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HISD Board of Trustees

A couple of race updates

Josh Wallenstein

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

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 Several judges are retiring or have already stepped down and been replaced by appointees, and a few others have challengers in the Republican primary.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

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

Interview with Kara DeRocha

Kara DeRocha

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

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

Interview with Gretchen Himsl

Gretchen Himsl

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

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

Interview with Elizabeth Santos

Elizabeth Santos

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

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

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

Interview with Monica Flores Richart

Monica Flores Richart

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

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

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

HISD may get a recapture reprieve thanks to Harvey

Talk about a mixed blessing.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: HGLBT Political Caucus, CVPE, and GPS

From the inbox:

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

Kara DeRocha for HISD School Board Trustee – District V

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

Anne Sung for HISD School Board Trustee – District VII

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

Pretta Vandible Stallworth for HCC Trustee – District IX

We also voted to endorse the following propositions:

Propositions A, B, C, D and E

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

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

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

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

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

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

District I – Gretchen Himsl

District V – Sue Deigaard

District VI – Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

District VII – Anne Sung

District IX – Wanda Adams

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

Harvey and the elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

No charter amendments on the fall ballot

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

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

HISD board fills Manuel Rodriguez’s seat

The HISD Board of Trustees is back to full strength.

Jose Leal

The Houston ISD Board of Education voted to appoint José Leal to fill the seat left vacant after the death of longtime District III Trustee Manuel Rodríguez Jr last month. Board members chose Leal unanimously during a special meeting Monday afternoon.

Leal has more than 20 years of classroom experience. His career with HISD started in 1981, when he worked in operations and maintenance. He has worked as a bilingual teacher at Pugh Elementary School, a counselor and dean of students at Hamilton Middle School, and an assistant principal at Wheatley High School. He has also been a dean of students at Meyerland Middle School, assistant principal at North Forest High School, and a counselor at YES Prep Northbrook. He is currently a special education teacher at Houston Can Academies.

“Jose Leal was the only candidate who met the caretaker qualifications the board was looking for in this temporary appointment,” Board President Wanda Adams said. “The board would like to thank the other candidates who wanted to volunteer their time.”

Leal will be sworn in on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, and will serve at the Board of Education’s next monthly meeting on Sept. 14, 2017. He will serve until a special election is called by the board at its monthly meeting on Aug. 10. That special election will be held Nov. 7.

Rodriguez had passed away in July, so his seat had been vacant for about four weeks. The Board put out a call for applicants a week ago. This Chron story about Leal’s appointment contains a quote from Board President Wanda Adams that Leal “was the only candidate who met the caretaker qualifications the board was looking for in this temporary appointment”, so I take that to mean he will not run for a full term in November. Leal had run against Rodriguez in 2015, finishing second in a three-way race and then getting 44% in the runoff. Whether he will run again or not, I’m sure this will be a hot race. Congratulations and best wishes to Leal for however long he serves.

HISD and the TEA

Still catching up on things.

Texas education officials are warning that Houston ISD could be placed under the jurisdiction of state-appointed managers as early as next year if 13 district schools don’t show improvement.

The warning was issued during a meeting [last] Monday between Texas Education Agency officials and Houston’s legislative delegation.

TEA officials told lawmakers that if even one of the district’s 13 schools that has struggled for at least the past three years receives failing accountability marks in 2017 and again in 2018, it could trigger state oversight of the entire district. Alternatively, the state agency could take over individual, chronically failing campuses.

Houston ISD is among 46 independent school districts that could face such sweeping changes thanks to a law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2015 that targets schools that have been in “improvement required” status for five or more years, as of the 2018-2019 school year.

[…]

“Houston ISD is aware of major concerns the Texas Education Agency has expressed regarding several of our schools considered ‘chronically underperforming,'” the district said in a written statement Tuesday. “HISD shares the agency’s concerns and is working closely with TEA on the transformative work we must do at the local level to ensure every HISD student receives an excellent education.”

District officials said Wednesday that state officials told them only eight of their campuses, along with two charter schools it took over in 2016-17, must improve to avoid triggering the new law.

