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Juliet Stipeche

What role might the city have in HISD?

The possibility that the city could have any role at all with HISD is itself interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he has been asked to get “very, very, very involved” in Houston ISD as it faces potentially severe state sanctions, but he stopped short Wednesday of suggesting the city could take control of the district’s chronically under-performing campuses.

Asked whether the city could become a “partner” with the district, giving the city significant authority over operations at campuses, Turner said Wednesday: “Let’s just say I’ve been asked to be very, very involved by multiple individuals, and then I am deciding to what degree and to how far I am going to get involved in the day-to-day operation of any of the schools.”

In recent weeks, HISD administrators have proposed surrendering significant control over 10 underachieving campuses to “partners” as part of the district’s plan for avoiding state sanctions.

Under a law known as HB 1842, which was passed in 2015, the Texas Education Agency must replace HISD’s locally elected school board or close campuses if any one of the district’s 10 longest-failing schools fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Under a separate law known as SB 1882, which was passed in 2017, the district can stave off those potential sanctions for two years if it partners with a nonprofit, higher education institution, charter school network or government entity.

When HISD administrators initially recommended partnerships in early February, the district did not include governmental entities as a potential partner. However, in recent days, HISD leaders have added that option in public presentations about SB 1882, leading to speculation that the city of Houston could take control of HISD campuses.

There’s some precedent for this. Peter Brown advocated for an “urban school district” as part of his 2009 Mayoral campaign. Mayor Turner hired former HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche as his Director of Education, a role he created. It’s not clear what role the city might play in HISD, if it even comes to that. Given the choices from SB1882, I’d go with a college or nonprofit first as a partner, and would prefer the city only if the other choices are a charter school or the state. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what comes next, but I do appreciate the city being willing to step in, even if I’d rather it not be needed.

HISD board members against the HISD ballot item

I missed this when it first appeared.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

The Mayor’s education czar

Former HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche has joined the Turner administration.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

Mayor Sylvester Turner has named former Houston ISD board president Juliet Stipeche to a newly created Director of Education role in his administration, seeking greater collaboration between the city and area schools, community colleges and universities.

Many council members and education advocates praised the move, even as some acknowledged Stipeche’s effectiveness could be limited by the inherent gap between the city and local schools districts, which are legally distinct and governed by separately elected boards.

Turner said Stipeche, who will report directly to him, will work with parents, administrators, law enforcement agencies and neighborhoods, seeking grants and better coordinating what dollars Houston already directs to youth and educational programs. He tied the appointment to his oft-repeated goal of reducing income inequality, saying that social divide often is driven by an inadequate education system.

“This is a golden opportunity to really recognize that we can’t continue to be a growing, dynamic city if our school systems are operating separate and apart,” Turner said. “Not all of it has to do with dollars and cents. Some of it is just making sure that one entity is not doing something that works adversely against the other. It doesn’t make any sense to be closing community neighborhood schools if the city is looking at revitalizing those communities.”

This is a newly-created position, so it’s hard to know at this time what the effect might be. The basic idea of facilitating better cooperation and coordination with schools and colleges makes a lot of sense on a number of levels. For one thing, if we go back to a major theme of the 2009 Mayor’s race, the school districts and all of the colleges have their own police forces, and to whatever extent they can work better with HPD, it’s a good thing. As noted in the story, schools have things like libraries and SPARK parks that can dovetail with amenities the city provides. These entities all pay into the Rebuild Houston fund, and they are all key to the Metro transit network, so prioritizing street and sidewalk repair and improvements around them serve multiple purposes. I’m sure there are other possibilities as well, but if nothing else just having the city talk to HISD and HCC and everyone else on a more regular basis will have benefits. And if it doesn’t work as well as we hoped, then Mayor Turner can wind it down. It’s worth a try, and I look forward to seeing what this office can do. KUHF has more.

Precinct analysis: Did HERO hurt Juliet Stipeche?

It’s one theory.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

In the Houston Independent School District, trustee Juliet Stipeche on Tuesday became the first sitting HISD board member to lose since 1997. At that time, retired educator Larry Marshall defeated Clyde Lemon, a supporter of then-Superintendent Rod Paige.

Stipeche, one of Superintendent Terry Grier’s most outspoken critics, fell to Diana Davila, who served on the board for seven years before resigning her term early in 2010.

Davila won the District 8 seat Tuesday with 55 percent of the vote – bolstered, observers say, by strong name recognition and a high turnout of conservative voters who defeated the city of Houston’s equal-rights ordinance. Davila was listed on the candidate slate pushed by opponents of the HERO ordinance.

Making the anti-HERO slate, however, did not guarantee victory. HISD District 4 candidate Ann McCoy, also listed, lost by a wide margin, and District 3 trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr. was forced into a runoff in his three-way race.

[…]

Stipeche said she thinks she was hurt by the anti-gay rights movement and community dissatisfaction with HISD under Grier.

“I think people are very frustrated by what is happening in HISD,” said Stipeche, who chairs the school board’s audit committee and launched audits to look into the projected $212 million shortfall in the 2012 bond program.

Davila joined her board colleagues in unanimously hiring Grier in 2009, but she distanced herself during the campaign, saying she was “one of the culprits” in his appointment.

Davila attributed her success largely to “grass-roots campaigning,” fueled by family volunteers.

“You block walk. You look for the least expensive printer. And you label at home,” said Davila, who reported raising no campaign contributions.

She declined to say Wednesday whether she supported the equal-rights ordinance.

First off, I’m not sure which slate this story refers to. I didn’t come across any endorsements at all for Diana Davila, and none of the ones I have on my Election 2015 page for Ann McCoy – who expressed support for HERO in the interview I did with her – came from expressly anti-HERO groups. It’s certainly possible there was something I missed, and I have no doubt that Stipeche would have been a target of anti-HERO forces if they were active in this race. I just didn’t see any such activity.

As for what the numbers say, HERO actually didn’t do too badly in Stipeche’s district. It was defeated by a margin of 8,922 to 7,879 or 46.7% to 53.3%, while Stipeche lost 5,370 to 6,725 or 44.4% to 55.6%. That in and of itself doesn’t tell us anything, because we have no way of knowing what this election might have looked like if HERO hadn’t been on the ballot. It could be that in such a world, fewer people who would have voted against HERO show up, and perhaps that drags Davila’s total down enough for her to lose as well. There’s just no way to know.

For what it’s worth, if you add up the vote in the precincts where HERO lost, you get a tally of 3,017 to 5,625 against HERO and 2,300 to 4,238 against Stipeche. That’s greater than the actual margin of defeat for Stipeche, so it at least suggests that there’s a relation between being anti-HERO and pro-Davila. It’s far from conclusive, however. For one thing, as noted before we don’t know what turnout would have been like without HERO on the ballot. It’s entirely possible that Davila still wins in that scenario – she did win by a fairly healthy amount, and surely there were some pro-HERO voters who also voted for Stipeche but might have stayed home otherwise. It may also be that this is a reflection of geography and ethnicity – Stipeche’s support may have been predominantly from the more Anglo parts of the district in the Heights that were also pro-HERO, while Davila’s support may have come from the more Latino and anti-HERO parts of the district. I’m not map-oriented so you’ll have to wait until Greg or someone like him takes up that question. My point is simply that what we have is suggestive but hardly conclusive.

If one looks at individual precincts, a few other interesting bits emerge. In several precincts where HERO won by a sizable margin, Stipeche won by a much smaller margin, with the difference appearing to be mostly the result of undervoting. Here are a few precincts that stood out to me:


Pcnct  Yes   No   Diff  Stipeche  Davila  Diff
==============================================
0001   470  260    210       246     253    -7
0002   307  190    117       204     136    68
0016   173  117     56       101      91    10
0030   361  239    122       215     200    15
0033   834  262    472       432     236   196
0052   407  251    156       219     162    57

0027   464  385     79       347     423   -76

0080   184  467   -283       203     331  -128
0104   162  406   -244       169     260   -91

I included those last three at the end to show that the effect wasn’t entirely one-sided. I don’t know why so many HERO supporters (and a few HERO opponents) in these precincts failed to vote in their HISD Trustee race, but even the most generous interpretation doesn’t affect the result, as Stipeche would only net 804 more votes if we assigned the HERO results in those first six precincts to her election. There may have been some effect, but if there was it wasn’t decisive.

