyslexia services, special education, the district’s plan for low-performing campuses and a comprehensive outside performance review. Trustees shaved about $1.5 million off the projected shortfall in recent days by choosing to use the state’s Legislative Budget Board for the performance review instead of a third-party vendor.

Trustees approved a budget last year that used $106 million in reserves to cover a shortfall and pay for raises ranging from 2 to 4 percent for many staff members, though they ultimately used less rainy-day money than expected.

At the June 14 budget meeting, several trustees said they were reluctant to tap reserves again, even on a smaller scale.

Glenn Reed, HISD’s general manager of budgeting and financial planning, said the district likely will not spend as much as is currently budgeted, and it could receive more tax revenue than was projected. As a result, Reed said: “I don’t expect to dip into our reserves next year.”

Administrators built the plan assuming a 1 percent increase in property values, but the Harris County Appraisal District expects HISD to see a 2 percent increase. Concerns about property appraisal appeals related to Hurricane Harvey led to the conservative projection.

HISD is expected to have about $275 million in reserves at the end of June, equal to about a month and a half of operating expenses. District officials have recommended keeping at least 3 months’ worth of operating expenses in reserve to cover emergency costs.

See here for the background. They could have done this last week, but it was definitely more exciting this way. In all seriousness, I get the urge to not want to dip into the reserve fund again, but 1) given the justifiably conservative revenue estimates that the district will almost certainly exceed, they probably won’t need to, and 2) sometimes the alternatives are worse. This was one of those times, so good call on taking the original path. The Press has more.

Achieve 180 schools show encouraging gains

Some good news we could all use.

One year into Achieve 180, early results show marked improvement at many of the district’s chronically underperforming schools. After years of falling behind academically, the 42 schools covered under HISD’s targeted improvement plan reported, on average, about twice as much academic growth as students across the state and district, according to preliminary state standardized test scores released in recent weeks.

In interviews and presentations over the past month, HISD administrators heralded the early results as evidence the district is raising achievement in schools that long have ranked among the worst in the region. Several of those schools have drawn additional scrutiny as the district faces potentially major sanctions — either a state takeover of HISD’s locally elected school board or forced campus closures — if they do not immediately improve.

HISD did not earn an A-plus across the board — English test scores at its longest-struggling high schools barely moved, and parts of the Achieve 180 plan fell flatter than expected — but the results were enough to raise spirits in a district besieged by the threat of sanctions tied to poor academic performance.

“Any time you see growth in any one of our campuses, you’re happy,” said Erick Pruitt, HISD’s area superintendent over 32 of its 42 Achieve 180 schools. “However, our team is not satisfied with the growth.”

[…]

CJ Rodgers, the principal of a Chicago Public Schools turnaround campus affiliated with the Academy For Urban Leadership, a nonprofit that helps operate low-performing schools in the city, said it is common for test scores to rise immediately when chronically struggling campuses receive intensive support.

“We spent the entire first year really re-establishing routines, how we want to do school, and that goes from the students to staff to lunch room to custodians to teachers,” Rodgers said. “I think the difficult part about this work is how you sustain it.”

HISD leaders have said they want Achieve 180 to last at least three years, and the district’s proposed budget included an additional $3 million for the plan this year. Trustees rejected the budget proposal on June 14, though they are expected to vote on a revised proposal this week.

However, it also is possible Achieve 180 gets short-circuited in the coming months. Under a law passed in 2015, four of HISD’s longest-struggling schools must all meet state academic standard this year to avoid the Texas Education Agency replacing HISD’s school board or closing still-failing campuses.

TEA leaders have not committed to which sanction they would impose, but their public comments suggest replacing the school board is more likely. New trustees could decide to hire a new superintendent who scraps some or all of Achieve 180.

I would hope that whatever happens with the TEA, Achieve 180 is allowed to continue. Seems to me that if a program like this can get this kind of result at long-struggling campuses, the state would find it in its interest to help fund similar programs elsewhere. Maybe someone should ask Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick about that. Be that as it may, I’m glad to see the good results, and I hope we are all committed to seeing them continue. In the end, it’s the success of the students that really matters.

“As the Board turns”

deep sigh

Houston ISD Trustee Jolanda Jones publicly aired personal attacks and allegations against fellow school board members in online posts this week, chipping away at the board’s efforts to present a more collegial front in the face of administrative upheaval and potentially major state sanctions this year.

In three Facebook posts, Jones alleged a newly elected trustee called a longtime board member a “thief” and a “crook” with “no moral character,” and she accused a fellow trustee of misleading her during the process of electing a school board president. Jones also claimed five trustees who rejected HISD’s proposed budget last week will be responsible for employees losing their homes — even though board members are expected to pass the budget next week, with no adverse impact on staff members.

You can click over and read the rest; I don’t care to litigate any of it. I’m just going to say this: For the first time ever, as of last November, the Board is comprised entirely of Democrats, with (I believe) a majority of members elected with the support of the local AFT. Even if the Board were firing on all cylinders, the current partisan makeup would present as a tempting target for the state for takeover, given the issues with the low-performing schools. But at least a high-functioning Board, whose membership is two-thirds new since 2015, would have a compelling argument to make that they deserve a little more time to make progress on the problem. With the way things are now, who’s going to stand in their defense when Mike Morath picks a new Board to replace them?

HISD Board will need a budget do-over

It’s never boring over there.

Houston ISD trustees narrowly rejected the district’s proposed $2 billion budget, did not move forward with making Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan the district’s permanent leader and voted to end the employment of acclaimed Furr High School Principal Bertie Simmons during an eventful meeting Thursday.

In a surprising split, board members voted 5-4 to reject the budget proposal after several trustees expressed concern about using $19 million from HISD’s rainy-day fund to cover a shortfall. Trustees had voiced little public opposition to the budget until Thursday’s meeting.

Trustees now have until June 30 to comply with state law and pass a budget for 2018-19. HISD administrators are expected to present a revised budget proposal in the coming days. A date has not been set for the next board meeting.

HISD’s budget has been subject to intense scrutiny since January, when district administrators forecasted a deficit of about $200 million. Administrators revised their projections after receiving a sunnier revenue outlook in recent months, cutting the expected deficit in half. They proposed slashing about $83 million in spending — which would result in hundreds of layoffs — and using $19 million from the rainy-day fund to cover the remaining shortfall.

Until Thursday, much of the discussion surrounding HISD’s proposed budget had centered on the distribution of cuts. At several public budget meetings in recent months, trustees gave no indication that they would reject the proposed budget because it used rainy-day funds.

But several trustees on Thursday said HISD needs to stop using reserves to balance its budget. Last year, board members voted 8-1 to take $106 million from the district’s rainy-day fund to cover its deficit.

The proposed budget already contained a lot of cuts, as this earlier Chron story details. If the concern is about using $19 million from the reserve fund, then either they’ll have to find money elsewhere or cut some more. That doesn’t sound great, but I’m not sure how they can accomplish the former, so options – and time – are limited. The Press has more.

Chavez/Huerta Day

We’ll see about this.

Houston ISD trustees are expected to vote Thursday on whether to establish a district holiday in honor of César Chávez and Dolores Huerta, two iconic labor activists who helped win greater rights for farm workers across the country.

The holiday would mirror Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, when districts across the region do not attend classes in remembrance of the civil rights leader.

HISD Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, who brought forward the resolution to establish the holiday, said the district should recognize Chávez and Huerta for their pioneering work on behalf of Hispanics. About 62 percent of HISD’s roughly 214,000 students are Hispanic.

“We should definitely honor those who have come before us that really fought for freedom and doing what’s right,” Flynn Vilaseca said.

[…]

If approved, HISD’s holiday for Chávez and Huerta would be on the Monday that falls on or precedes March 31. It would start in 2020, as HISD already has established its 2018-19 academic calendar.

Flynn Vilaseca said she didn’t know whether HISD would add one day to its academic calendar or minutes to the school day to make up for lost instructional time.

As the story notes, other school districts including Fort Worth ISD have done something similar. I don’t have a problem with the idea – Chavez and Huerta are more than worthy of the recognition – but I do have a practical concern. Given that this wouldn’t be a holiday outside of HISD, this has the potential to leave a lot of parents without a good child care option on that day. (The same is true for MLK Day, as many businesses don’t close for it.) That doesn’t need to be insurmountable, but it would be nice to get some feedback from the public before a decision is made. I don’t know how much they’ll get if they’re voting on Thursday, but we’ll see.

HISD begins prep on a 2019 bond issue

Wait till next year.

Administrators on Thursday recommended Houston ISD seek voter approval for a $1.7 billion capital projects bond in May 2019, charging forward with long-term spending plans even as the district faces uncertainty about its leadership and ability to maintain local control over decision-making.

District leaders said the $1.7 billion bond would finance much-needed rebuilding of 18 existing elementary and middle schools, construction of three new campuses, security upgrades at all 280-plus schools and the purchase of new buses, among other costs. HISD administrators said it was unclear whether the proposed bond package would result in a tax increase, saying they will have a better idea when the Harris County Appraisal District finalizes property values in August.

HISD trustees would have to approve a measure to send the bond referendum to voters, with board members likely making a decision in late 2018 or early 2019. If approved, the bond would be HISD’s first since 2012, when 67 percent of voters backed a $1.89 billion package.

The 2019 proposal, however, could meet more resistance than usual amid ongoing upheaval in the district.

[…]

Houston ISD voters have approved four capital projects bonds since 1998, totaling $4.2 billion. In recent years, residents of school districts throughout the five-county Greater Houston area also have overwhelmingly supported large school bonds, passing 30 out of 31 packages that totaled at least $100 million.