The discrepancy is due to conflicting interpretations of the law. Houston ISD believes its only at-risk campuses are those with six straight “improvement required” ratings as of 2018. The Texas Education Agency confirmed Wednesday that schools with five straight “improvement required” ratings as of 2018 put the district at risk.

Houston ISD officials also said Wednesday that they expect some schools to break their “improvement required” streak in 2017. They declined to specify how many. School districts have received preliminary school ratings for 2017, but they will not be publicly released until next week.

Several other large school districts — including the Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi and Waco ISDs — also have multiple struggling campuses that could fall into “improvement required” status again this year and in 2018, potentially prompting a state takeover.

Locally, the Aldine, Alief, Brazosport, Galveston, Spring Branch and Victoria ISDs all have at least one campus that could potentially trigger such major changes by 2018.

Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the advocacy group Children at Risk, said Houston ISD and other districts facing potential state takeover are not in nearly as dire straits academically or financially as other districts that the TEA has taken control of or forced to close. He said data supported the TEA’s closing of North Forest ISD in 2013 and of La Marque ISD in 2016.

“HISD on the other hand, and Dallas ISD — they clearly have many success stories, many good schools,” Sanborn said. “Dallas and Houston ISDs have a lot of high-performing, high-poverty schools, and if you look at Houston ISD’s record in the last five years they have seen a turnaround.

It’s hard to believe the state could do more to enhance that turnaround than what’s already being completed.”

For sure it’s hard to imagine the TEA being better equipped to handle a challenge like that. HISD was good enough to be the landing place for North Forest ISD students – by the way, have we ever seen any data about how those students have fared since the NFISD shutdown? – and I doubt anyone would argue that it’s substantially worse since 2013. I imagine there will be a lot of discussion about this, so I have hope that a sensible solution will be found. The Chron wants Mayor Turner to be involved, and while I think he should have a role as advocate, I’m not sure what more he can or should do, given that HISD is a completely separate governing body. But yes, he should speak out and forcefully advocate for not screwing around with what is overall a pretty successful school district, as should all invested stakeholders. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we should remember that poverty is the common factor among these schools, and while some schools and some students can overcome that, there is a lot more that the state and the federal government could do to help more schools and students overcome it as well. There’s blame that goes beyond HISD, is what I’m saying. Campos has more.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HISD

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

Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl
Monica Richart

Kara DeRocha
Sue Deigaard

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Gerry Monroe
Karla Brown
Susan Schafer


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP, Manuel Rodriguez

Sad news.

Manuel Rodriguez

Every Tuesday at 8 a.m., Houston ISD Trustee Manuel “Manny” Rodriguez, Jr., would roll his maroon mobility scooter up to his favorite table at the Tel-Wink Restaurant & Grill in Southeast Houston.

Rodriguez always left the seat across from him empty. Constituents and complete strangers knew those were his office hours — the hours he set aside to visit with community members with questions about the school district, parents worried about new policies or those who just wanted to get Rodriguez’ opinion on the latest local news. If you were lucky, Rodriguez would buy your breakfast.

“That was like his little home away from home,” said Carlos Calbillo, a Latino community activist who described Rodriguez as a “dear friend.” “He did more work at that breakfast table than he did at his office or the HISD offices. He was a people person, just loved by everyone.”

Rodriguez, an HISD trustee since 2003 and a voice for the city’s Latino community for years before that, died Wednesday morning after suffering a massive heart attack, according to a statement released by the Houston ISD.

His unexpected death stunned the HISD community. Funeral arrangements had not been finalized as of Wednesday evening, and the district did not respond immediately to questions about the selection of a possible successor.

Trustee Anne Sung said Rodriguez’s death was “tremendously sad.”

“Manny has been such a long-standing servant on the HISD board,” said Sung, elected last year to represent District VII. “He is extremely committed to his community and has been a great mentor to me as I’ve joined the HISD board. I’m very sorry to hear about this great loss.”

Houston City Council Member Robert Gallegos announced Rodriguez’ death at Wednesday’s meeting. He, Mayor Sylvester Turner and other council members offered their condolences to Rodriguez’ family.