So did HERO have an effect in this particular election? I can’t say it did, and I can’t say it didn’t. Or to put it another way, I think it was a factor, but I don’t know how much of one. It probably wasn’t a difference maker, but who knows? Wish I could be more definitive, but sometimes all you can do is shrug.

Omnibus election results post

I’m going to take the easy way out here, because it’s been a long day/week/month and I’m hoping to get some sleep tonight, and just hit the highlights. There will be plenty of time for deeper analysis later, and of course we are now officially in runoff season. There’s absolutely no rest for the political junkie.

– Obviously, the HERO result is deeply disappointing. I’ll leave the Monday morning quarterbacking to others, but I will say this: Whatever you think about this issue, get ready for Jared Woodfill to be the public face of Houston for a few days. There’s no way this is good for anyone.

– It’s Sylvester versus King in the Mayoral runoff. The runoff will basically be the campaign we should have had in November, which will be dominated by the Mayor’s race and not the HERO campaign and the avalanche of lies that accompanied it. Don’t expect the same crowd to show up in December – if I had to guess it would be turnout in the 150K range, as it was in 2009.

– The Controller’s race was reasonably according to form, with Bill Frazer and Chris Brown in the runoff.

– Four out of five At Large races will go to runoffs, with CM Michael Kubosh being the only candidate who can take November off. I suggested there might be some goofy results in these races, and we have them, in ALs 1 and 5, where candidates who didn’t do much if any campaigning are in the runoffs. The single best result of the night is Amanda Edwards’ big lead. She will face Roy Morales, who sneaked past Laurie Robinson into second place, in December.

– And the single worst result from last night, even worse than the HERO result, is Juliet Stipeche losing her race to Diana Davila. A terrible blow for the HISD Board. Jolanda Jones won easily, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads but is in a runoff, and Manuel Rodriguez also leads but is in a runoff, with Jose Leal and nor Ramiro Fonseca. What a weird night. On the plus side, both Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo won re-election to the HCC board easily.

– Mike Laster and Richard Nguyen are both in runoffs, in J and F. I feel pretty good about Laster’s chances, less so about Nguyen’s. Greg Travis is a close winner in G, and Karla Cisneros leads in H, Jason Cisneroz holding off Roland Chavez for second place; the difference between the two was in double digits most of the night. If there’s one race on the ballot where someone calls for a recount, it’ll be this one.

– I guess if you really wanted to change Houston’s term limits law, this was the election to do it. There was absolutely no campaign either way, and for all the shouting about “ballot language” in the HERO and Renew Houston elections, I’ll bet a large chunk of the people who voted for Prop 2 had no idea what they were voting for.

– All the county bond issues passed, as did all the state props, and Montgomery County finally got a road bond to pass. Hope it’s all you want it to be, MontCo.

I will have more to say later. For now, this is all the energy I have. I’m going to be looking for national reaction stories to the HERO referendum. I strongly suspect it will be ugly, and I expect the likes of Dan Patrick and Jared Woodfill to keep lying about it in the face of such blowback. But we’ll see. Thanks for reading, and I’ll post precinct analyses as soon as I can get my hands on the canvass. On to the runoffs!

Chron overview of HISD Trustee races

Little late in the game for this sort of thing, but better late than never.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

With Superintendent Terry Grier leaving in March, the HISD board faces a big decision in choosing his replacement.

Voters can help to determine who makes that decision, with four of nine trustee seats on the Nov. 3 ballot.

At least one trustee will be new, as Paula Harris is not seeking re-election. Yet some familiar faces – a former trustee, a past city councilwoman and three repeat candidates – are vying to help govern the nation’s seventh-largest school district.

Grier, by announcing in September that he would resign six months later, removed his future in the district as the top campaign issue. However, his rapid rollout of programs and high staff turnover loom on the trail with candidates calling for more stability in the Houston Independent School District.

HISD’s reliance on student test scores to award bonuses and to evaluate teachers also could be at risk. Several candidates said they oppose the statistical measure used in both, and the board’s decision last week to continue the $10 million bonus program was narrowly split – a 5-4 vote.

At a recent forum sponsored by the research and advocacy group Children at Risk, chief executive Bob Sanborn noted that HISD won the top prize for urban school districts under Grier and asked whether the candidates would rehire him if they could. None of the candidates in attendance said they would do so.

You can see the interviews I did with several of the candidates here. I asked all of them if they would vote to give Grier a new contract or not – all these interviews were done before Grier announced his intent to step down – and with the exception of Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who declined to discuss the matter, they all said No. If I’d have known that Grier was not coming back, I would have asked what qualities they were looking for in a new Superintendent. That’s the question, and the challenge, for the next Board.

Endorsement watch: Four for HISD

Here are the Chron endorsements for HISD Board of Trustees. The endorsements of incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche were expected and easily justified, so not particularly remarkable. The other two are worth comment.

Manuel Rodriguez

District III: Manuel Rodriguez

Our choice for this important position, Manuel Rodriguez, was first elected in 2003 and then re-elected in 2007. His school district in East Houston includes Milby and Cesar E. Chavez high schools. A Stephen F. Austin High School graduate, Rodriguez has been involved for more than 30 years in HISD schools and knows the district well. Even so, longtime district observers say his aloof style and lack of consistent physical presence in District III make it difficult to ascertain where he stands on issues. Ideally, members of the HISD community should make the effort to attend school board meetings, but they also have every right to expect school board members to take the initiative to disseminate important information to the communities they represent. Rodriguez’s challengers, Ramiro Fonseca and Jose Leal, bring a refreshing passion to the race. Still, Rodriguez appears more knowledgeable on the issues and better able than his opponents to respond to the challenges that HISD is facing at this time. Our advice to Rodriguez: Don’t take this position for granted. Our advice to the challengers: Participate in district issues and run again.

District IV: Ann R. McCoy

Voters should cast their ballots for Ann R. McCoy, a research director at the University of Houston, to fill this seat being vacated by Paula Harris. The area she would represent includes Debakey, Sterling and Yates high schools. A graduate of Bellaire High School, McCoy went on to earn a doctorate in counseling and a post-doctorate in mental health research. McCoy has spent her career evaluating the effectiveness of educational programs, and the board stands to gain muchfrom her analytical skills. She has also taught in area universities. During a District IV candidates’ meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, McCoy displayed the thoughtful and deliberative approach that is needed to tackle the issues facing the district. Her deep experience in education and collaborative temperament earn our endorsement over her opponents: attorney and former City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, retired HISD principal Davetta Mills Daniels, and community activist Larry McKinzie.

The Rodriguez endorsement…I mean, look, if you really think he’s the best candidate, then fine. I disagree, but whatever. What I can’t understand is how you can not mention at all the endorsement that was retracted in 2011 after a bunch of homophobic mailers attacking Ramiro Fonseca were sent out, which Rodriguez shrugged at. It’s part of his record, and with Fonseca running again it’s a pretty important part. How do you not even mention it?

As for District IV, I predicted the McCoy endorsement – I was three for four in this group – so no surprise here. Honestly, I think both McCoy and Jolanda Jones would make good trustees, they’d just make very different trustees. Pick the style you prefer and go from there.

Interview with Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

We wrap up our week of HISD candidate interviews with another incumbent. Juliet Stipeche is finishing up her first full term in District 8; she won a special election in 2010 to fill a vacancy left when then-Trustee Diana Davila (now her opponent this year) resigned. A civil litigation attorney and certified mediator, Stipeche is a graduate of the High School for Criminal Justice and Rice University. One of the fiercer critics of outgoing Superintendent Terry Grier, Stipeche chairs the Audit Committee and served as Board President in 2014. Here’s the interview:

(Note: All HISD candidate interviews took place before Superintendent Terry Grier announced his resignation.)

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

We are a bit more than a month out from the start of early voting, and as such we are getting close to the start of Chronicle endorsement season. I know from doing candidate interviews that the Chron has been holding screenings in recent days, so it shouldn’t be long now. So while we wait for that, why not take a crack at guessing what their endorsements will be?

I want to stress up front that these are not my endorsements. I’m not making any endorsements, here or elsewhere. Nor are these necessarily the candidates I think the Chronicle should endorse. I’m not making any value judgments. These are my best guesses at who the Chron will endorse, based on past history and my read on what they are looking for this year.

What are they looking for this year? I don’t think that’s any mystery. They’re looking for candidates who support HERO and who are sufficiently “serious” about pension reform. That doesn’t mean these are their only criteria, nor does it mean that they can’t or won’t endorse a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on one or both of them. I’m not there in the screenings, I don’t know what else might be on their minds. I’m just making what I hope are reasonable guesses. None of this should be taken seriously. Consider this the political nerd’s equivalent of Sean Pendergast predicting the Texans’ season, with fewer references to the WWE and Game of Thrones.