Few districts, however, have sought bonds amid such turbulence.

“Comparing ourselves to surrounding districts, they’re not making national news for negative reasons right now, so we need to remember what the public opinion is of our district overall,” HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard said, referring to media coverage of last month’s school board meeting.

University of Houston political science Professor Richard Murray said the district’s more affluent voters, who turn out in higher numbers during off-year May elections, likely will be key to the referendum. Those voters traditionally have supported school bonds, but they also have seen their local tax bills dramatically rise in recent years as property values have gone up.

The district’s upheaval, Murray said, also makes it more challenging to win support for a bond.

“It’s obviously a loss to have this vacuum of a visible superintendent in place that could be the public face of the effort,” Murray said. “You’ve also got a board that’s made some headlines that are not particularly attractive. It’s not going to be an easy thing.”

HISD’s recommendation Thursday represented a shift from its first presentation about a potential bond in January, before all the tumult. At that time, HISD leaders discussed the possibility of a $500 million bond issue that would result in no tax increase, or a $1.2 billion bond that would come with an increase of 3 cents to 7 cents per $100 in taxable value.

[HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian] Busby said the proposed bond amount has changed as district leaders further assessed campus and maintenance needs.

See here for more on what was presented in January. At that time, it looked like the goal was to get something on the November ballot, but like some other might-have-beens, that’s not what will happen. I don’t mind pushing this off till next year – I agree with everyone who says that a bit more time, as well as things like the hoped-for Harvey waiver, a new Superintendant, and a (hoped-for, again) return to normality will help their chances a lot – but I do object to doing it in May. Have it in November, when people expect to vote. The suggestion that May turnout levels would be better for this than November turnout levels is questionable to me, both as a logical proposition and as a matter of representative government. If we’re going to take the extra time to do this right, then do it all the way right. Campos, who sees a lot of obstacles ahead, has more.

HISD gets some public feedback

Needed more opportunities for this from the beginning.

Emotions continued to run high Thursday as residents offered both condemnation and support of Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, whose leadership has been questioned following a raucous board meeting last month that ended with two arrests.

With about 300 people in attendance, dozens of residents demanded trustees take steps to restore trust with the community – with many calling for the removal of Skillern-Jones from her presidency – while a smaller contingent rose to back Skillern-Jones’ leadership. Unlike the board’s meeting on April 24, there was no skirmish between members of the public and HISD police during Thursday’s six-hour meeting.

HISD’s meeting in April drew national attention after police made the arrests and temporarily removed all members of the public, with some resisting officers. The scuffle came after Skillern-Jones ordered the room cleared when attendees continued to make noise during public comment after she warned them to remain quiet. The two arrested were released the next day and not charged.

Community members were given more latitude Thursday to respond as about 100 speakers began addressing trustees, with Skillern-Jones issuing no warnings about noise. One speaker pointed at trustees, calling each a “coward.” Another wore a shirt declaring “Not Afraid of Rhonda.” Several speakers told trustees that members of the public have been unfairly targeted for their activism, demanding better treatment from the board and police.

“I’m not dangerous. I’m not the enemy,” said speaker Karina Quesada-León, whom Skillern-Jones ordered to leave the podium at last month’s meeting. “I show up because I want a well-rounded education for every child in HISD.”

At the risk of setting the bar low, no skirmishes seems like a good place to start. Whether this will cause more trustees to get on the “the board needs a new President” train remains to be seen. It may be that if HISD does get an accountability waiver from the TEA that the pressure is reduced, but if that’s the case then surely there will be no way to avoid a shakeup if there is no waiver. In the meantime, I’d suggest the Board have more meetings where the people who attend can feel like they’ve been listened to. The Press has more.

HISD hoping for Harvey waiver

That’s what it would take to avoid TEA sanctions this year.

Houston ISD’s 10 longest-struggling schools likely would not trigger major state sanctions this year if they all receive academic accountability waivers due to Hurricane Harvey, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Wednesday.

However, the district still would face punishment — either campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board — if Morath opts against accountability waivers for the schools and a single one fails to meet state academic standards.

The commissioner’s comments, made during a wide-ranging interview with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, answered several questions about the potential penalties facing Texas’ largest district, which must boost performance at its campuses to avoid unprecedented state intervention.

[…]

A decision on Harvey waivers is expected in June. All 10 of the schools were closed for 10 or 11 days following Harvey, with none sustaining catastrophic damage.

Morath repeatedly cautioned that no final decisions have been made about Harvey-related waivers or potential sanctions. However, if any of the 10 schools trigger the state law this year, Morath said he does not believe he has the legal authority to give HISD a break, as some Houston-area leaders have requested.

“Short version: I’m a constitutionally sworn officer, so, no,” Morath said. “I do what the law tells me.”

Morath said Texas Education Agency officials continue to collect and analyze data that will help decide which schools will receive Harvey-related accountability waivers. He expects the agency will analyze several campus-level factors — including days of instruction missed, students displaced and teachers left homeless — as they set criteria for issuing waivers. Some of those data points have been collected on a weekly basis, Morath said.

“Our team is trying to figure out whether or not the rules should be entirely consistent with (Hurricane) Ike or slightly more generous,” Morath said. “I think I’m currently leaning toward a slightly more generous framework than the prior systems, where it’s not just dates closed, but also student and staff displacement as a factor.”

Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, any school or district closed for at least 10 instructional days due to the storm received a “not rated” grade, unless its rating improved from the previous year.

See here for the last update. I’ve long maintained that all districts affected by Harvey deserve a one-year exemption from state accountability standards, and I remain hopeful that this will happen. Commissioner Morath is taking the question seriously, which I appreciate. We’ll know when he’s ready to tell us. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, who is among the leaders that have been advocating for this, is here.

Santos calls on Skillern-Jones to step down as HISD President

This happened last week. I’ve been waiting to see if there will be anything more to it.

Elizabeth Santos

Houston ISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos on Thursday called for school board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, to “immediately step down” from her position in light of last week’s heated board meeting, which resulted in two arrests and dozens of community members temporarily booted from the district administration building.

In a message shared on Facebook, Santos said Skillern-Jones’s “wholly unjustified” actions at last week’s board meeting have eroded public trust, prompting her call for Skillern-Jones to relinquish her post as board president. Santos did not demand Skillern-Jones resign her position as a trustee. She is the only member of the nine-person board who publicly has called for Skillern-Jones to give up her post, though other trustees have criticized Skillern-Jones’s handling of last week’s meeting.

“Right now, the shame of our actions and inactions at the April 24 board meeting looms over our board,” Santos wrote. “It clouds our decisions and intentions from proper public scrutiny and erodes the trust our community places in us.”

[…]

In a Facebook post the day after last week’s meeting, Skillern-Jones wrote, in part: “I hoped we could calm the tension and return for an orderly meeting. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and subsequently caused many unintended consequences. I’m saddened at this outcome as it was not at all what I wanted. I take responsibility for calling this recess and am regretful it only created more discord.”

Many crowd members who were ordered to leave last week’s meeting have called on Skillern-Jones to step down as board president. Reached by phone Thursday, HISD trustees Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones and Sue Deigaard did not echo those calls.

“Many may not support her actions and the way it was done, but this doesn’t warrant stepping down as board president,” Adams said. She added that she believes it was “not proper” for Santos to publicly call on Skillern-Jones to step down without talking to the entire board of trustees.

Deigaard said she is listening to many different stakeholders — including parents who have not been vocal at community and board meetings — as she contemplates whether to support Skillern-Jones’ continued leadership of trustees. She called last week’s meeting “a powder keg” that could have been better diffused on all sides.

“I’m a very pensive person. I’m not a reactive person,” Deigaard said. “I’m looking at, long-term, what is the healthiest thing for the governance of our district so that we can focus on kids.”

See here for some background. Santos’ Facebook post, which had been shared 159 times as of this writing, is here; Skillern-Jones’ statement after the meeting mess is here. There’s no defending what happened at that HISD board meeting, and in fact a couple of trustees – Anne Sung and Jolanda Jones in particular – put out statements following that meeting apologizing for what happened. As far as I can tell from scanning Facebook, however, no other trustees have echoed or supported Santos’ call for Skillern-Jones to cede the role of President to someone else.

I am sure that the bylaws of the HISD Board of Trustees includes a provision for removing someone as Board President. If the goal is to get Rhonda Skillern-Jones to step down from that role, then a trustee could follow that route, or could simply get enough members on board with the idea and then approach her with that information so she could step down voluntarily. It doesn’t appear that anything like that has happened here, so I don’t know what comes next. But if it’s going to involve a change in the officers of the HISD Board, it’s going to need to take more than this.

What might the TEA do with HISD?

They have some options, the best of which is probably to put the decision off for a year.

A.J. Crabill knows what it’s like to close schools.

In 2010, Crabill, then a 30-year-old member of the Kansas City, Missouri, school board, cast a deciding vote to shutter nearly half of the district’s schools, devastating some members of the community.

Eight years later, Crabill is the deputy commissioner of governance for the Texas Education Agency, and he and his boss, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, likely will face a similar quandary with Houston ISD. A new state law is expected to force the agency to shut down several chronically underperforming schools or replace the district’s locally elected school board — with either choice inciting anger across Houston.

“The question becomes: Which actions can be least disruptive to students? And which actions can create the most benefits for students?” Crabill told a Houston gathering last month. “To be clear, there are only hard choices that are left on the table.”

[…]

Some advocates who oppose charter schools and conservative-aligned education policies also have expressed dismay that Morath, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, would have authority to make major decisions impacting HISD.