I interviewed Rodriguez in 2011, and we met at the Tel-Wink for it. I don’t know how audible any of it was over the background noise, but that was clearly his preferred place to hang out and be with people. There are many qualities that can make a person a successful politician, and the community Rodriguez had at the Tel-Wink was a fine example of one. My sincere condolences to his family and friends for their loss.

Rodriguez was last elected in 2015, so he was not going to be on the ballot this November. I expect the Board will appoint someone to serve for now, and that there will be a special election to finish out his term in the fall. We’ll know more after their next meeting.

June CEC meeting candidate update report

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Lunceford announces he is not running for re-election

Two-term HISD Trustee in District V Mike Lunceford posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

Sometimes when you are passionate about something it is very hard to walk away from it. After 8 years on the Houston ISD School Board and over 25 years as an active participant in education in Houston I have decided not to run for a third term. I greatly appreciate all of those who have supported me in this, especially my wife Erin Lunceford, but I feel it is time for me to let someone else represent District V. I will really miss all of the great people in HISD that I have grown to know and care about while serving the past 8 years.

It’s been a somewhat confusing journey to this point. Lunceford announced his resignation from the Board last October, then changed his mind and said instead he would serve out his term but not run for re-election. Two candidates emerged early in the year to run in District V, Kara DeRocha and Sue Deigaard. At the same time, rumors started to circulate that Lunceford was not actually stepping down but was instead seeking to run for a third term. That may have kept other Republican types from getting in the race in this traditionally Republican district. I feel confident that at least one such candidate will now come forward.

In the meantime, I join with many people in thanking Lunceford for his service. He did a fine job, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him. Enjoy your retirement from the Board, sir.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

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

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

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

One last look at the recapture re-vote

There’s a lot at stake here, and not a whole lot of people voting on it.

For the second time in seven months, voters within the Houston Independent School District will determine how – and if – it should pay tens of millions to help subsidize districts that collect little in property taxes.

The vote Saturday comes as some HISD trustees have reassessed a decision by voters in November not to write a $77.5 million check to the state to comply with Texas’ “recapture” policy.

While district leaders don’t think it’s fair that an urban district with many poor students and English-language learners should be slapped with such a financial penalty, they’re split over the best way to respond.

Some trustees argue that Proposition 1 will deal a blow to progress in getting state legislators to rethink Texas’ widely criticized school finance system. They believe refusing to pay will allow the district to sue the state to free HISD of its recapture obligations.

Others believe that voters should hold their nose and vote for the measure, especially with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath threatening that a “no” vote would prompt him to move some of Houston’s most valuable commercial properties out of the district’s taxable area.

That “detachment” scenario has never happened in Texas and could cost HISD $98.4 million in lost tax revenue this year, district officials estimate.

“Either scenario is bad,” acknowledged Glenn Reed, HISD’s general manager of budget and financial planning, adding that the district could end up losing more than 15 percent of its annual budget in a few years under either option. “You get used to living at a certain level, but now you can’t deal with cost increases. You have to start selling off furniture and only eat out once a week. It causes you to change how you do business.”

[…]

While Houston will owe $77.5 million in recapture fees this year, that number will soon balloon to $376 million owed just for the 2019-2020 school year, according to Houston ISD budget estimates. That same school year, Houston could lose as much as $413.2 million under the “detachment” scenario if property values rise (it would lose less than that amount if property values remain stagnant or decline).

Trustees including board President Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Mike Lunceford said they now fear vindictive action from the Texas Education Agency and lawmakers if the district doesn’t pay the recapture fees. But other trustees, including Jolanda Jones and Manuel Rodriguez Jr., want the district to hold steadfast in its decision not to pay the recapture fees. Jones said the district could take the state to court and argue that detachment is unconstitutional.

She contends that Houston ISD – the state’s largest school district – has the power to pressure the state to change its funding formulas.

“We can’t debate detachment until there’s an actual detachment,” Jones said. “No district has voted to detach, so that hasn’t been heard at all (in the courts).”

It should be noted that TEA Commissioner Morath isn’t “threatening” to detach properties. The TEA has already identified the properties it will detach. It’s just that the process doesn’t formally take place for another month or two, which is why HISD had the opportunity for the re-vote, which could prevent detachment from going through. Either we buy the attendance credits – i.e., vote Yes on the recapture proposition – or we experience detachment. Those are the choices.