So with all of that said, let’s begin.

Mayor

At first glance, you’d think this would be a tough one to guess, but looking back at what I wrote above, it jumps right out at you: I believe the Chron will endorse Steve Costello. He checks all their boxes, and he has the most experience in city government to boot. King and Hall are both anti-HERO. McVey is an extreme longshot. I think they will be too critical of the recent issues with the jail to go with Garcia. Bell and Turner are possible, I guess, but I don’t think the Chron would consider them “serious” enough on pensions; the Chron did not care for the agreement that Turner helped broker with the firefighters earlier this year. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Costello.

Controller

This one is murkier. Chris Brown is possible, but I think they will ding him for being Ronald Green’s second in command, and it’s not like they were ever big fans of his father. They endorsed Bill Frazer in 2013 and could endorse him again, but I think that was at least partly about Green’s baggage. I also think that if I’m right about Costello, they may be reluctant to endorse two Anglo Republicans for the top offices of a city that is not particularly Anglo nor Republican. I believe they will view Carroll Robinson’s tenure with the HCC Board as a negative. Honestly, I think the favorite at this point is Dwight Jefferson, who was part of the best Metro board in recent memory and who has no obvious negatives about him. I’ll say Jefferson 60%, Frazer 25%, Brown 15%.

At Large incumbents

With incumbents there’s an extra factor to consider, namely whether the incumbent in question has done anything to disqualify himself or herself. There are no Helena Browns this year, so the main question is how big a strike against someone is a vote against HERO? I’ll get to that in a minute. In At Large #2, I think David Robinson is an easy call. He checks the boxes, and none of his opponents are anyone I’d expect the Chron to consider seriously. Kubosh and Christie are the tougher ones to guess. How much will their opposition to HERO be held against them? My guess is “some”, but unless the screening goes badly for them or I’ve underestimated the commitment the Chron has to HERO, I figure they’re both favorites. I’ll make it 80% for Kubosh and 65% for Christie, with the difference being that Christie made some goofy statements about vaccines in his first term, and Philippe Nassif is compelling enough that the Chron might take a flyer on him as a “breath of fresh air” candidate.

At Large open seats

I’m going to go with Tom McCasland in AL1 and Amanda Edwards in AL4. Edwards feels like the safer choice. It would have been a harder call if Laurie Robinson hadn’t flipflopped on HERO, but if my conviction about this means anything, it means it in this race. In AL1, I could see the Chron supporting Lane Lewis or Jenifer Pool – as with Carroll Robinson, I think the Chron will not consider Chris Oliver’s time with HCC to be a positive – but I think McCasland’s resume will carry the day. Let’s say 60% McCasland, 30% Lewis, 10% Pool.

District seats

All district incumbents will be endorsed. This is easy, as there are no disqualifiers and outside of F and J no challengers that are likely to be considered. The cases worth examining are the open seats in G and H. G is a two-candidate race, and you can make an argument for or against either – both candidates are sufficiently qualified, and both are against HERO in a district where that would be expected. The main negative for Sandie Mullins Moger is being on the HCC board – yeah, there’s a theme here – and the main negative for Greg Travis is that he recently announced an endorsement by Helena Brown. I make it 55-45 for Travis. As for H, I can see any of Jason Cisneroz, Roland Chavez, and Karla Cisneros getting the nod. For no reason I can easily explain, I think Karla Cisneros is a slight favorite – let’s say 40-30-30. Have I mentioned that I’m guessing?

HISD and HCC

For HISD, they’ll stick with incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche, and they’ll reverse themselves from 2011 and go with Ramiro Fonseca over Manuel Rodriguez. In the open District 4 seat, I don’t seem the picking Jolanda Jones, so I’ll say they’ll endorse Ann McCoy. The only contested races in HCC involve the two incumbents running for re-election, Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo. I’ll be surprised if they don’t endorse those two.

Referenda

Obviously, they’ll endorse HERO. I think they’ll be as “meh” on the term limits item as I am, and will either give it a lukewarm thumbs up or they’ll advocate a No. Same for the Harris County bond issue, with a slightly better chance of a Yes. I have no idea on the state constitutional amendments, if they bother with them. There were none that excited me one way or the other, though there are a few I’m likely to vote against.

So that’s how I see it. Go ahead and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I’ll check back in a few weeks and see how good a job I did trying to read their mind.

What next for HISD?

The board ponders its options for Superintendent while they prepare to search for a successor to Dr. Terry Grier.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

The Houston Independent School District board is set to meet Tuesday morning to discuss the district’s next steps after Superintendent Terry Grier’s surprise announcement Thursday that he was stepping down effective March 1.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said Friday that trustees would consider when to appoint an interim superintendent. She said the interim likely would not start until Grier’s exit but could start to transition into the role.

The interim, she said, could come from inside or outside the Houston Independent School District.

“We’re not ruling anyone out,” she said. “I think the goal should be to find someone who can continue the work that we’re doing while bringing a sense of calm and stability, and creating an environment that is inviting to a new superintendent.”

Ken Huewitt, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief financial officer, sat in for Grier at the school board meeting Thursday night. Grier promoted Huewitt in July to serve as his deputy, saying he would handle day-to-day operations in Grier’s absence. Grier underwent a knee replacement in August and has a second surgery set for November.

“Dr. Grier is still the superintendent, and he will be the superintendent until such time that his resignation is effective,” Skillern-Jones said. “He has been courteous enough to give us six months’ preparation. During this time, we can prepare for the transition. We can find the person, and they can be prepared to take the helm when Dr. Grier steps down.”

The school board and Grier still have to discuss a possible exit package. It’s possible they could negotiate different terms based on any unused leave time or other factors.

Skillern-Jones and other trustees said a permanent superintendent would not be hired until next year, based on the timeline and board elections taking place in November. The newly elected trustees – four seats are on the ballot – will take office in January.

[…]

Trustee Juliet Stipeche, who has been one of Grier’s strongest critics, said she thinks the timing of his announcement was based on his tenuous relationship with the board and possible newly elected trustees. Several candidates had called for Grier’s ouster.

“The writing was on the wall that he didn’t have the support for an extension,” Stipeche, who chairs the board’s audit committee, said Friday. “And I believe that people whose opinion he trusts and relies upon strongly encouraged him to leave at this point, so the district could get a new leader who can be devoted to trying to solve many of the problems that currently exist.”

Stipeche described Grier’s tenure as “painful.”

“He is a it’s-my-way or no-other-way (leader),” she said. “He’s not a consensus builder. He’s a firebrand.”

In an interim superintendent, Stipeche said, she would like someone experienced who can oversee financial problems with the district’s $1.9 billion construction bond program. Grier’s administration has estimated a $211 million shortfall, though Huewitt has said he has a plan to borrow funds to fill most of the gap.

See here for the background. Ken Huewitt seems like the obvious choice for interim Superintendent, but I’m sure the board will want to consider all its options. One of those options might be to ask Grier to serve in a different role until he officially departs.

Will Terry Grier get to serve out the rest of his superintendency or will he be moved to another position while an interim superintendent runs the Houston ISD?

That’s one of the things that’s going to be discussed next Tuesday when the school board meets at 7:30 a.m. Trustee Juliet Stipeche said this afternoon that there are some questions about whether Grier, who faces another round of knee surgery in November (and who’s having apparently a tough recovery from the first surgery) would be available to run the district during the time he is out following surgery.

On Thursday Grier abruptly resigned but pledged to keep working until March 1, 2016, three months before his contract was set to expire.

“You can’t have two acting superintendents,” Stipeche said. “So the question is, can Dr. Grier assume a different role?”

Good question. I have no idea. Should make for a fascinating discussion.

Beyond that, the interesting decision is for the successor. The first thing the board needs to do is decide what exactly they want in a new super. I wish all this had happened before I went and did HISD candidate interviews, because that would have been a great question to ask, but that’s the way it goes. Be sure to ask your Trustee and/or the candidates running for Trustee in your district what they want to see in the next Superintendent.

HISD bond concerns

It’s always something.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

A key Houston ISD school board member called Sunday for audits of the district’s 2012 bond program amid estimates of a $211 million shortfall and concerns about breaking promises to voters.