In addition, several HISD trustees have argued that the district is making progress at its lowest-performing schools, citing its Achieve 180 plans that pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into each campus.

To date, TEA leaders have been relatively tight-lipped about what they will choose for HISD if the district becomes subject to sanctions this year. However, a review of recent TEA actions, comments by Crabill and statements by local leaders shed light on how the coming months could play out.

Crabill, Morath’s top liaison in dealing with HISD the past few months, hinted at last month’s community meeting that school closures are not the best option for solving academic issues. Crabill said he had visited some of the 10 low-performing schools — all of which serve predominately black and Hispanic students in high-poverty neighborhoods — and found their struggles were not due to staff efforts.

“We have to look beyond state-mandated closure as a panacea in this particular instance,” Crabill said. “I don’t say that out of an unwillingness to use that as an option. I say that from someone who’s gone to the campuses and doesn’t see that it actually moves the ball forward for those students.”

[…]

Across the country, states have sought to get more involved in large, urban districts facing serious academic and financial issues. Gary Ritter, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas who has analyzed state takeover efforts, said intervention sometimes helps steady troubled districts, but there’s “not much evidence that, systematically, this can lead to clear academic benefits.” He also noted Houston is unique from other districts nationwide because only 10 of its 284 schools have been labeled chronically underperforming.

“That certainly seems like an unhelpful wrinkle in the takeover” threat in Houston, Ritter said. “For the most part, in places like Baltimore, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland (and) Philadelphia, they were done when the school district had been showing either poor performance or financial troubles for several years in a row.”

For that reason, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, wants to see Morath show leniency to HISD. Coleman, whose district includes two of the 10 schools, said HB1842 carries a penalty that is “not appropriate to the circumstance.”

Coleman said he plans to introduce a bill during the 2019 legislative session that would change or repeal the sanctions listed under HB1842, which passed with 85 percent support in the Legislature. He said he believes many lawmakers were not aware of the implications of the bill when it passed.

I think between Harvey, the fact that the schools in question are a tiny part of HISD, the lack of clarity over the intent of the law, and the TEA-approved improvement plan for the ten schools, the case for deferring the decision for a year is compelling. I’d also note that a majority of the HISD Board is new since December of 2016 – Santos, Lira, Deigaard, Sung, Vilaseca – so you can plausibly argue that they should be given a chance to get things fixed before the state comes in and installs a new group of trustees. I’ve also noted before that we now have an all-Democratic board, which may work against them politically when the chips are down. Last week’s chaos, between the seemingly unvetted charter plan and the melee at the Wednesday meeting followed by the vote to do nothing, didn’t do them any favors, either. I hope the schools show enough improvement to satisfy the TEA that things are at least on track, and I hope the TEA is in no rush to do anything drastic.

HISD nixes charter partnership

First there was this.

Houston ISD board members adjourned late Tuesday without voting on a controversial measure to give up control over 10 low-performing schools after the meeting turned physical and police escorted members of the public — nearly all of whom opposed the plan — out of the room.

Chanting “no more sellouts” and shouting at trustees, most of the roughly 100 community members in attendance watched angrily as officers began physically pulling disruptive residents out of the room. The skirmish came after HISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess in the middle of the meeting and ordered the room cleared due to repeated public outbursts.

If trustees choose to meet again, they likely will not return until Saturday at the earliest. Trustees typically provide at least 72 hours advance notice of any public board meeting. The vote had been expected to be narrow, with several trustees already voicing support or opposition for the proposal.

The uproar reflects the heated nature of HISD’s proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to take over operations of the 10 campuses for five years. Without the agreement, HISD would likely face forced campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board due to its failure to improve academics at the schools.

HISD Interim Police Chief Paul Cordova said one person was arrested on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge, one person was arrested on a charge of interfering with duties of a public servant and one person was detained but not arrested.

[…]

In the district’s first public statement since Energized For STEM Academy was named Friday as the potential partner, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the organization “will help our students to reach the level of achievement that we know is possible.”

“Data shows Energized for STEM Academy has successfully led students to high levels of academic achievement as well as prepared them for college and careers since first partnering with HISD 10 years ago,” Lathan said in a statement. She has not granted any interview requests in recent days.

The choice, however, faced immediate resistance. Multiple trustees said they lacked enough information to properly evaluate Energized For STEM Academy’s academic and governance history.

Several education advocates and leaders, including the Houston Federation of Teachers, also raised several questions about Energized For STEM Academy’s ethics. They’ve particularly focused on Energized For STEM Academy’s head of schools, Lois Bullock, who serves as both employee and landlord at another in-district HISD charter organization. It’s not immediately clear whether Bullock has improperly profited off the highly unusual arrangement.

All speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting opposed the district’s plan. Many advocated for suing the state over the 2015 law that imposed sanctions. Several questioned whether Energized For STEM Academy is dedicated to special education students, noting that the organization has a disproportionately low special education population at its current schools. A few students implored trustees to maintain current operations at their schools.

See here for the background. I was going to tell you to go read Stace and Campos before getting into my own thoughts, but then this happened.

Houston ISD leaders will not turn over control of its 10 longest-struggling schools to any outside organizations, the district’s administration announced Wednesday, a decision that puts HISD at risk of forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board.

[…]

In a statement Wednesday, HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district is “not bringing another partnership proposal to the board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools.” She said the district will continue to carry out its current plans for improving academic performance at the campuses.

Under a law passed in 2015, known as HB 1842, the Texas Education Agency must close schools or replace HISD’s school board if any of the district’s schools receive a fifth straight “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance this year. The 10 schools all risk triggering the law, and it’s unlikely all 10 will meet state academic standards this year.

With partnerships off the table, attention now will turn to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, who has yet to announce whether any schools or districts will receive accountability rating waivers due to Hurricane Harvey. Agency officials have not said whether HISD still would be subject to sanctions if the 10 schools receive waivers that assure they are not rated “improvement required” this year.

“Any and all decisions by Commissioner Morath regarding accountability exemptions or waivers for campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey will be announced in June,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a statement.

[…]

In interviews prior to Tuesday’s scheduled vote, trustees Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sue Deigaard and Anne Sung said they were uncomfortable with the amount of information and time they had to vet Energized For STEM Academy. Two other board members, [Sergio] Lira and Jolanda Jones, said Wednesday that they would vote against charter partnership agreements. Trustee Elizabeth Santos had earlier said she opposed giving control of schools to charter organizations.

Many of the most vocal community members involved in the partnership debate have advocated litigation over HB 1842. To date, only one HISD trustee, Jones, has voiced support for a lawsuit. Board members have received legal advice surrounding potential litigation, though they’ve been reluctant to divulge details of those conversations because they took place in closed session.

“Suing TEA is more of a longshot at being successful,” Lira said. “From a historical precedent, there have been very few successful cases when the district files against TEA.”

The announcement that HISD would not pursue partnerships came about two hours after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he supports “HISD simply standing down.” Turner, who hinted at getting involved in partnership plans but ultimately opted against it, said he plans to contact Morath to ask for a one-year waiver.

I’m going to say the same thing I would have said if the Energized for STEM proposal had passed: I sure hope this works. It’s certainly possible that Energized for STEM could have been a successful partner, but it’s equally certain that there was precious little time to consider the idea, and not much community input. The community spoke loudly that they didn’t want that arrangement, and now they have gotten what they wanted. They had ample reason to not like that option, and to not give the HISD leadership the benefit of the doubt. Now we all need to send that same message to the Legislature, because that’s where this mess got started. The Press has more.

HISD considers charter partnership

They’ve got to do something to keep the TEA at bay.

Energized For STEM Academy Inc., an organization run by NAACP Houston Branch President James Douglas and former Houston ISD trustee Paula Harris, has been selected as the potential partner to run 10 long-struggling HISD schools at risk of triggering major state sanctions this year.

HISD trustees are scheduled to vote Tuesday on negotiating and executing a contract with Energized For STEM Academy, which already runs seven in-district charter schools in HISD, to take over operations of the 10 schools ahead of the 2018-19 school year, according to a public meeting notice posted Friday. District officials haven’t released terms of a contract, but it’s expected Energized For STEM Academy would be responsible for hiring, governance and operations at each school.

District officials have recommended temporarily surrendering control over the 10 schools as part of an effort to stave off sanctions due to chronically low academic performance. In exchange for relinquishing control, HISD would get a two-year reprieve from a potential state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board or forced campus closures.

[…]

Douglas, who has previously served as president of Texas Southern University and helped form Energized For STEM Academy’s governing board in 2008, said he’s been in discussion with HISD leaders about the arrangement for three weeks. A contract hasn’t been drawn up, and many details will be worked out in the coming days ahead of an April 30 deadline to submit partnership plans to the Texas Education Agency, Douglas said.

“We know we have to do in a few days what normally would take months to do,” Douglas said. “But that’s what has been handed to us, and that’s what we have to deal with. We can’t waste time worrying about what we need.”

There’s not a lot to go on here, but then it’s not like there are a ton of other great options out there. Reaction is mixed, as you might expect.

A long-awaited proposal from Houston ISD to temporarily surrender control over 10 of its lowest-performing schools is facing mixed reviews ahead of a crucial vote Tuesday.

Case in point: the president of Houston’s largest teachers union, Zeph Capo, blasted the proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy to run all 10 schools as ill-conceived and hastily arranged, saying he has “no confidence that this is in the best interest of children.” Meanwhile, Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones defended the arrangement as “the best choice of all the bad choices” available to HISD, which faces forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board without a partnership.