Well, except that Trustee Jolanda Jones argues that detachment is unconstitutional. Which I suppose it could be – I Am Not A Lawyer, remember – but as Jones notes since no district has ever undergone detachment, the issues has not been litigated. I take that to mean that if the No vote wins again, someone will sue the TEA to stop detachment from happening. That does not strike me as the soundest of strategies, but I can’t say that it wouldn’t work. I can say that I personally would not choose to risk it, which is why I voted Yes.

Anyway. To get back to the matter of how many people are voting in this election, the final EV turnout document indicates about 8,500 in person early votes cast in HISD (basically, take the overall total and subtract the bottom five lines, to remove Pasadena, Humble, and Lone Star College from the amount), plus maybe 3,000 mail ballots. That suggests a final overall turnout in the 18-20K range. There’s no way to do a direct comparison to other HISD elections because the Trustees are on staggered four year terms, meaning that in a given election only some of the Trustees are on the ballot. HISD elections are also concurrent with city of Houston elections (though that will be different this year barring an order throwing out the term limits referendum), so turnout numbers in HISD districts are at least somewhat affected by that as well. To give a small amount of context, in 2013 there were 41,392 total ballots cast in three contested Trustee races (the County Clerk doesn’t provide the returns on uncontested Trustee races; state law allows for uncontested races to be skipped, which may be what happens in these cases), while in 2015 there were 76,184 voters in four contested races. Turnout rates ranged from 17 to 22 percent in the three districts in 2013, and from 21 to 28 percent in the four districts in 2015. Make of all that what you will.

Reintroducing recapture

The tune has changed, and it’s time we make sure everyone knows it.

It felt like déjà vu to many of the 150 people who packed into Tinsley Elementary School’s auditorium Wednesday evening.

Facing another controversial Houston ISD school finance referendum, speakers debated two unfavorable options, both of which will cost the school district millions of dollars.

Wednesday’s forum served as the latest update in a school finance saga that has pitted Houston ISD against the state after 62 percent of local residents voted in November against paying the state millions in so-called recapture fees.

Board President Wanda Adams, who hosted the town hall, thanked those present for voting against recapture in November. But she asked them to vote in favor of writing a recapture check. “Because of your no vote, you actually won. We were the first district ever to tell the state no, the first to say we will not write a check until you fund public education,” Adams said.

The Houston ISD Board of Education voted in February to hold a second referendum on the issue May 6 after the state lessened the amount HISD would pay in recapture fee and threatened to “detach” commercial properties.

Glenn Reed, general manager of HISD’s Budgeting and Financial Planning, said this referendum is different than the one that appeared in on the November ballot.

“This is not a vote on recapture; it’s a vote on how you want us to pay it,” Reed said.

Well, to be exact, the November referendum was about how to pay for recapture, too. Adams is right that we got what we wanted out of that No vote. As you know, I believe we should accept that victory and vote Yes this time around. Early voting begins April 24, which is just over three weeks from now. We’re not used to voting in May in Houston – we have primary runoffs in May, but that’s different. There’s no turnout model for this, we’re all just going to be guessing. Those guesses are going to be on the low end, it’s just a matter of how low. HISD is going to have to convince some people to show up for them if they want to win again.

Two for HISD V

Mike Lunceford

In the past week or so, I have become aware of two candidates for HISD Board of Trustees, District V, which is the seat that is now held by Trustee Mike Lunceford but will be open in November as Lunceford will be stepping down at the end of his term. Both of them are Democrats. The first candidate I heard about is Kara DeRocha, whose website identifies her as an engineer and mother of three kids who attend HISD schools. I didn’t find a whole lot on her in Google, but she’s quoted in this news story about the January 21 Women’s March on Washington. She has a campaign kickoff event planned for this weekend, if you want to know more about her.