Juliet Stipeche, chair of HISD’s audit committee, submitted her request for internal and external audits after a Davis High School teacher expressed outrage on Facebook that the district’s $1.9 billion bond program may be so short on funds that her campus will only be renovated, rather than rebuilt as promised. Meanwhile, the teacher wrote, rats fall from a hole in her classroom ceiling, the restrooms smell like a prison and fires have started, apparently because of shoddy wiring.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones responded on Facebook that she would ask Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration to “halt the (bond) work until we can develop a plan to deliver exactly what we promised and what the taxpayers voted for.”

Grier replied in an email to trustees that he was open to an audit, but he said the financial problems boil down to unusually high inflation in the construction market, a concern he expressed months ago. He also revealed Sunday that his staff was working with financial advisers to try to add another $200 million into the bond program to cover most of the projected shortfall.

The district’s 2012 bond referendum – with the largest price tag in Texas school history – called for rebuilding and renovating 40 schools, renovating middle school restrooms and upgrading technology, athletic facilities and security.

“My recommendation, if our plan to add dollars to the bond does not work out, is to prioritize the projects and build what we promised,” Grier wrote board members Sunday. “When the money runs out, we stop construction – even if some projects are delayed until a future bond.”

There’s a discussion in the story about higher-than-expected inflation of construction costs, which is not too surprising given the (up till recently) red hot real estate market in town. There’s also some finger-pointing about who knew what when and who informed whom about it, which I’m just going to glide past. The main thing is keeping promises to the schools and their communities that were made in the referendum. I am confident it can be done, and we need to make sure that it does get done.

UPDATE: And then there’s this:

Houston ISD overpaid contractors and may have violated state law by exceeding construction contract limits without required school board approval, according to a newly released audit.

The auditors found that the district appeared to skirt a $500,000 contracting cap multiple times by improperly submitting separate work orders tied to the same project. The auditors also noted that the district failed to catch inaccurate and inappropriate charges and at times asked the school board to sign off on work after it had been done.

“State law and district policies were at the very least ignored, but more likely knowingly circumvented,” HISD trustee Anna Eastman, a member of the board’s audit committee, said Wednesday. “I’m not satisfied with the administrative response of ignorance and, ‘We’ll do it differently next time.’ Someone needs to be held accountable for this.”

In a written response, HISD’s construction and facilities department said the district would seek repayments from the contractors that appear to have been overpaid. One example cited shows the district is due $16,179, but auditors did not calculate the total amount due for other questionable invoices.

The construction department said that the approval process was skewed because the district was trying to complete projects over the summer. In one 2014 case, the department said, it attempted to comply with requirements “in a manner consistent with the time constraints of the project.”

Clearly, there’s more work to be done here.

Your official slate of candidates

Yesterday was the filing deadline. Here’s the official list of candidates, modulo any challenges or subsequently invalidated applications. The highlights:

– There are thirteen candidates for Mayor. The City Secretary might consider starting the ballot order draw now, this may take awhile.

– Dwight Boykins in D, Dave Martin in E, and Larry Green in K are the only incumbents not to draw opponents. No new contenders emerged in G or H.

– Kendall Baker became the third candidate in District F. Here’s a reminder about who he is.

– Former HCC Trustee Herlinda Garcia filed against CM Robert Gallegos in I. She was appointed to the HCC board in 2013 to fill Mary Ann Perez’s seat after having served before, and was supported in the 2013 runoff by Dave Wilson.

– Frequent commenter Manuel Barrera filed in District J, joining Jim Bigham and some other dude against CM Mike Laster. You can search for his name in the archives here. I think we have our 2015 vintage “straight slate”.

– Former District A candidate Mike Knox is in for At Large #1, and performance artist Eric Dick has graced us with his presence in At Large #2. Again, “straight slate”.

– I am disappointed but not terribly surprised to see that Durrel Douglas did not file in At Large #5. He hadn’t filed a July finance report, and as far as I could tell had not screened for endorsements. I know he’s been spending a lot of time in Waller County and working with the Houston Justice Coalition on the Sandra Bland case. Sometimes the time isn’t right.

– Former District F Council Member and 2009 Controller candidate MJ Khan filed for Controller. Not sure what’s up with that, but I’m guessing Bill Frazer isn’t thrilled by it.

– Here’s the Chron story, which includes the HISD candidates. The main point of interest there is former Trustee Diana Davila running for her old seat in District 8, against Trustee Juliet Stipeche.

That’s all I know for now. I’ll be updating the 2015 Election page over the next couple of days to get all the changes in. We’ll see if anything else shakes out. What are your impressions of the candidate list?

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

A raucous municipal endorsement meeting brought mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner the coveted backing of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus on Saturday, positioning the 26-year state representative to broaden his coalition to include the city’s progressive voting bloc.

Caucus members voted 142-85 to endorse Turner after more than an hour of insult-laden discussion in which they rejected the recommendation of the group’s screening committee to endorse former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Turner also beat out former Congressman Chris Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community who had been considered a likely pick for the group’s endorsement.

Once-shunned, the caucus’ supprt is now highly sought-after by candidates aiming to win over left-wing voters, known for reliably showing up at the polls.

“This is a major step to the finish line,” said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor’s race. “This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston’s family.”

[…]

Of the five mayoral candidates angling for caucus support, Turner, Garcia and City Councilman Stephen Costello received the highest ratings from the group’s four-member screening committee.

Committee members said concerns about Bell’s viability landed him a lower rank.

Bell closed out the first half of the year with less money in the bank than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“He’s in a tough position, because absent resources, financial resources, he would need key endorsements like this one to bolster his candidacy,” [consultant Keir] Murray said. “It just makes what was already a tough road even tougher.”

Bell, for his part, remained optimistic after the endorsement vote.

“Obviously not everyone participates in the caucus endorsement process,” Bell said. “I still think I am going to have tremendous support in the progressive voting bloc.”

See here for some background. I followed the action on Facebook and Twitter – it was spirited and lengthy, but everyone got a chance to make their case and to be heard. Here’s the full list of endorsed candidates:

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

City Council
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District F – Richard A. Nguyen
District H – Roland Chavez
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At Large 1 – Lane Lewis
At Large 2 – David Robinson
At Large 3 – Doug Peterson
At Large 4 – Amanda K. Edwards
At Large 5 – Phillipe Nassif

Controller – Chris Brown

HISD District 2 – Rhonda Skillern Jones
HISD District 3 – Ramiro Fonseca
HISD District 4 – Jolanda Jones
HISD District 8 – Juliet Katherine Stipeche

HCCS District 3 – Adriana Tamez
HCCS District 8 – Eva Loredo

None of these come as a surprise. Several could have gone another way, thanks to the presence of multiple qualified and viable candidates. I look forward to seeing this slate – and the near-misses – do very well in November.

HISD and HCC finance reports

Here’s what we know, though it’s incomplete.

BagOfMoney

Fundraising among most HISD board members was slow during the first half of 2015.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who plans to seek re-election to her District 2 seat this November, raised the most money this reporting period ($4,000) and has the most on hand ($8,195), according to the July campaign finance reports.

Three other board seats are on the ballot in November. Trustees Manuel Rodriguez Jr. (District 3) and Juliet Stipeche (District 8) have told me they plan to seek re-election. Trustee Paula Harris (District 4) has not returned messages, but she has raised no money and reports none on hand — a good sign she is not running again.

The first day to file the formal paperwork to be on the ballot was Saturday. Only one candidate, Ramiro Fonseca, who’s seeking the District 3 seat, had filed as of Monday morning. The last day to file is Aug. 24.

Three others have filed reports naming a campaign treasurer, indicating they were interested in running: Jolanda “Jo” Jones (District 4), Ann McCoy (District 4) and Darlene “Koffey” Smith (District 2).

July reports for all of the HISD and HCC Trustee candidates that I know of are now up on the 2015 Election page. Note that only reports for HISD incumbents are available through the HISD website. HCC posts non-incumbent candidate reports as well, and good on them for doing so. HISD, you need to do something about this.

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand ================================================ Skillern-Jones 4,000 5,150 0 8,195 Rodriguez 3.325 808 0 2,856 Stipeche 0 5,733 0 9,884 Tamez 16,750 248 0 15,820 Evans-Shabazz 0 0 0 0 Hansen 200 1,826 5,000 3,374 Loredo 4,147 779 0 4,805 Aguilar 0 4,827 10,000 5,172

Compared to some of the other races we’ve seen, these are Dollar General to their Niemann Marcus. In HISD IV, everyone I’ve spoken to has told me that Paula Harris is not running for re-election. It’s annoying that the non-incumbent reports are not online, but they do exist in paper form, and Ericka Mellon was kind enough to track them down.