[…]

Energized For STEM Academy currently operates middle and high schools with roughly 1,000 students combined. The campuses are overseen by Lois Bullock, who has operated in-district HISD charters since 1998. Its two high schools had graduation rates, state standardized test scores and SAT scores that were well above HISD averages in 2016-17. However, one of its middle schools was rated “improvement required” by the state in 2014 and 2016.

Douglas and Bullock oversee three additional in-district HISD charter schools with a similar name, Energized For Excellence Academy, but those campuses have a different governing board.

Capo, who heads the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he has deep concerns about Energized For STEM Academy’s ability to improve academic performance after conducting initial research. He questioned how an organization educating about 1,000 students can oversee an additional 6,000-plus students.

“What evidence do we have that says they can actually do the job?” Capo said.

Capo added that residents and local education advocates, including his union, haven’t had enough time to vet Energized For STEM Academy for possible improper ties to for-profit entities or other conflicts of interest. The organization has filed annual 990 tax forms, which detail many spending patterns, but they don’t post annual financial audits or governing board meeting minutes on their website.

“(Trustees) need to grow a backbone and pay deep, close attention to what’s happening before they vote,” Capo said. “There are far too many questions left unanswered before they vote on Tuesday.”

Skillern-Jones said she supports forming partnerships if it means keeping local control and avoiding campus closures, which she called “devastating” to neighborhoods that are predominately black and Hispanic. She said her constituents, who make up six of the 10 schools, wanted a partner with local ties. The only other organization under consideration for a partnership, Generation Schools Network, is based in New York.

“I’m still looking through all the information, but I know they have a good track record in the district for 20 years, which says to me that we’ve kept them around for a reason,” Skillern-Jones said.

See here for the last update. I get Zeph Capo’s concerns – this is all happening very fast, with not much public input, and while Energized For STEM seems to have a decent track record this is asking a lot from them with no guarantee that their methods will translate or scale to a larger group of students. On the other hand, the remaining options are to find a different charter operator, to close the affected schools and reconstitute them as smaller institutions (which is really unpopular with the affected communities), and hope for the best with this year’s STAAR results. Some activists are calling for HISD to sue the TEA; I’m not qualified to assess the merits of such a strategy, but if it works it would at least buy some time. Energized For STEM may well be the best of a bad lot, but that’s not the same as being good.

A clean separation

Well done.

Richard Carranza

Former Houston ISD superintendent Richard Carranza’s resignation from the district involved no financial settlements, and the two sides agreed not to sue each other following the separation, according to documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

A written agreement between Carranza and HISD board members shows a clean break after Carranza announced in early March that he planned to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Carranza officially resigned on March 31 and started his job in New York City on April 2. HISD board members have appointed Grenita Lathan, who previously served as the district’s chief academic officer, to serve indefinitely as interim superintendent.

Carranza’s three-year contract ran through August 2019, leading to questions about whether he would face any repercussions for resigning midway through that term. His contract didn’t include any penalties for resigning before August 2019, and it did stipulate both sides could mutually agree to end the agreement.

Carranza was paid his regular salary of $345,000 and benefits through March 31. He was allowed to take accrued but unused personal days through the last week of his employment.

[…]

Trustees have given no timetable for hiring a permanent superintendent. District officials on Wednesday named an interim chief academic officer, Noelia Longoria, to fill Lathan’s position. Longoria previously served as assistant superintendent of HISD’s Office of School Choice.

No drama is fine by me, and the terms are boringly normal. May it be this easy finding the right candidate to replace Carranza.

On a side note, the Chron editorial board calls for a change in how HISD trustees are elected.

One significant change that Houston ISD should consider is changing the way it elects school board members. Currently, the nine trustees are elected from single-member districts, rather than by voters from throughout the school district.

Texas law allows a couple of alternatives. One would be a board made up of a mix of single-member and at-large trustees. This is similar to how Houston’s City Council is elected. Sixty smaller school districts across Texas use this governance system, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.

Another alternative would be to switch to cumulative voting, where voters across the school district would be allowed to cast as many votes as there are candidates. This option has been available to Texas school districts since 1995 and is used by a number of smaller school districts for at-large trustee elections.

Changing the governance model could help address one of the biggest challenges facing the school board: Members are concerned about struggling campuses in their own electoral district, but not necessarily in the districts of other trustees.

Single-member districts have played a major role in assuring more diversity on school boards. They help ensure that multiple voices are heard in the development of education policy. But they also can result in a balkanized school district, with trustees focused on their individual parts rather than the whole.

The Chron notes that this “balkanization” was one of the reasons Rep. Harold Dutton pushed through HB 1842, the bill that now has HISD under the gun for the chronically low-performing schools. I’m kind of meh on this idea. I suppose a hybrid district/at large model would be all right, though I’d like someone to try to persuade me that At Large Council members are better at looking out for the interests of the entire city than the district members are (and I say that as someone who supports having At Large council members). I’m not convinced we need to change to do a better job of achieving our goals, but I’ll listen if you want to make a pitch. Campos has more.

HISD will not change its funding mechanism

Not this year, at least.

Houston ISD officials have abandoned plans to overhaul the way the district funds its schools, opting to keep HISD’s long-standing financing system as they work to fill a $115 million budget deficit.

Schools will continue to receive an allotment of money based on their enrollments next school year, but the amount campuses receive will shrink by nearly $200 per student.

The announcement walked back proposals made by former Superintendent Richard Carranza in January to centralize some staffing and budgeting decisions now made by principals.

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district needs to do more outreach and study its funding mechanisms before changing the way schools are allotted money. The district will create a committee in the coming months to study resource allocation.

“We wanted to pause and take a step back and give some proposals to the board about how do we engage the community about the funding allocation,” Lathan said. “What does it look like for HISD and our community?”

See here and here for some background. I was in full-on primary mode when the original plan was announced and I never quite had the brain space to pay close attention to it, and now it looks like I won’t have to. The plan now is the old-fashioned easier-to-understand one of cutting back a little bit here, there, and everywhere. It may be simpler, but I hope HISD will do outreach to make sure everyone has a chance to know what to expect. The Press has more.

HISD chooses partnerships for low-performing schools

In the same story as the one with the news about interim HISD Superintendent Grenita Lathan, we get this news as well:

HISD administrators are recommending the district temporarily surrender significant control over 10 chronically underperforming schools as part of their plan for avoiding major state sanctions. Lathan has taken a large role in the process.

District leaders originally recommended forming partnerships for six of the 10 schools, while closing and reopening four other schools. But on Thursday, they announced plans for partnering all 10 schools.

Under a partnership, the district would surrender significant control over each campus to an outside organization, such as a nonprofit or higher education institution. District leaders are recommending the partnerships last for three years.

Under a closure-reopen plan, the district would maintain control over the school, but each campus would only serve limited grade levels in 2019-20 and the entire staff would be replaced.

“That was a major concern under a closure-restart” proposal, Lathan said.

Here’s an earlier version of the story, from just before Dr. Lathan’s appointment as interim Superintendent, and here’s a story about the previous proposal, which drew a lot of opposition from the community. I’m going to reserve judgment about this plan until I see how the people who will be most affected by it react.

There should be plenty of interest in the HISD Superintendent job

That’s what the Board is prepping for.

Richard Carranza

HISD trustees likely will have no shortage of potential candidates from the across the country willing to take over for Superintendent Richard Carranza, who announced last Monday that he will leave the district this month to become chancellor of New York City public schools. Board members also could consider several internal and regional candidates with long histories of service in Houston education or experience as a superintendent, albeit on a smaller scale.

“I truly believe that there are folks out there internally, in this state and this nation that are very capable and are committed for the long haul to ensure there’s progress,” HISD Trustee Sergio Lira said.

HISD’s superintendent will face myriad obstacles: an education finance system that is draining money from the district, the threat of a state takeover due to chronically failing schools, and a burgeoning class and racial divide over allocation of resources.

Those issues will be well-known to internal or regional candidates. Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said national candidates also would be prepared for the chaos that comes with a running large, urban school district.

“The folks that are applying understand it’s a challenge and know the difficulties, like the lack of resources and the politics,” Domenech said. “These are not easy districts to run.”

HISD trustees will have several selling points to offer potential candidates.

As the largest school district in the nation’s second-largest state, with a student population of about 215,000 children, the position of HISD superintendent offers immense prestige. Board members have signaled they want to become more cohesive after years of division. City leaders also have pledged to become more engaged in aiding the district, particularly with low-performing schools that are drawing scrutiny from state leaders.

“I think we, as a city, need to demonstrate that we’re on the same page in terms of focusing on the most vulnerable children and communities that need to be served,” said Juliet Stipeche, director of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Office of Education and a former HISD trustee. “It will require somebody that’s up and ready for a strong challenge in an area that’s filled with opportunity.”

See here and here for the background. There are a few names of current HISD people mentioned in the story as well as possible candidates, but none of them appeared to be obvious frontrunners. For all its challenges – indeed, because of all its challenges – the HISD job is going to be attractive to a lot of candidates. It’s a big and diverse district, with a lot of resources even in tight budgetary times, and the opportunity is there to leave a mark and establish oneself as a visionary leader. Carranza’s departure is ill-timed for HISD, but the fact that he got poached by the New York school district shows that he was held in high regard, which will be a plus for everyone who might consider following him. We should see some talented applicants come forward for this position. We just need to pick the right one.

No decision on Carranza replacement yet

Tabled for now, but likely not for long.