The other candidate, who announced via Facebook post on Sunday, is Sue Deigaard, who has been a vocal public education advocate for some time now. She was a 2015 New Leadership Council fellow who has multiple Chron op-ed credits to her name. She was a finalist to replace Jim Henley on the HCDE Board after his resignation in 2013, and has been discussed as a Democratic candidate for HD134 in recent years. She also has two kids in HISD schools. I’ve known Sue for awhile – I actually knew her a million years ago in my first in the MOB at Rice, but got to know her better more recently – and I know she’ll have a lot of support.

This is of course a Republican seat – I unfortunately don’t have any precinct data for it, but it is a Republican seat. I’d bet good money that Hillary Clinton carried HISD V in 2016, but other than maybe Kim Ogg it was Republican elsewhere. Basically, like HD134, which I believe has some overlap with it. For certain there will be one or more Republican candidates running for HISD V as well, though if any have already declared I don’t know who they are yet. As with Anne Sung in District VII and Holly Flynn Vilaseca in VI, this will be a race worth watching.

The updated bill for recapture and detachment

Here are the numbers as we now face them.

Houston ISD voters will face a choice of either paying the state’s $77.5 million recapture fee, or risk losing $98.4 million in tax revenue over the next fiscal year, according to new dollar figures given to trustees.

Those were the options presented to HISD trustees Thursday when for the first time school district officials gave firm numbers on both scenarios since voters last November told district officials to not pay the state’s recapture fee. Recapture involves the state’s mandate that the district pay millions to help subsidize poor districts.

Houston ISD faces recapture because, according to the state’s funding formula, the district is deemed property wealthy even though most of its student population is economically disadvantaged.

Glenn Reed, general manager of HISD’s Budgeting and Financial Planning, said the district would end up with less money over time if the state detaches property than if it pays the state’s recapture fee. That’s largely because Houston commercial real estate values are expected to grow in the next five years. If the state takes away some of those properties, Reed said the district will lose out on both those property taxes and any increases in taxes realized through higher property values.

“For HISD, our investment is our properties,” Reed said. “As our properties’ (values) continue to grow, that helps us build schools and fix costs and so on.”

[…]

During the meeting, Reed also reviewed the language that would appear in May’s referendum. It would ask: “Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the state with local tax revenues.” A vote “for” purchasing attendance credits would mean the district would willingly pay the state’s recapture fee. A vote “against” would mean the state would detach some local personal property.

If HISD keeps all its commercial properties and benefits from increased property values, Reed estimated the district could see its budget continue to grow over the next five years by $66.8 million after the recapture payment is made. If the commercial properties are detached, he said the district could see a loss of $98.4 million in 2017-2018 and would lose any future property value growth.

See here and here for the background. As noted before, I voted No on the November 2016 referendum on the hope that rejecting recapture might spur some legislative action and the knowledge that we could vote again if we needed to. I figured a re-vote would be to possibly reconsider the consequences of detachment if nothing good happened; I honestly didn’t expect a re-vote after a positive development like the TEA reinterpretation of the Robin Hood law. But here we are, and I believe that having achieved a substantial victory, albeit not a complete one, we should grab onto it and move forward. So I will vote in favor of recapture this time around, which by the way will be less than eight weeks from today. I figure the encore vote will have much lower turnout than the original did. Has any of what happened since November changed your mind, and your vote, on this?

Recapture re-vote will happen

Mark your calendars for May 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HISD Board to discuss recapture re-vote today

We should find out today if a re-vote on recapture is in our future.

At their monthly meeting Thursday, trustees for the Houston Independent School Board will consider putting recapture back on the ballot.

[…]

In November, HISD voters rejected the traditional way to send a check to the state. Now HISD must pay with actual commercial property – almost $18 billion worth. In July, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is scheduled to detach that property and let another district, such as Alief or Aldine ISD, tax it instead. That’s known as detachment and will reduce HISD’s tax base.

“The only way we can be in this negotiation period is if we do not go into detachment,” HISD Board President Wanda Adams said.

“The homeowners are going to take the brunt of that, not the commercial properties, the homeowners. Right now it’s not a win-win for anyone, but right now at least we have them moving,” she added.

That’s why HISD may give voters another shot at the issue in May.

At the same time, HISD’s bill to the state has dropped by $55-60 million, according to state estimates. That’s more than a 30 percent drop from the original bill of $162 million.