Former City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones has raised more than $8,100 in her run for the HISD school board, nearly twice as much as competitor Ann McCoy.

Jones’ contributions for the District 4 race include more than $2,800 from her council campaign. She served on the council from 2008 through 2011.

Community activist Larry McKinzie also has filed a campaign treasurer report to run for District 4 but did not submit the fund-raising report due July 15, indicating he had not raised money at that point.

[…]

In District 3, incumbent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. faces a rematch with Ramiro Fonseca. Rodriguez has more than $2,800 on hand. Fonseca has filed a treasurer report but said he has not raised funds yet.

In District 2, incumbent Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the board president, raised $4,000 during the last six-month reporting period. Darlene “Koffey” Smith, also running for District 2, has not raised any money but reports spending $1,800 that she intends to reimburse with donations. Youlette McCullough, who lists her nickname as “Baby Jane,” has filed a treasurer report for the District 2 seat, indicating her plans to run.

No word yet on whether HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche will face an opponent in the District 8 race.

There’s more at the link, so go check it out.

As for HCC, the only contested race so far is in my district, District 8, where first-termer Eva Loredo faces Art “brother-in-law of Abel Davila” Aguilar. John Hansen is running for the seat being vacated by Sandie Mullins Moger, Carolyn Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson after he stepped down to run for Controller, and Adriana Tamez is running for a full term after winning the remainder of Mary Ann Perez’s term in 2013. I have heard that Dave Wilson plans to back some candidates for the Board, including Aguilar, but there are no other candidates as yet. His own finance report shows no funds raised or spent and nothing but an outstanding loan on hand; if he does play in any races I’m sure he’ll do it via a PAC, however, so don’t read too much into that. If you hear anything about that, let me know. Otherwise, not too much of interest here to report.

What now for Terry Grier?

The HISD Superintendent is in the last year of his contract, and it’s not clear whether it will get extended or not.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Kashmere has made limited strides as one of the schools in Superintendent Terry Grier’s signature reform effort, called Apollo. Students passed their first AP exams and the graduation rate rose, yet the school still ranks among the district’s worst academically, and it will have its fourth principal in six years next fall.

The Apollo program exemplifies much of Grier’s six-year tenure leading the Houston Independent School District. He launched the project quickly, ousted staff and demanded a “no excuses” attitude, drawing praise and criticism from the community and the school board.

That hard-driving style and his relentless agitation for change have made Grier a polarizing figure to some as he fights to raise student achievement in the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

HISD has performed well compared to big-city peers, winning the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2013. Dropout rates also have fallen under Grier, and voters approved the largest school building program in Texas history. Yet academic progress, particularly in reading, is stagnant.

Test scores released last week showed HISD mostly lost ground with the Texas average while the gap between Anglo students and their black and Hispanic classmates widened. The Apollo experiment likewise yielded mixed results, with bigger gains in math than in reading.

Grier defended the district’s results in a recent interview. HISD has held steady, he said, despite enrollment increasing to more than 215,000 students, including more deemed at risk of dropping out. (The major spike occurred in 2013, when HISD took over the low-performing North Forest district.)

“Having said that, we still need to be getting better, faster,” he said.

But the upcoming school year could be Grier’s last. The board has not extended his contract beyond June 30, 2016. For his part, Grier, 65, said his future in Houston, a city he and his wife have come to love, depends largely on his relationship with the board at the time. Four of nine trustees are up for re-election in November.

There’s a lot more to the story, which covers things Grier has done and the progress or lack of same that HISD has made in various areas. It’s worth your time to read. What it doesn’t cover that I think would have been worth including is what the potential changes on the Board of Trustees were and how they might affect Grier’s status. As noted, four Trustees are up for re-election: Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Manuel Rodriguez, Paula Harris, and Juliet Stipeche. Skillern-Jones and Stipeche, both of whom are often critical of Grier, seem likely to get by with at most token opposition. Rodriguez and Harris are both Grier allies, and both are rumored to not be running for re-election. I am not aware of a challenger for Rodriguez’s seat yet – his 2011 opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, who lost in a very close race, has not made any statement about this year that I have heard as yet – while former City Council member Jolanda Jones is running for Harris’ seat. I’m going to guess she will be more of a critic than Harris has been. Losing these two Board members would make things a lot less comfortable for Grier.

January campaign finance reports – HISD trustees

Four HISD Trustees are up for re-election this year. There are nine Trustees in all, and they serve four-year terms, so in a normal year either four or five are up for re-election. As things stand right now, all four incumbents would be running for re-election, which would be the first time there would be no open seat since at least 2001; Harris County Clerk election records only include HISD results as far back as that. Here’s a brief look at those incumbents, along with their January finance reports and a summary of their campaign balances.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, District 2

Skillern-Jones is serving her first term as HISD Trustee. She was the only candidate in 2011 to succeed Carol Mims Galloway. After serving as Board Secretary last year, she was elected to be Board President this year. Prior to the redrawing of Trustee district boundaries last year, hers was one of two districts to absorb schools and students from the former North Forest ISD. She officially announced her intent to run for another term a few weeks ago via email and Facebook. As far as I know, she was the first Trustee to make such an announcement, and is the only one whose plans are known so far.

Manuel Rodriguez, District 3

As noted, there are four Trustees that would be on the ballot this year if they all do run. Of the four, I’d gladly vote for three of them if I lived in their district. The fourth is Manuel Rodriguez, who disgraced himself in 2011 by sending an anti-gay mailer as an attack against his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca. (Fact I did not realize until I scanned through old election results in researching this post: Fonseca also opposed Rodriguez in 2003, when the seat was last open. He finished third in the field of four.) Rodriguez eventually offered a lame apology for his actions, which caused the Houston Chronicle to retract their endorsement of him, after winning an excruciatingly close vote. There was a bit of a hubbub initially, then everyone moved on to other things. I hope everyone remembers this, and that the voters hold Manuel Rodriguez responsible for his despicable behavior if he does choose to run this year.

Paula Harris, District 4

Paula Harris is serving her second term on the HISD board, having won an open seat race in 2007. A prominent supporter of HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, she served as Board President in 2011, during some of the more turbulent times of the Grier era. She was also the focal point of some conflict of interest allegations at that time, which eventually led to a revamp of the Board’s ethics policies. Despite that, she won re-election in 2011 easily over token opposition, and has had a much quieter second term. Harris is an engineer who has published a children’s book encouraging kids to explore engineering, and has been a booster of STEM education on the board.

Juliet Stipeche, District 8

Juliet Stipeche, who served as Board president last year, is finishing her first full term in office. She won a special election in 2010 to fill a seat left vacant by the resignation of then-Trustee Diana Davila. She was one of the driving forces behind that ethics policy revamp, which occurred in 2012, before the last bond referendum. She has also been one of the more active critics of Superintendent Grier, though as noted things have been quieter on that front of late. Her district also contains some former North Forest ISD territory. In my opinion, she’s one of the Board’s best members.

So that’s my brief overview of the incumbents who are up for re-election. As noted, so far there are no open seats. I am also not aware of any declared opponents as yet. Here are the January finance reports for these four:

Skillern-Jones
Rodriguez
Harris
Stipeche

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Skillern-Jones 18,215 12,119 0 9,345 Rodriguez 0 0 0 340 Harris 0 1,500 12,000 0 Stipeche 5,500 7,162 0 15,618

The HISD Board does not have a Council-like blackout period, so incumbents and candidates were able to raise money during 2014. Rhonda Skillern-Jones was the busiest of the four, but I wouldn’t read too much into any of this. We’re very early in the cycle, and the one thing I feel confident saying is that we don’t know what kind of Trustee races we’re going to get yet.

HISD prepares its budget

Teacher pay raises and magnet school funding changes are the main points of interest.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Thanks to rising property values, all Houston ISD employees would receive raises and schools would get more money for supplies, field trips or tutors next year under a budget proposal drawing complaints for its long-term cuts to some popular magnet programs.

For property owners, next year also is expected to bring the first round of a tax rate increase tied to the construction bond package passed by voters in 2012, according to HISD’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt.

The school board is set to vote Thursday on the district’s $1.7 billion operating budget for the upcoming school year. Trustees will not adopt the tax rate until October, but Huewitt projects it will rise by 1 or 2 cents. The amount depends on the district’s final property values, which aren’t certified until August.