Houston ISD trustees on Thursday opted not to appoint an interim superintendent at a school board meeting, leaving it unclear who will run the district after Superintendent Richard Carranza’s anticipated departure later this month.

Board members did not discuss potential candidates or options for moving forward during closed or open session Thursday because one trustee was absent. They are expected to consider options for appointing a temporary district leader at a March 22 meeting.

Trustees faced a relatively subdued crowd given Carranza’s abrupt announcement Monday that he plans to leave the district after 18 months to become chancellor of New York City public schools. They never referred to Carranza by name during the meeting or commented at length about his decision to leave, making only glancing references to his departure.

“The sky is not falling around replacing our superintendent,” HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said. “We do have some heavy lifts, but we’ve had to do some heavy lifts before.”

[…]

Skillern-Jones said board members discussed some legal matters surrounding Carranza’s departure during closed session, including their ability to re-hire the search firm that helped them land Carranza, who formerly presided over San Francisco Unified School District. Trustees expect they will be able to use the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, free of charge because Carranza remained in HISD for less than two years.

See here for the background. The main question, as outlined in this this earlier story, is whether to “name a short-term interim superintendent and immediately begin a search for a more permanent replacement; name a long-term interim superintendent and postpone a superintendent search for a couple months; or post the position and hire a new permanent superintendent immediately”. I assume the third choice is basically a promotion from within the existing HISD hierarchy, while the other two would be a national search. The indication that the board could re-use the search firm that recommended Carranza suggests the board may be leaning towards one of those options. There’s a case to be made for hiring someone local – as one person in the story suggests, a local person may be less likely to be wooed away. I don’t know that I buy that – there isn’t a long history of HISD superintendents being poached, and the non-local Terry Grier stayed through the end of his contract – but it’s a point to debate. All I really care about is that they find someone who is up to the job.

Carranza departs

This sure came as a surprise.

Richard Carranza

As Houston ISD officials wrestle with how to fill a $115 million budget shortfall, stave off a potential state takeover and work to recover after Hurricane Harvey, Superintendent Richard Carranza announced Monday he would leave the district after less than two years on the job, accepting an offer to lead New York City’s school system.

Carranza appeared Monday afternoon at a press conference with New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. Carranza’s status with Houston ISD was not immediately available. De Blasio said those details are being worked out, but the outgoing chancellor is expected to remain on board until the end of March.

At a press conference announcing his appointment Monday afternoon, Carranza said the chance to take over the nation’s largest school district and alignment with De Blasio’s agenda were primary factors in accepting the job.

“There is no other New York City Public Schools,” Carranza said. “It was an opportunity that I could not say ‘no’ to.”

Houston ISD board members are expected to meet Thursday to discuss the district’s next steps.

“We the board wish Carranza the best in his endeavors and appreciate the leadership he brought to this district,” Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones said in a statement. “We are committed to continuing the work he began and moving the district forward.”

Carranza’s departure leaves Texas’ largest school district leaderless as it faces consequential challenges. The district faces a $115 million budget shortfall and potential state takeover due to poor academic performances at a handful of the district’s more than 280 campuses.

I think it’s fair to say nobody saw this coming. It’s a little hard to judge Carranza’s tenure in office because he wasn’t here for that long, and there’s a lot of unfinished business that will need to be taken up by his successor. You can’t blame him for taking the opportunity, but the timing isn’t great for HISD. We’re going to need to find a new Super quickly, and that person will have a full to-do list when he or she arrives. Will the Board look for someone who will be gung ho about implementing the proposals Carranza laid out, or will they seek a different direction? Or will they just try to hire the best person they can get and let that person figure it out? A challenging and tumultuous year at HISD just got more so. I wish the Board all the best with the task they now have before them. HISD’s news story is here, and the Press has more.

HISD’s budget deficit is a little smaller

A bit of good news.

Houston ISD administrators do not expect to cut magnet programs or re-open the magnet application process ahead of the 2018-19 school year, an announcement likely to ease fears among parents who send their children to choice schools.

Houston ISD leaders said Monday they are lowering the district’s projected budget deficit from about $209 million to $115 million, which would dramatically reduce the level of potential staff and program cuts.

The two announcements reflect the shifting nature of Houston ISD’s plans for major changes throughout the district, which have provoked anxiety among many parents and staff members. District leaders are proposing changes to the district’s magnet and funding systems — with the goal of providing more resources and programs to students in lower-income neighborhoods while facing a significant budget deficit largely brought on by the state’s school finance law.

Administrators are considering whether to phase out some magnet programs that have relatively little student interest or no consistent programming throughout a feeder pattern. District leaders want to better align magnets so students follow the same program from elementary through high school.

Administrators do not expect to cut many magnet programs, but any changes would not be made until 2019-20. Chief School Support Officer Mark Smith said the district did not want to rush any reductions that would force parents to immediately seek new options for their children.

See here for the background. What drove the sunnier budget estimate? Here’s the explanation.

When HISD first began budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year, it was in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Using a worst-case scenario, the district’s financial team projected a $208 million deficit based on four dynamic factors: the Local Optional Homestead Exemption (LOHE) lawsuit, a recapture payment to the state, a potential property tax value decreaseand an anticipated student enrollment decline. Taking direction from HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, district administrators crafted a revised budget outlook for the 2018-19 school year.

The district’s legal team feels strongly that the state will prevail in the LOHE lawsuit. For HISD, this means a reduction in its recapture payment because the TEA will recognize half of the 20 percent local homestead exemption given to homeowners. A decision in the lawsuit could come after a hearing this spring. A win would reduce HISD’s recapture payment by $51 million.

Under the Texas Education Code, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has the authority to adjust property values. Based on the damage sustained from Hurricane Harvey and the lasting impact of the storm on our students and staff, we anticipate the commissioner will adjust property values, which in turn, would reduce our recapture payment. Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and other state leaders have publicly stated their support for this action. Click here to review a September 2017 press release from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick that confirms his support for schools districts in Region IV impacted by Hurricane Harvey, which includes HISD. In addition, Commissioner Morath surveyed school districts after the hurricane to gather projections on their property tax collections post-Harvey. HISD estimates a $42 million adjustment for property value loss associated with Hurricane Harvey.

It was prudent to budget under the worst-case assumption, and it makes sense to adjust on the reasonable expectation that he reality is better. HISD still has a big hole to fill, and changes to the magnet programs will be difficult and disruptive, though long overdue. I confess that I haven’t been following all this very closely – sorry, all the election stuff has taken over my brain – but I will get back into it as the process begins.

HISD working on a bond issue

It’s going to be quite the year for HISD.

Voters living in Houston ISD could be asked to approve a new school bond totaling at least $1.2 billion as early as November, according to a recently unveiled district financial plan.

The bond would finance major construction projects, technology upgrades, fine arts purchases and other capital costs. If the bond request totals $1.2 billion, it would likely come with a tax increase of 3 cents to 7 cents per $100 of taxable value, depending on Hurricane Harvey’s impact on property values, district administrators said.

For a homeowner with a property valued at about $275,000, roughly the average in HISD in recent years, the increase would amount to $80 to $190 per year.

District leaders unveiled the plans over the weekend during a wide-ranging preview of major changes to the district’s budget, magnet schools program and approach to long-failing schools. HISD’s last bond election came in 2012, when two-thirds of voters approved a $1.89 billion request.

District leaders did not present specific projects or amounts, but they’re expected in the coming months to finalize a proposal for school board members. Board trustees must approve sending a bond election to voters.

Administrators said the bond would help finance new campuses in pockets of the city’s west and south sides, where student enrollment has grown, along with upgrades to outdated elementary and middle schools. The 2012 bond largely focused on renovating and building new high schools, with 26 campuses getting about $1.3 billion worth of construction.

The district’s financial staff estimates that a $500 million bond request could be passed without raising taxes, but the amount “would not do much for a school district of this size,” HISD Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby said.

“It would be something that would possibly pass, depending on what you do, but it would not be as impactful as we need a bond to be, based on our strategic vision moving forward,” Busby said.

Add this to the other items already on the plate and once again you can see what a busy year the Board has for itself. The initial reaction I saw to this on Facebook was not positive, which may have been the result of this coming on the heels of the announcement about changes to the magnet school program – lots of people I know are already plenty anxious about that. It’s also a weird year for politics, people feel like there’s too many things for them to keep track of, and I’m sure some people are wondering why there’s another bond issue six years after the last one. HISD bond issues generally pass easily – the one in 2012 got 69% of the vote – but I suspect the Board and Superintendent Carranza are going to have to put together a solid plan and sell it to the voters, with a strong promise of engagement and accountability. I would not take anything for granted.

HISD’s plan to avoid state takeover

We’ll see how this works. As we know, the stakes are quite high.

Houston ISD administrators have proposed dramatic changes to 15 low-performing schools that, if approved, could temporarily prevent the state from taking over the district’s Board of Trustees or shuttering campuses.

In a bid to preempt state intervention and improve academic performance, the district is proposing two options for each of the 15 schools: either allow an outside organization to take control of hiring and curriculum, or close and immediately reopen the campus with entirely new staff and programming before the 2018-19 academic year.

Under the latter option, the campus would only serve limited grade levels in 2018-19 — pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in elementary schools, sixth grade in middle schools and ninth grade in high schools. As a result, the majority of students at any close-and-reopen school would be displaced in 2018-19. Each campus would add one grade level in subsequent years.

The sweeping proposal, which remains in the early stages, comes as Houston ISD faces significant sanctions for its failure to improve chronically low-performing schools following the 2015 passage of a law known as HB 1842.