See here for the background. One of the reasons why I was willing to vote No on recapture in November was the possibility that we could have a do-over in May if the Lege did not take action to mitigate the damage. Turns out we didn’t need the Lege to make something positive happen. I believe the No vote provided the impetus for that development. As such, I’m willing to vote for a reduced recapture bill if the Board sees fit to undertake one.

UPDATE: The Chron editorial board takes note of the developments.

A re-vote on recapture?

This is very interesting.

After reconsideration of an 18-year-old law, state education officials are adjusting their school finance calculations in a way that could save several dozen school districts roughly $100 million — while costing the state the same amount in revenue.

One of the apparent beneficiaries is Houston ISD, where the change means taxpayers will be sending about $60 million less to the state for public education than they had expected.

At issue is a calculation for recapture — the state’s term for the money that districts with higher property wealth send to the state for use in districts with lower property wealth.

It’s more commonly known as the Robin Hood system of school finance.

Some of those rich districts — “rich” here refers to the value of the districts’ property and not the income of its residents — have adopted homestead exemptions that are bigger than the exemptions mandated in state law. All school districts in Texas have to let homeowners deduct $25,000 from their taxable property values, but districts are allowed to raise those exemptions up to 20 percent of a home’s value.

Not all districts do that, and not all of those that do that are property rich. But some — including Houston ISD, the biggest one in the state — offer the higher homestead exemptions and are also subject to recapture, and they’re the ones subject to the new calculations from the Texas Education Agency.

In a letter sent Feb. 1 to school administrators, the agency’s associate commissioner for school finance said that starting in the current school year, TEA will include half of the money the districts have forfeited in optional homestead exemptions when calculating how much recapture money those districts should pay. That’s the agency’s new reading of a law that’s been on the books since 1999.

“The commissioner thinks he has the latitude to give them half credit for this,” said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.

The recalculations would trim those districts’ bills considerably — by $100 million in rough numbers. In addition to Houston ISD, the unofficial list of beneficiaries of the new calculation include Spring Branch ISD, Highland Park ISD, Lake Travis ISD and Comal ISD. Officials with TEA said they have not yet calculated exact amounts for each district but said the $100 million is a reasonable estimate of the total cost this year.

[…]

Houston ISD said Friday evening that the board will consider a do-over and will vote next Thursday on whether to hold another election on May 6 to give voters an opportunity to reverse that November vote.

The effect of this new interpretation of the law would be to reduce HISD’s bill for recapture by about $60 million. HISD would still need to pay a bit more than $100 million to the state, so this is hardly a cure-all, but it’s a significant savings.

To me, this is a win for the No vote on recapture last November. As the story says, the TEA could have interpreted the law in this fashion, to allow districts that grant the higher homestead exemption more credit in the byzantize school finance system, years ago. I believe one reason – maybe not the only reason, but surely a big reason – why it didn’t happen before now is because there wasn’t a loud enough voice demanding the change. HISD’s No vote on recapture was a big deal that got people’s attention and focused some energy on just how screwy the system had become. Another boost to their argument was that HISD was being penalized for having a lower tax rate than it could have had. This particular kink in the way the finances were calculated was one of the things that “No on recapture” advocates like David Thompson pointed out, as it was a simple fix that could be easily implemented and would not only be fair but also have a big effect. Maybe this happens anyway if HISD meekly paid its recapture bill, but if anything should be clear at this point in time, it’s that kicking up a fuss tends to be a better way to get what you want.

Bettencourt’s office put out a press release lauding HISD for scheduling another vote. I haven’t seen any other reporting on this – as of Saturday there was nothing on HISD’s website or Facebook page about this – so he’s either being a bit premature or he’s gotten some verbal assurance that the Board will indeed approve a May election at its Thursday meeting. The Board can claim a victory here, and it should be able to sell the idea of writing a smaller check to the state to its constituents and allies from the last election. I’d be inclined to vote Yes this time around – the problem isn’t fully solved, and even without a big school finance overhaul there are other things that could be done for recapture districts like giving credit for pre-K students, but it’s a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the Board reacts, and to see if groups like CVPE and the teachers’ union go along. Whatever else happens, this was a good thing.