Huewitt said he likely could keep the rate hike to a penny if the board doesn’t add more money to schools’ budgets. However, some trustees have said schools need additional funds particularly after state budget cuts in 2011 led to job losses.

Any tax rate increase would come on top of the 3-cent hike the board approved last year to help fund low-performing schools and raises.

The current tax rate is $1.1867 per $100 of assessed value. The owner of a $200,000 home pays $1,720 in taxes, with the district’s tax breaks.

“I think it’s a very good budget,” Huewitt said. “All along we’ve been talking about what our priorities are. If we really believe an effective teacher in every classroom is important, we’ve got to put our money where our mouth is.”

Under Superintendent Terry Grier’s budget proposal, teacher salaries would increase by at least $1,100 with some rising by double that amount, Huewitt said. Other staff would get a 3 percent raise.

[…]

Generating the most controversy is Grier’s plan to standardize funding for magnet programs and other specialty schools, which have themes like fine arts or serve gifted students. Some schools would gain tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars over three years. Others would lose the same amount.

Softening cuts to the specialty schools, Grier has proposed upping the budgets for all campuses by $55 per student.

Some school board members have said they want to double that extra money for all schools and hope to amend the budget proposal Thursday.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get more money to our schools – which would be great because they desperately need support staff and librarians and counselors,” said school board president Juliet Stipeche.

See here and here for the background, and these two K12 Zone posts for more on the revised magnet funding formulae, which remain subject to further change. It’s nice that there’s more money being put into the budget for magnet school programs, but I still don’t understand, and I suspect a lot of other people don’t understand, what the bottom line is. It would be very helpful if HISD could explain, in sufficiently small words, what the district’s vision for its magnet school program is and what the factors are that affect how a given school is funded for it. Maybe it will be a little clearer after the budget is adopted, but the overall lack of communication on this has made the process a lot harder than it needs to be.

HISD magnet funding vote delayed till next week

You still have time to talk to your trustee about this.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Superintendent Terry Grier’s administration has proposed standardizing how the programs are funded – a plan that would result in some schools losing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars and others gaining as much.

School board president Juliet Stipeche said Monday that she used her authority to postpone a decision on the proposal, which has received mixed reviews from her fellow trustees and parents.

The board likely will vote on the issue June 19 when it is scheduled to approve the district’s overall operating budget.

“Given we’re in the last throes of the budget, I didn’t feel comfortable going forward with this until we had the clearest understanding of our final figures,” Stipeche said.

[…]

Grier’s plan sets specific dollar amounts that all programs with the same theme would receive, on a per-pupil basis. For example, an elementary school with a fine arts magnet would receive $350 per student while one with a science, technology, engineering and math program would get $125 per pupil.

“The proposed funding formula is designed to improve equity across programs and increase transparency in our magnet and speciality school funding process,” Mark Smith, the Houston Independent School District’s chief student support officer, wrote in a letter to parents last week.

The plan affects 126 schools. A little more than a half would gain money.

See here for the background. I’ll say again, while I think I get where Grier is coming from on this, the proposed changes have not been communicated well to the affected schools. I know I still don’t understand the formula that HISD came up with to equalize funding. It also occurred to me in writing this post that we’re still waiting on a final decision from HISD about whether some schools will lose all magnet funding for not meeting certain standards, a decision that was postponed in November. I’m not sure how or if this vote is related to that, and I’m not sure where last year’s actions now stand. It would be nice to get some clarity from HISD on these things. Hair Balls has more.

HISD board votes for Mexican-American studies class

You would think this wouldn’t be a big deal.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

The Houston school board, representing the largest district in Texas, threw its support Thursday behind the creation of a Mexican-American studies course in Texas public schools.

The 9-0 vote followed some debate over whether the district would appear to be favoring one culture over another.

“Unanimous is beautiful,” advocate Tony Diaz said after the decision.

HISD board president Juliet Stipeche, who brought the resolution to the board, argued the course was important given that Hispanic enrollment in the state’s public schools tops 51 percent.

She asked her fellow trustees and district officials whether they could name five Mexican-American leaders in U.S. history. They struggled to name a fifth.

“It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we don’t know,” she said.

In Austin [this] week, the State Board of Education plans to discuss developing new elective courses, including a Mexican-American history and culture class for high school students.

You can imagine what will happen when the SBOE gets involved.

On Wednesday, the Texas State Board of Education is expected to vote on developing state curriculum standards for new courses – including, controversially, a high-school elective class in Mexican-American history.

To proponents, the proposal seems to fill an obvious need. Fifty-one percent of Texas’ public-school students are Hispanic. And in the past, the state has created curriculum guidelines for a host of elective classes, including subjects such as floral arrangement, musical theater, landscape design and turf-grass management.

“If we can inspire a child by teaching about Mexican-Americans’ struggles and difficulties, why wouldn’t we do that?” asks Ruben Cortez, D-Brownsville, the state board member who proposed the course.

Opponents – likely in the majority on the Republican-dominated state board – answer that question in many ways.

Some argue that school districts don’t need an official state curriculum to offer the class, and say that the Texas Education Agency is too busy now creating guidelines for other classes required by House Bill 5’s sweeping changes to the state’s graduation requirements.

“I think it is up to the local school districts whether or not to offer a Mexican-American studies course,” board chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, wrote via email. “Several districts in Texas already do.”

Other opponents of Cortez’s proposal believe it’s simply wrong to offer a state-endorsed ethnic-studies course. They say that it undercuts Texan and American identity.

“I’m Irish,” says board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont. “So I’d like to propose an amendment to create an Irish-American Studies class.

He noted that many HISD students speak Urdu: “Why not Indian-American Studies? That may sound silly. But I’m raising a serious point. In Texas public schools, we teach American history and Texas history. We don’t teach Irish-American history and Italian-American history.”

Board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, said the state already includes a considerable amount of Mexican-American history in the curriculum. A former social-studies teacher, she argues that a Mexican-American studies class would do students a disservice if it displaces other social-studies offerings.

“World geography or world history would be more to a student’s advantage,” she says. “They need more global courses that are broader than Mexican-American.”

I mean, come on. Do we really need to explain why in Texas a more in depth examination of Mexican-American history might be a worthwhile addition to the curriculum? I might have had a bit more patience for the SBOE’s excuses here if it weren’t for the fact that they had previously voted to remove a specific requirement that students learn about the efforts of women and ethnic minorities to gain equal rights, as part of an overall effort to make the social studies curriculum more acceptable to the tender sensibilities of aggrieved right wing interests. It was bad enough that even conservative scholars and Republican legislators were critical of the changes. All this is doing is trying to undo some of that damage. Stace has more.

Dodson to be closed, Jones to be revamped

In the end, only one school was closed by HISD, but a lot of people are still upset about the whole thing.

During a rowdy meeting where police had to quiet shouting protestors, the Houston school board narrowly agreed Thursday to close Dodson Elementary but accepted a compromise plan that would turn the long-struggling Jones High into a specialty vocational school.

Many in the crowd focused their anger on Superintendent Terry Grier, calling for his firing, during the most raucous board meeting in years.

[…]

Grier’s initial closure proposal, unveiled four weeks ago, would have shut down five small schools. But [Juliet] Stipeche, using her power as board president, scaled the potential closure list to two schools after community members packed a series of public meetings to complain and a couple dozen people marched outside Grier’s condominium one weekend.

Grier had said closing Jones High and Dodson Elementary were his priorities, saying the district needed to use the facilities to house students from other schools due to be rebuilt under the 2012 voter-approved bond issue.

The idea of closing schools so they could serve as temporary “swing space” for other students didn’t sit well with many.

In the end, the school board agreed on a 5-4 vote to close Dodson Elementary, which enrolls about 445 students this year. The building likely will be used to house students from the district’s Energy Institute High School while it is rebuilt.

[…]

Under the compromise plan for Jones, passed on a 6-3 vote, the school would become a specialty campus focused on career readiness. It would be modeled after other “Futures Academy” programs that the district has started in other high schools, allowing students to work toward industry certification or associate’s degrees.

Students zoned to Jones would get priority in admissions, but the specialty school would be open to students across the district. The Jones students who don’t want to attend will be rezoned to Worthing and Sterling high schools. All are under-enrolled, with Jones falling to about 440 students this year.

The new Jones would not have athletics, a point of contention for some. Students could play for their zoned schools.

While many said they supported the compromise plan for Jones, James Douglas, a longtime officer for the NAACP of Houston, said he did not. He joined others in expressing frustration that Stipeche, the board president, limited speakers to one minute each because more than 80 had signed up to speak on the closures alone.