[…]

District administrators haven’t recommended which schools would employ partnerships or close-and-reopen. They are expected to present recommendations at a Feb. 1 board meeting, with community meetings planned throughout the month. Administrators are aiming for a board vote on the changes by early March.

Add this to the other big changes in the works and you can see what an ambitious agenda the board has for itself. Again, there’s a lot there and I encourage you to read it all, and to get involved in the process. There ought to be plenty of opportunities to engage, so if you want HISD to hear what you think about, get out there and tell them.

HISD faces major changes

This is a very big story, but a key component to it is not discussed here.

Houston ISD officials said Saturday the district will need to cut about $200 million from its 2018-19 budget to bring spending in line with an increasingly gloomy financial outlook.

In an equally momentous move, Houston ISD officials also proposed far-reaching changes to how the district operates its magnet and school choice systems, some of the boldest moves to date by second-year Superintendent Richard Carranza.

Still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, Houston Independent School District officials revealed at a board meeting Saturday that the district is facing a double whammy: A multimillion-dollar, state-mandated “recapture” payment requiring districts with high property values to “share the wealth,” and an expected drop in enrollment and tax revenue because of the devastating storm, which severely damaged schools and delayed the start of classes by two weeks.

The proposed cuts come at an inopportune time, with the district battling to stave off a potential state takeover because of 10 chronically under-performing schools.

Although the measures outlined Saturday are preliminary and could change significantly before HISD’s board votes on them, officials acknowledged that the district is entering an uncertain time.

“It’s a sea change for HISD,” said Rene Barajas, the district’s chief financial officer. “But at the end of the day, from a budgetary perspective, we’re still going to get the job done. It’s just going to be harder.”

There’s a lot more and there’s too much to adequately summarize, so go read the rest. We know about the recapture payments, which even though they have been reduced due to Harvey are still significant. We know HISD has been talking about revamping its magnet programs for some time, and there’s a cost-savings component to that as well. We know that property values and enrollment have been affected by Harvey, and we know how daily attendance determines the amount of money the district gets from the state. So none of this is a surprise, though having to deal with all of it at once is a big shock.

What’s missing from this article is any mention of what the state could and should do to help ameliorate this blow. I think everyone agrees that if a school building is destroyed by a catastrophic weather event, it should be rebuilt via a combination of funding sources, mostly private insurance and emergency allocations from the state. Why shouldn’t that also apply to the secondary effects of that same catastrophe? It’s not HISD’s fault that its revenues, both from taxes and from state appropriations, will be down. There needs to be a mechanism to at least soften, if not remove, this burden. Bear in mind that one reason why the drop in property values is such a hit is because the state has shoved more and more of the responsibility for school finance on local districts. If Harvey had happened even a decade ago, the appraisal loss would still be felt, but not by as much. That’s not HISD’s doing, it’s the Legislature’s and the Governor’s and the Lieutenant Governor’s, all with the approval of the Supreme Court.

But what can be done can be undone. With little to no pain on its part, the Lege could tap into the Rainy Day Fund to get HISD past the worst of this, or it could recognize that the nearly one billion it appropriated last session for “border security” is little more than macho posturing, an endless boondoggle for a handful of sheriffs, and an sharp increase in traffic citations, and redirect some of that money to HISD and any other district in similar straits. There are other things the Lege could do, but all of it starts with the basic principle that the Lege should do something to help out here. When are we going to talk about that?

Looking ahead to 2019

Yes, yes, I know. We’ve barely begun the 2018 cycle. Who in their right mind is thinking about 2019? I plead guilty to political insanity, but the beginning of the year is always the best time to look forward, and just as 2018 will be unlike any election year we’ve seen before, I think 2019 will be unusual, too. Let’s just take a moment to contemplate what lies ahead.

I’ve posted this list before, but just to review here are the Council members who are term-limited going into 2019:

Brenda Stardig – District A
Jerry Davis – District B
Ellen Cohen – District C
Mike Laster – District J
Larry Green – District K
Jack Christie – At Large #5

There is an opportunity for progressives to elect a candidate more favorable to them with CM Christie’s departure, and his At Large colleagues Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh will also draw attention. Against that, I would remind everyone that Bill King carried Districts C and J in 2015, so we’re going to have to play defense, too.

It is too early to start speculating about who might run where, but keep two things in mind. One is that there’s likely some pent-up demand for city offices, since there won’t have been an election since 2015, and two is that some number of people who are currently running for something in 2018 will find themselves on the sidelines by March or May, and some of them may decide to shift their focus to a more local race. The point I’m making here is expect there to be a lot of candidates, and not just for the term-limited offices. I don’t expect Mayor Turner to be seriously challenged, but I do expect the firefighters to find someone to support against him. Finally, I expect Pasadena to be a hotbed of action again for their May elections, as Democrats missed by seven votes in District B winning a majority on Pasadena City Council.

The following HISD Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District II
Sergio Lira – District III
Jolanda Jones – District IV
Diana Davila – District VIII

Skillern-Jones was forced into a runoff in 2015, but she then won that easily. Lira was elected this year to finish Manuel Rodriguez’s term. Jolanda is Jolanda, and no election that includes her will ever be boring. Davila sued to get on the Democratic primary ballot for Justice of the Peace, but was not successful. I have to assume whoever runs against her will make an issue of the fact that she was job-hopping in the interim.

The following HCC Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Zeph Capo – District 1
Dave Wilson – District 2
Neeta Sane – District 7

It is too early to think about who might be running for what in Houston and HISD. It is very much NOT too early to find and begin building support for a good candidate to run against Dave Wilson and kick his homophobic ass out of office. That is all.

Santos, Lira, and Stallworth win runoffs

Congratulations to all, and on to 2018.

Elizabeth Santos

Two current educators, Elizabeth Santos and Sergio Lira, won seats on the Houston ISD school board, according to preliminary results from Saturday’s runoff election.

Voters also chose Pretta VanDible Stallworth, a business consultant and adjunct professor, to fill the final seat on the Houston Community College board, based on the unofficial results.

[…]

Santos, an English literature teacher at Northside High School, appeared to cruise to victory over Gretchen Himsl, a policy analyst for Children at Risk, an education and child-welfare advocacy nonprofit. She would represent District I on Houston’s northwest and north sides.

Santos campaigned on allocating more funding for teachers and classroom instruction, emphasizing the community schools model and offering a diverse voice from the district’s east side, which is largely Latino. The 35-year-old Houston ISD schools graduate had the endorsement and financial backing of the largest national and local teachers unions.

Sergio Lira

“It’s been incredibly special to me, to be able to really anchor myself inside the community,” Santos said. “Not everyone has had their voice heard in this district, and to be able to have that voice, that’s one thing I’m absolutely hopeful and excited about.”

In November’s three-candidate general election for District I, Santos earned 45 percent of the vote, with Himsl receiving 34 percent.

Lira, an assistant principal at Bellaire High School, looked to score a come-from-behind victory Saturday after finishing in second in the general election for District III, which represents the district’s southeast side. Challenger Jesse Rodriguez earned 40 percent of the general election vote to Lira’s 34 percent.

Lira, 56, emphasized his experience as an educator on the campaign trail, contrasting it Rodriguez, a customer care manager and volunteer radio host.

You can see the numbers here. Both boards have their work cut out for them. The stakes are especially high for HISD, as they try to stave off intervention from the TEA. Best of luck to all the winners, now let’s get to work.

Runoff Day for HISD and HCC is tomorrow

From the inbox:

Saturday, December 9, is Election Day for voters in Houston Community College District IX and HISD Trustee Districts I and III. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters must vote at their designated Election Day polling location which can be found by using the “Find Your Poll” lookup on www.HarrisVotes.com. Eligible voters are not required to have voted in the November General and Special Elections to vote in the Joint Runoff Elections.

An estimated 90,000 registered voters meet the requirement to vote in the Houston Community College Trustee District IX which is located in Southwest and South-central Houston. There are 78,000 eligible voters in the Houston ISD Trustee District I which is located in Northwest Houston. There are 55,000 eligible voters in Houston ISD Trustee District III which is located in Southeast Houston.

“To be eligible to vote in a particular contest on the Runoff Election ballot, you must be registered to vote in the district which is up for election,” stressed Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart.

To find your Election Day polling location, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

Here’s a brief Chron story about the runoffs. If you didn’t already know who the candidates are, it won’t tell you much. Early voting has been light – there were 3,725 ballots cast as of the end of the EV period in all three races combined. For the first time in a long time, I’ll be voting on Election Day, as my new work location and the smaller number of EV locations made it difficult for me to get to a polling place. I’ll have the race results on Sunday. Good luck to all the candidates.

Endorsement watch: HISD and HCC runoffs

In two of the three runoffs on the ballot, the Chron endorsed candidates who did not make the cut. As early voting begins for the runoffs, they make their new choices and reiterate the one they got right.

Houston Community College System, trustee, District IX: Pretta VanDible Stallworth

Experience as a teacher in higher education combined with previous tenure on the HCC board sets apart Pretta VanDible Stallworth. An impressive résumé and firm grasp of the HCC board duties should earn her the seat being vacated by Chris Oliver, who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in May.

VanDible Stallworth, 59, has worked as an adjunct professor at Bellhaven College and guest professor at DeVry University. She also served on the HCC board from 1989-1993. Her position as chaplain for Senate 13 District PAC also demonstrates a healthy ability to reflect the values of her community. While we’ve expressed a cautiousness about VanDible Stallworth’s belief that the board should be more involved with reviewing contracts, her education and experience makes her the best candidate in this race.