Sung and Vilaseca sworn in at HISD

The HISD Board is back at full strength.

Anne Sung

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

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

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

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

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HISD Board appoints Meyers replacement

Meet your new Trustee.

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

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

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

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

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

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

The Elections We Will Have

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Elections We May Have

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

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

The Elections We Could Have

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

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

Who wants to be an HISD Trustee?

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

Greg Meyers

Greg Meyers

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

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

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

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

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

Luman will request recount

John Luman posted the following on Facebook yesterday:

John Luman

Talk about close races! As of last night’s “unofficial” results, only 27 votes separate Anne Sung and me. Given the tightness of the race, I feel compelled on behalf of all of you who supported and invested in me to ask for a ballot recount. Had I been the one up by only 27 votes, I would expect Anne to do the same.

While we wait for the “official” results of this race, enjoy time with your family and friends—the folks we put it on the line for.

Thanks for your support!

As I expected. I agree with what Luman says about if the result had been the other way. I can’t imagine anyone not asking for a recount when down by this small a margin, which stands now at 27 but may change by a few one way or the other when the vote is canvassed and provisional ballots (assuming there are any) are counted or not. That said, the recount is highly unlikely to change the result, because recounts almost never change results. But it’s part of the process in close races, and Luman is entirely within his rights to ask for it, as would any other candidate be. I’d have to check to see what the schedule will be for doing the canvass and then the recount, but my guess is we’ll have a final result before Christmas.

Sung nips Luman in HISD runoff

By twenty-seven votes.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Runoff Day for HISD special election

From the inbox:

vote-button

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

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

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

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

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

Runoff early voting: Light turnout

EarlyVoting

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

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

Re-Endorsement watch: Sung in the special

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

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

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

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

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

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

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

HISD special election runoff will be December 10

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

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

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

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

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

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

John Luman

John Luman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Former HISD Trustee Marshall found liable in civil bribery lawsuit

Ouch.

A bribery lawsuit that kept a cloud of suspicion over the Houston school district for six years ended Wednesday with a jury finding that former board president Larry Marshall participated in a kickback scheme that caused millions of dollars in damages to a local construction contractor.

The civil jury decided in favor of the Gil Ramirez Group, an upstart firm that alleged it lost lucrative school district contracts because it did not offer bribes to Marshall through his political campaign treasurer and longtime friend, Joyce Moss-Clay.

The verdict, which may be appealed, deals a hit to Marshall’s legacy as one of the longest-serving and best-known Houston school trustees, who started as a teacher in 1955 and later worked to integrate the nation’s seventh-largest district.

“The culture of corruption at HISD took a serious blow today,” Kelly Greenwood Prather, an attorney for Gil Ramirez Jr., said after the verdict, which triggered tears of joy from her client.

The jury found that Marshall, Moss-Clay and two HISD construction contractors violated the civil racketeering law and awarded the Gil Ramirez Group about $451,500, an amount that is tripled to $1.4 million under law.

The jury also found the group interfered in contracts and awarded $3.4 million in punitive damages, plus $676,667 in actual damages.

The Houston Independent School District, dismissed as a defendant in the lawsuit in 2015, distanced itself from Marshall Wednesday, issuing a statement that the district is not responsible for paying damages on the former trustee’s behalf.

HISD’s response could complicate the payout to the Gil Ramirez Group if Marshall lacks the funds.

Attorney Chad Dunn, also representing Ramirez, said he believed the district is liable for the damages.

“The school district spent millions of dollars defending Larry Marshall and now it wants to avoid its own responsibility,” Dunn said. “If this is a sign of the district’s response to the jury’s message, it’s pathetic.”

This lawsuit had been dismissed by the trial judge in 2013, then reinstated on appeal two years later. It’s a bit unclear what happens next, whether Marshall will appeal or HISD will be ordered to cover some of the judgment against him; there’s also a federal criminal investigation that’s still out there. What I do know is that Marshall, who had a sterling career as an educator, threw all that away as a school board trustee, and the stain he left on HISD as a whole through this ordeal – and he was far from the only one with dirty hands – will take a long time to remove. The Press has more.