“I would say HISD is broken and you need to come up with some mechanism not just to hear the community, but really to listen what they have to say,” Douglas told the board. “And you can’t listen to what anyone has to say in one minute.”

See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. I’m sure this isn’t the end of the story, though it’s unclear to me what comes next. The one thing I do know, which hasn’t been mentioned in the coverage so far, is that I truly hope HISD will keep track of the Dodson and Jones students that are directly affected by this to see how their performance fares going forward, just as I have hoped that they will closely monitor the former North Forest students. Whatever the demographic case may be, if closing a school or significantly changing it turns out to have a negative effect on the existing students, it should make districts very reluctant to do that. Dodson is hardly the first school HISD has closed during Terry Grier’s tenure, and I have no idea if any of those students were tracked post-closure. It would be nice to know more about the data we already have, if in fact we do have it. Regardless, given the strong feedback this has generated, the least HISD can do is keep us informed about the consequences – good, bad, or indifferent – of their actions. Hair Balls has more.

Three of five schools escape closure

For now, at least. The other two are still on the block.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

Three small schools will be spared from closure at the urging of Houston school board president Juliet Stipeche, but Jones High and Dodson Elementary remain on the potential chopping block.

Facing mounting community pressure against Superintendent Terry Grier’s closure proposal, Stipeche eliminated Fleming Middle School, Port Houston Elementary and N.Q. Henderson Elementary from the closure list.

The board is set to decide the fate of Jones and Dodson next Thursday. Grier has said the two buildings are needed to house students whose campuses are being rebuilt under the 2012 voter-approved bond program.

“I respect our board president’s request to remove these schools from consideration,” Grier said in a statement. “I also appreciate her input, the input of all trustees and the community-at-large in this process.”

[…]

Stipeche said she thought N.Q. Henderson Elementary and Fleming Middle School, both in northeast Houston, deserved more time to try to improve and recruit more students.

“They serve communities in transition,” she said. “They should have the opportunity to work on increasing their enrollment.”

“Port Houston is an interesting set of circumstances because it’s an exemplary school in a small building,” she added.

Board member Mike Lunceford said the trustees need to review their policy on closures to perhaps distinguish between schools like Port Houston that are small because the neighborhood has few students, and those like Jones High where students are choosing to enroll elsewhere.

“We need to sit down as a board and decide what to do,” he said. “Are we going to continue supporting small schools? If the board’s not going to vote, we need to not put the communities through all of this.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I think Stipeche and Lunceford’s logic here is sound. For some neighborhoods it may make more sense, and be more cost-effective, to maintain a smaller school than to have to provide transportation elsewhere for all the affected students. Reviewing the policy to draw distinctions between schools in less-populated areas and schools that aren’t drawing in as many students as they could is a good idea, too. Hair Balls and Stace have more.

The state of HISD

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier assesses the district in his State of the Schools address.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

While not mentioning the closure controversy Wednesday, Grier touted the district’s progress – being named the nation’s top urban school district in 2013, for example – while conceding he has more work to do in the two years left on his contract.

“We’re on a journey together, an ambitious journey, a journey that’s not easy, and that will not be complete in a year,” Grier told some 2,000 educators, community leaders and parents packed into a downtown hotel ballroom. “Change takes time.”

He announced new initiatives including expansion of foreign language studies and efforts to reduce student mobility during the school year.

[…]

Touting Houston’s diversity, he said an additional 14 elementary schools will offer dual-language Spanish programs next year, doubling the number in the district. The programs allow native English and Spanish speakers to take classes together, helping them gain proficiency in both languages.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Kennedy Garrett, an eighth-grader at Wharton Dual Language Academy who introduced Grier in Spanish before his speech. “If you have the opportunity to be in it, I’d say go for it. There are going to be challenges, but it’s worth it.”

Grier, in his North Carolina drawl, later attempted a few words in Arabic and said officials were considering an Arabic immersion school.

HISD’s Mandarin immersion school, opened in 2012, has proved popular, drawing a waiting list as early as pre-kindergarten.

Grier also announced an effort to cut down on students switching schools midyear, often multiple times because their parents are chasing cheap rent. Grier said the district would provide busing for the students to stay at their original schools. He did not provide a price tag for the plan he called “home field advantage.”

You can see videos of the speeches and more information on the dual-language programs, which I too think are a great idea, here. Of interest is that Grier barely mentioned the Apollo program, which continues to have questions raised about the permanence of the academic gains it has achieved. Grier suggested that HISD may just take what it has learned from Apollo – basically, tutoring works – and apply it more broadly, a development that if it happens would I daresay be received well. He also emphasized the need to improve reading scores in HISD, which if done would be a huge accomplishment. Hair Balls has more.

HISD proposes closing five schools

Not sure about this.

Houston ISD officials are proposing to close five small schools at the end of this academic year, a move likely to set off protests from parents and alumni.

Some on the school board – which ultimately must approve the plan – already are expressing concerns about the closures, which would affect more than 2,000 students.

The campuses slated to close are Jones High School, Fleming Middle School, and Dodson, N.Q. Henderson and Port Houston elementary schools, according to Houston Independent School District spokeswoman Sheleah Reed.

The district posted news of the potential closures on the schools’ websites Wednesday, saying that they were “part of a plan designed to address fluctuating enrollment and changing demographics across the city.”

The schools each enroll fewer than 500 students, according to 2013 district data. In many cases, numerous students who live in the neighborhood transfer to attend other HISD campuses or leave for charter schools.

Jones High School in southeast Houston, once a thriving campus that launched the district’s Vanguard program for gifted students, enrolled 440 students last year, according to district data. More than 900 students zoned to Jones, however, left to other HISD high schools, with about half attending Milby and Chavez, each about 7 miles away.

“Something needs to be offered at that school. If it can be offered at Chavez, it can be offered at Jones,” said Cheryl Diggs, a 1988 Jones graduate who owns property in the nearby South Park neighborhood. “Give the students a reason to stay. It makes no sense.”

See School Zone and Hair Balls for more; the latter provided this link to HISD’s campus demographic and enrollment report. I get the rationale behind this, but it’s not clear to me that having a few smaller schools in a huge and diverse district like HISD is a bad idea. Maybe offering some kind of specialized programming at these campuses is a superior alternative to closing them. Closing schools can have a profound effect on a neighborhood, which is probably why at least three trustees so far – Paula Harris, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, and Juliet Stipeche – have had negative reactions. Whether this proposal ultimately makes sense or not, this is going to be a tough sell for HISD. A press release panning the idea from Working America is beneath the fold.

(more…)

HISD budgets for teacher pay raise and more Apollo

Whether that will mean a tax hike, and if so how much, remains undetermined.

Houston ISD employees will see a 2 percent pay raise and many schools will receive more money to help struggling students under the budget that trustees approved on a 6-3 vote Monday.

Left unsettled was whether property owners will face an increase in the tax rate next year. The school board won’t adopt the rate until October.

The district’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, said after the board meeting that the budget will require a 4-cent increase in the tax rate unless circumstances change. Property values may rise more than expected, for example, or the board could agree to cut programs or dip into savings.

“We’re talking 4 cents if nothing changes,” Huewitt said.

[…]

Trustees Juliet Stipeche and Mike Lunceford, who voted against the budget, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Grier’s reform program called Apollo. The spending plan continues the program at 20 schools while giving another 126 campuses with low test scores extra money to spend on tutoring or other efforts to boost achievement.

Board president Anna Eastman, who also opposed the budget, said she disagreed with distributing money based on overall school results rather than tying funds to needy students at any campus.

See here for the background. There won’t need to be an increase to cover the construction bonds that were issued last year, thanks to rising property values, so any increase will be driven by these items. The pay raise was a must – among other things, some nearby school districts have bumped their teachers’ pay, so HISD needed to keep up or risk losing talent. Sure is nice when a job market operates like that, isn’t it? As for Apollo, it remains controversial. There’s a lot more one can say about it, but that about sums it up.

TEA insists North Forest closure moving ahead

TEA Commissioner Michael Williams says don’t listen to the noise, North Forest ISD will be assimilated into HISD as planned on July 1.

Williams said the Texas Education Agency, which he oversees, has followed state law and has the necessary approval to proceed with shutting down North Forest ISD, which has a long history of academic and financial problems. His order calls for neighboring HISD to assume control of the 7,000-student North Forest district on July 1.