Gretchen Himsl

Houston ISD, trustee, District I: Gretchen Himsl

Houston Independent School District, the seventh-largest public school system in the nation and the largest in Texas, is at a crossroads. The school district is facing a takeover by the state for failure to improve about a dozen schools. This drastic step would mean that Houston voters would lose the right to elect officials to govern the school system, which educates 216,000 of our children, and for which we pay local property taxes. The district also faced a budgetary shortfall even before Hurricane Harvey cut a path of destruction across the district and damaged many of its schools.

These are hard issues, and voters need to elect the candidate best qualified to deal with the complexity.

Two candidates are in a runoff for trustee of District I, a position that was ably held by Anna Eastman for eight years: Elizabeth Santos, a schoolteacher, and Gretchen Himsl, who works at Children At Risk, a Houston nonprofit.

Both have demonstrated a commitment to students through their actions for many years, Santos in the classroom and Himsl in the policymaking and volunteer world. Both women care deeply about public education.

The two candidates also agree on several policy points, including the need to rein in high-stakes testing.

But the similarities stop there. The two candidates bring markedly different skill sets to the table. Himsl is a policy wonk and volunteer. Santos is a passionate educator and advocate.

At a time when the future of the entire district has been brought into question, voters should pick someone with the skills to analyze and articulate the policies that can save HISD – and the ability to implement them as solutions. That candidate is Gretchen Himsl.

Sergio Lira

Houston ISD, trustee, District III – Unexpired Term: Sergio Lira

We endorsed Sergio Lira during the general election and again encourage voters to pick him to fill the seat previously held by longtime trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr., who passed away in July.

Lira, 56, has spent nearly his entire career as an educator in this southeast district, although he currently serves as an assistant principal at Bellaire High School. He has direct experience turning around underperforming campuses and was awarded “Teacher of the Year” when he taught in elementary schools. In addition to his classroom and administrative experience, Lira also has an impressive list of credentials: a master’s in education management, a certificate from the Superintendent Certification program and a doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Houston-Clear Lake College of Education.

My interviews with the HISD candidates from earlier:

Gretchen Himsl
Elizabeth Santos

Sergio Lira
Jesse Rodriguez

I did not get the chance to interview the candidates in HCC IX. Early voting began yesterday, and runs through Tuesday, with Runoff Day on Saturday, December 9. Which, if you live in my neck of the woods, is the same day as Lights in the Heights. So vote early, it will be much more convenient.

Early voting for HISD and HCC runoffs begins today

From the inbox:

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that nine Early Voting locations will open starting Nov. 29 where eligible voters may cast a ballot during the early voting period for theDecember 9, 2017 Joint Runoff Election. The Early Voting Period for the Runoff Election runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2 and resumes Dec. 4 to Dec. 5.

“To find out if you reside in one of the three districts where an election is taking place and view your individual sample ballot,  you may visit www.HarrisVotes.com, advised Stanart, Harris County Clerk and Chief Election Official. “In this instance, the districts in play do not overlap. So all eligible voters will see only one contest on their ballot.” 

County Clerk Stanart encourages voters to review the early voting schedule before heading to the poll to confirm the address of the early voting location.  In the conduct of non-countywide elections, only available early voting sites within or near each district are utilized in a Runoff Election.   

“To be eligible to vote in a particular contest on the Runoff Election ballot, you must be registered to vote in the district which is up for election,” emphasized Stanart“Qualified voters of one of these districts, may vote in the Runoff, even if they did not vote in the November Election.”

An estimated 90,000 registered voters meet the requirement to vote in the Houston Community College Trustee District IX race, 78,000 in the Houston ISD Trustee District I race and 55,000 in Houston ISD Trustee District III race.  The Joint Runoff Election is being held because no candidate received over fifty-percent of the votes on November 7 in these three districts.

Voters may find the complete Early Voting Schedule, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the poll at www.HarrisVotes.com.  Voters may also call 713.755.6965 for election information.

###

 

Harris County, Texas – Early Voting Locations
December 9, 2017 Joint Runoff Election

Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street, 4th Floor Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Metropolitan Multi-Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076

As noted before, only some of us have cause to vote. If you’re not in HCC 9 or HISD I or III, all of which are highlighted in the embedded map, you’re off the hook. For the lucky few who do get to vote, note that early voting is only six days (no voting on Sunday), so make your plan to get out there.

My thoughts following the 2017 election

1. Turnout in Houston was considerably higher than anyone predicted. Adding in Fort Bend to Harris yields 101,178 voters. Harris County had 149,730. The Houston share of Harris County was 66.43%, which is lower than I expected as well.

2. Early voting in odd years is not the same as early voting in even years. In even years, a significant majority of voters are showing up before Election Day. In odd years, Election Day still reigns supreme. In Harris County, 59.49% of the total vote was cast on Election Day. For the Houston part of Harris County, that total was 58.74% of the vote. It’s not clear to me why this is the case, but if I had to guess I’d say that the presence of big well-funded campaigns is a big part of the reason people vote early, because they are being told to vote during the early process. In the absence of such campaigns, people don’t think about voting before Election Day nearly as much. Just a guess, but one that will inform how I think about the next odd year election.

3. After the 2015 election, the HISD Board of Trustees had four men and five women. After the 2017 election, it will have one man and eight women. It will also be all Democratic, as the three Republican men who served in districts V, VI, and VII have all been succeeded by Democratic women. Let that sink in for a minute.

4. A lot will be said about the national election results and what that means for Democrats and Republicans going into 2018. We haven’t really had an election that has been cast in that light – unlike the 2015/2016 cycle, for example, there have been no special legislative elections. I think you have to look at the 2017 HISD results as a piece of that puzzle, even if they weren’t run as Dem-versus-GOP referenda. The Democratic candidates won the three formerly Republican-held Trustee seats because more Democrats showed up to vote. I don’t want to over-dramatize that, but it has to mean at least a little something.

5. Of course, if one wants to be cynical, it could mean that the TEA will have more reason to drop the hammer on HISD if one or more of the Improvement Required schools fails to meet standards. Who at the state level will care about disbanding an all-Democratic Board of Trustees?

6. In the runup to Tuesday, the lower-than-usual turnout projections were cited as a reason why the city bond issues might have trouble. This was going to be a weird year with no city elections, and Harvey caused a lot of disruption, but the main piece of logic underpinning that was the assumption that lower turnout = a more Republican electorate, which in turn would be dangerous for the bonds. Remember, while no one officially opposed the pension bonds, the Harris County GOP and associated conservative groups did oppose the other bonds. It turned out there was no cause for alarm, as all the issues passed by huge margins. While I think that Republicans were more favorably inclined to the bond referenda than we may have given them credit for, this needs to be a reminder that sometimes it’s Republican voters who don’t show up in the expected numbers. The HISD results point to that. If we want to draw an inference for 2018, it’s that overall turnout doesn’t have to be huge for Democrats to have a good year. Who is motivated to vote matters.

7. There will be three runoffs on the menu for December, two in HISD (District I, Elizabeth Santos versus Gretchen Himsl, and District III, Jesse Rodriguez versus Sergio Lira) and one in HCC. One quick thought about that:

Meanwhile, Eugene “Gene” Pack and Pretta VanDible Stallworth were the top vote-getters in a three-way contest for an open seat in District IX. Pack, a retired auto broker, narrowly edged out Stallworth, a business consultant, for the top spot. But both fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. David Jaroszewski, a professor, was well behind.

Earlier Tuesday night, Pack expressed optimism that his early lead indicated voters endorsed him as an “outsider.”

“They’re tired of the direction the board has been going in,” he said.

Maybe, but with all due respect I’d suggest that Pack’s strong showing was a combination of his simple name and top spot on the ballot. My advice for the runoff to Pretta Stallworth is to make sure the voters there know that Pack is a Trump-supporting Republican. I’d guess that would outweigh any valorization of “outsider” status.

8. Finally, the Chron is in a scolding mood.

The ballot featured neither president, nor governor nor mayor, but Tuesday’s election was one of the most important to face Houstonians in decades.

So how did we respond? By not participating. Turnout – at less than 10 percent – was abysmally low.

By approving a $1 billion pension obligation bond, voters set City Hall on track to financial reforms that will cut expenses and, hopefully, usher our city out of a 16-year fiscal crisis. Months of negotiations, years of failed efforts, all came down to this vote – and the vast majority of Houstonians couldn’t be bothered to weigh in.

The immediate issues at City Hall – or Commissioner’s Court or school board – often have a greater impact on American’s everyday lives, yet the local issues have a way of getting lost in the cacophony of national politics. Blame it on media consolidation or the spread of Facebook and Twitter, but our government loses a core of its representative nature when elections that deserve all the attention of a professional sporting event pass with the fanfare of a Little League game.

Something has to change in our civic culture. Easier voting processes. Making Election Day a national holiday. Better promotion efforts. Local officials and nonprofits need to start work now on improving this atrocious turnout.

Actually, we know exactly what drives turnout in Houston municipal elections: the combination of a contested Mayor’s race and a controversial ballot proposition. This year had neither. But you know, one reason why those factors I cited generate turnout is that a lot of money gets spent by the campaigns to entice, encourage, and enrage people to go vote. Maybe what we need when faced with a low key slate like this is a dedicated source of funding to simulate a more exciting election year. How we can accomplish that is left as an exercise for the reader. Oh, and if we’re casting about for blame, I’ll just note that pre-Tuesday coverage from the Chron included one lame overview of the HISD races, and exactly nothing about the HCC ones. Maybe the lack of interest from voters was a reflection of that.

2017 results: HISD and HCC

There were still precincts to be counted as I was writing this so there are a couple of races where I’ll have to equivocate, but here’s what happened in the local races that had actual candidates in them. Let’s start with the easier one, the HCC races:

– Trustees Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (73%) and Robert Glaser (58%) led from the get go and cruised to easy wins.

– In District 9, Gene Pack (42%) and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (37%) will head into a runoff for the right to succeed Chris Oliver.

In HISD, there are a couple of clear results, and a couple that I’ll have to update in the morning:

– Incumbent Trustees Wanda Adams (68%) and Anne Sung (60%) were easily re-elected.

– Jesse Rodriguez (41%) and Sergio Lira (32%) were going into overtime in Distric III, while Elizabeth Santos (45%) and Gretchen Himsl (33%) were doing the same in I. Given how the District I race has gone so far, I expect it to get a little nasty for the runoff.

– Sue Deigaard (53%) appeared to be headed for a clear win in her four-way race. As of this drafting, 37 of 56 precincts had reported, but Deigaard had 4,502 votes out of 8,446 total. If the remaining 19 precincts have a proportional amount of votes in them as the first 37, a little back-of-the-envelope math suggests she’d need about 43.4% of those votes to stay in the majority and win outright. I’d say those are pretty good odds, but we’ll see.

– The race that will have everyone up way past their bedtimes is in District VI, where with 35 of 40 precincts counted, incumbent Holly Flynn Vilaseca had 50.04% of the vote – she had 3,119 out of 6,233, which puts her five votes into a majority. Either she squeaks out a clean win – she was a pinch over 50% in early and absentee voting and a slightly smaller pinch under it on Tuesday – or she goes into a runoff with a substantial lead. Good position to be in, but boy I know what I’d prefer.

UPDATE: At 12:46 AM, the final results were posted, and Holly Flynn Vilaseca wound up with 50.38% of the vote, putting her back in office without a runoff. Here’s the Chron story.

Late money in the HISD races

Here it comes.

A political action committee mostly funded by the nation’s largest teachers’ union has received $225,000 to spend on supporting four candidates for the Houston ISD school board election and a city ballot measure, campaign finance reports show.

Houston United for Strong Public Schools plans to spend in support of three incumbent candidates — Wanda Adams, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung — and newcomer Elizabeth Santos ahead of Tuesday’s election, records show. The PAC doesn’t plan to spend on candidates in two other Houston ISD board races.

Political action committees operate independently of individual candidates’ campaigns. Houston United for Strong Public Schools has received the most donations to date among PACs supporting local school board candidates.

Records show Houston United for Strong Public Schools took in $150,000 from the political arm of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 1.7 million public employees, most of them working in schools.

The PAC also received $75,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing about 1.6 million public service employees. In addition to supporting the four board candidates, the PAC plans to spend in favor of a Houston city ballot measure to authorize the sale of $1 billion in bonds under a pension reform plan.

That’s a lot of money, but at least from my perspective in District I, it hasn’t been particularly visible to me. I’ve received mail from the Santos campaign, but no more than what I’ve received from the Himsl and Richart campaigns. I haven’t received any robocalls or been visited by any canvassers – for whatever the reason, it’s extremely rare for someone to knock on my door on behalf of a campaign – and if there are ads running on TV or the radio, I’ve not seen them. I don’t think I’ve seen any Facebook ads or ads in my Gmail, either. Maybe the bulk of this money is being earmarked for a runoff, I don’t know. Risky strategy if that’s the case.

The eight day finance reports are now available, but you won’t see any activity related to HUSPS in there. For example, here’s Santos’ 8 day report, which includes a $5K donation from Houston Federation of Teachers COPE, but HUSPS is nowhere to be seen. You have to go to the Texas Ethics Commission page and search for Houston United for Strong Public Schools there. In their TEC report, you can see that while they’ve raised $225K, they’ve only spent $115K, and $47K of that was for polling, which ought to be fascinating given the turnout context. I can’t tell from this how much they have spent in each race – there isn’t a single entry that specifies a dollar amount for Santos, for example. I don’t spend as much time with PAC reports as I have done with candidate reports, so maybe I just don’t know how to read these. Point is, this is where to look to get the details.

All of this has caused some controversy, which has played out on Facebook. The HUSPS website has no “About” page, and it took some sleuthing to figure out their origin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but large amounts of money being spent on local races by groups whose backers are not apparent is generally something that many of us find alarming. As Campos has noted, it’s hardly unusual for the HFT to get involved in HISD elections – they’re as much of a stakeholder as anyone else, after all – but this method of doing so is new. I don’t understand the rationale behind this approach, either, but it is what they have chosen to do. We’ll see how it plays out.

Chron overview of the HISD races

It’s not much, but it is what it is.

As Houston ISD faces a possible state takeover, a $106 million budget shortfall and millions of dollars in needed repairs from Hurricane Harvey, six of its board’s nine seats are up for election on Nov. 7.

Fifteen candidates are vying for school board seats in regular elections, and four are competing in a special election for the District III seat held for 14 years by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, who died in July.

The election comes at a turbulent time for Texas’ largest school district, which educates about 212,000 students.

If 10 of the district’s longest-struggling schools don’t show academic improvement through student test scores this spring, the Texas Education Agency could either take over the district or close those campuses. The district wrote a $77.5 million check to the state earlier this year to pay its recapture fee, which the TEA uses to buoy school districts with lower property values. Those recapture payments are forecast to increase to about $200 million by next year, even as the district struggles to provide extra services, such as counseling to students in high-poverty schools.

It’s also Superintendent Richard Carranza’s second year at the helm, and although he has not yet made any seismic changes, he has signaled his administration will look into altering magnet programs and funding, overhauling the budget, centralizing some school operations and providing more equitable resources to historically underserved schools and communities.

There’s a brief bit on each candidate, with something from their webpage and a short quote from those who responded to the reporters’ requests. If this is all you know about the contestants in your race, it’s precious little to go on. At least there are my interviews, the various endorsements, and things like the LWV guide to help you. If you’re already familiar with the candidates this won’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but if not at least it’s something.

Now to be fair, while the Chron didn’t give us much on the races as a whole, they did provide this big story about the peccadilloes of one HISD candidate.

Daniel Albert

Daniel Albert’s unorthodox approach to his job as City Council’s highest-paid staffer has assumed added importance this fall with his pursuit of the District VI seat on the Houston ISD board of trustees.

Albert asks voters to weigh his qualifications and let him help lead the nation’s eighth-largest public school system: His bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Tulane University, his law degree from North Carolina Central School of Law, his three master’s degrees.

He highlights his public service as chief of stafff for freshman City Councilman Steve Le, citing his work with city departments to clean up illegal dump sites, install speed bumps and replace street lights in District F.

Many civic leaders in southwest Houston view Albert’s work differently, however, saying they rarely see him in the district and struggle to get answers when they contact Le’s office.

This may be due partly to Albert’s infrequent presence at City Hall. City records show Albert uses his employee badge to swipe into city buildings less than three days a week, on average – a clear outlier among the 16 chiefs of staff for Houston’s council members.

Read the whole thing. Albert’s obviously a busy guy – in addition to his job and his candidacy, he’s got a wife and two little kids – and his boss says he’s doing a fine job, even if his boss’ constituents think they’re being shortchanged. I would just note that as busy as Albert is, it’s a little hard to say how much time he’s spending on his HISD race. He hasn’t raised any money, preferring to self-fund instead. He didn’t respond to the Chron for their race overview story, he didn’t respond to the League of Women Voters for their candidate survey, and he never replied to my inquiry about doing an interview. No one says he has to do any of these things, but if we’re wondering how a guy who is at the office a lot less than other people in the same job spends his time, there are clearly a few pieces of the puzzle missing.

Early voting for November 2017 begins today

From the inbox:

“The best option to vote in the upcoming Nov. 7 election is during the early voting period,” advised Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. Early Voting for the November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections begins Monday, October 23 and will run through Friday, November 3. There will be 45 Early Voting locations across Harris County.

“Voters should be informed before heading to the polls as several of the usual Early Voting locations have changed”, said Stanart. “Locations hit hardest by flooding such as those running along Cypress Creek and those located near the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs have seen changes to several of their Early Voting locations”.

In addition to the 7 proposed State Constitutional Amendments, there are 5 cities, 14 ISD’s, and 10 utility districts with contests on the ballot. Voters can find their individual sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

“The impact of Hurricane Harvey to South Texas has been huge, and while we are recovering, please realize that government needs your participation in this election,” concluded Stanart. The pulling together of neighbors helping neighbors has been truly inspiring. Please join your neighbors as we meet at your neighborhood early voting location.”

To find polling locations for Early Voting and Election Day, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Stan Stanart is the Chief Elections Administrator and recorder for the third largest county in the United States.

Below is a list of early voting locations, some of which are new and one of which is a previously-used location that is not available due to Harvey. For a map and the EV schedule, see here. I’ll keep track of the daily totals as usual, and we’ll try to make our guesses as we go along about turnout. Feel free to place your guesses about how things go in the comments. When do you plan to vote?

Harris County, Texas – Early Voting Locations
November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections

Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street, 4th Floor Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
Harris County Public Health 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st floor Houston 77027
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
Sunnyside Multi Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods Drive Kingwood 77345
Rosewood Funeral Home 17404 W. Lake Houston Pkwy Atascocita 77346
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Bear Creek Park Community Center UNAVAILABLE    
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Klein Multipurpose Center 7500 FM 2920 Klein 77379
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – North Harris 2700 W W Thorne Drive Houston 77073