“This is going to happen,” Williams said.

The top lawyers for the TEA and HISD had a conference call with Justice Department staff on Wednesday.

According to a memo from HISD general counsel Elneita Hutchins-Taylor, she is proposing that the HISD board approve a redistricting item at its June 13 meeting.

She said the initial recommendation is for North Forest to be assigned to District II, represented by Rhonda Skillern-Jones, with some residents possibly assigned to District VIII, represented by Juliet Stipeche. Neither seat is on the ballot in November, so the Justice Department doesn’t have to issue a ruling in the near future, Hutchins-Taylor wrote.

HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said North Forest officials are not fully cooperating, withholding basic information like test data and students’ addresses, needed to help plan bus routes.

See here for the background. Yesterday, North Forest’s proponents got a boost when a judge granted a temporary restraining order temporarily halting the takeover.

The order by Judge Jon Wisser means the Texas Education Agency cannot proceed with shutting down the long-troubled North Forest school district at least until a court hearing on June 13.

North Forest supporters saw the temporary restraining order as a victory in their fight against closure, but a TEA spokeswoman said the judge’s order was routine and agency officials were “absolutely confident” the takeover will take place.

“There have been illegal actions by the (TEA) Commissioner and his appointees throughout this process,” North Forest attorney Chris Tritico said in a statement. “The law does not permit the government to manipulate the law to accomplish its own ends. Today is a major step in ensuring the continuation of the North Forest school district.”

I think in the end North Forest is going to lose the fight and the closure will go ahead, but I’m not quite ready to believe it will happen on schedule. We’ll see how big a bump in the road this is.

Early extension for Grier

This was a surprise.

Terry Grier

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grier’s bonus structure may be tweaked, too.

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

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

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

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

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

HISD board passes ethics reform

It was a unanimous vote at Thursday’s board meeting.

Under the new rules, which will be finalized next month, trustees will have to abstain from voting on deals involving vendors who contributed at least $500 to their political campaigns the prior year. District contractors also will be barred from donating to trustees during the competitive bidding process until a contract is issued.

The city of Houston has a similar blackout period but does not bar Council members from voting on donors’ contracts.

Trustees also will have to disclose if a wide range of family members are employed by vendors, and will have to abstain from voting on related deals. The policy does not require disclosure of trustees’ friendships with vendors because that relationship would be hard to define, though the rules do say the board should avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, said HISD’s outside attorney David Thompson.

In addition, the new policy says that HISD trustees should not accept meals, trips, sports tickets or other gifts totaling more than $50 a year from vendors. But if they do take the gifts, they must disclose them.

Thompson said the intent of the policy also is to ban trustees from voting on deals involving those who gave them gifts.

The old rules, which aligned with state law, did not require trustees to disclose trips, tickets or other entertainment paid for by vendors if the trustees attended as the vendors’ guest.

Good. This needed to be done, and it removes a large obstacle to supporting the bond that a number of people, the Chron editorial board, and organized labor had cited. It should be a lot easier to advocate for the bond now. Kudos to the trustees, and especially to Trustee Juliet Stipeche, for getting this done.

HISD board to vote on ethics reform

Good.

Houston ISD trustees would have to abstain from voting on deals involving big campaign donors and disclose potential conflicts of interest with a wider range of vendors under new policies up for consideration Thursday.

The board has been working on changes to its ethics rules since tabling a decision last November, and questions remain before this week’s vote. Board president Mike Lunceford has been adamant that trustees adopt stricter rules before asking voters this November to approve a $1.9 billion bond issue that would result in the district doling out lucrative construction contracts.

The proposed policies would require trustees to disclose in writing when they or certain family members work for a company or a nonprofit group seeking HISD business. The trustee also could not discuss or vote on those deals.

The current rules require trustees to disclose conflicts only with companies that employ their parents or children. The proposal extends the requirement to trustees’ siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, great grandparents and great grandchildren.

Trustees still are deciding disclosure rules regarding “the appearance of a conflict of interest,” such as a contract involving a vendor who is not family but is a close friend of a board member, said HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche.

Let’s just say that it will be a lot easier to sell that $1.9 billion bond issue if tighter ethics rules have been put in place first. Let’s also say that while it may be difficult to define “the appearance of a conflict of interest”, it’s usually not too hard for ethically-inclined people to recognize them when they see them. Really, this whole topic is a lot easier to deal with if everyone would work a little harder at avoiding situations that don’t pass the sniff test. Until such time, tighter rules with clearly understood consequences will have to suffice. Stace has more.

HISD takes another crack at ethics reform

Good luck.

Houston school trustees on Thursday renewed serious talks about tightening their ethics rules after failing to agree on new policies late last year.

The proposed changes, meant to restore public confidence that the Houston Independent School District is hiring the best contractors without undue influence, also could affect trustees’ political campaign coffers.

Trustees would have to abstain from voting on deals involving vendors who had contributed more than $500 to their campaigns the prior year. They also would have to disclose and abstain if they have a close relationship with a vendor.

Board president Mike Lunceford pledged that trustees would take a preliminary vote on the new policies in September. The changes would be in place before November, when the board is asking voters to approved a $1.9 billion bond issue that would result in the district awarding numerous lucrative construction contracts.

“This is something that should have happened a long time ago,” trustee Juliet Stipeche said of adopting stricter rules. “We need to have higher ethical standards.”

This is true, and pushing for stronger ethics rules before rolling out the pro-bond referendum campaign makes a lot of sense and ought to help satisfy those who want to be supportive of the bonds but have qualms about some of the trustees’ behavior. Still, any set of rules can be circumvented – as Campos suggests, what happens if a vendor donates to a PAC that then attacks or supports a given candidate? I wouldn’t mind seeing publicly funded campaigns for school boards as I’ve suggested for judicial races, but in a post-Citizens United world, I don’t see a viable path towards that end. Honestly, what we really need are more voters that are willing to hold accountable trustees that don’t act in an ethical manner. If we had Board whose members all instinctively acted correctly in these matters, we wouldn’t have to sweat the details nearly as much.

HISD will not raise the tax rate

Instead, they will dip into their reserves to balance their $1.5 billion budget for this year.

The amount is about the same as last year, when the district reduced spending by approximately 5 percent to offset unprecedented state cuts.

Instead of seeking a tax increase – which the school board has been reluctant to embrace – [Superintendent Terry] Grier has recommended spending $9 million, or 3.5 percent, from savings next year.

“I would hate to arbitrarily raise taxes at this point when we don’t know what’s going to happen down the road,” said Mike Lunceford, president of the Houston Independent School District board.

HISD is one of about 600 districts suing the state, claiming funding is inadequate. Lunceford said he is hopeful that lawmakers will revise the school finance system next session.

[…]

[HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda] Garrett said the district cannot continue to spend its fund balance. The account contains $257 million, about two months’ worth of operating expenses. HISD also plans to use $18 million from one-time federal jobs funding to close the budget shortfall.

“The district and the board will have to address how to balance this budget next year,” Garrett said.

The budget was adopted Thursday night. I’m sure the improved real estate market, which has led to higher property tax revenues and thus greatly eased the budget situation for entities like the city of Houston, enabled HISD to get close enough to balance to take this approach. A lot of the cost cutting they did last year – i.e., staff reductions – carry over as well. Still, as Garrett says, they can only go to their reserves for so much. Especially with a big bond package on the table for this year, they will need a healthy amount of reserves to ensure good bond ratings.

That bond package was unveiled Thursday as well, and unlike this year’s budget it will mean higher taxes down the line. Most of the focus will be on the high schools. You can see the details in School Zone and Hair Balls. The Board has not yet voted on Grier’s bond proposal, but there is some early opposition.

Trustee Juliet Stipeche criticized the plan for not including a new High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, her alma mater. Grier acknowledged the facility is lacking but said he wants to sell the valuable property on Dickson and find a new site.

Stipeche said she opposed changing the location, which is convenient to internships at downtown law firms and to students who transfer in from across the city.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, made a special appearance at the board meeting Thursday night to tell trustees he did not support the bond proposal as is, particularly the slight to Law Enforcement.

You can’t have everything. I don’t think that’s sufficient reason to oppose the entire package, but by all means until such time as the board has voted on it anyone who is unhappy with some part of Grier’s proposal go ahead and fight to make it better as they see fit.

Well, at least they’ll be able to burn off the calories

News item number one.

My kids love tapioca

Papa John’s pizza, Blue Bell ice cream, and fluorescent-colored Slushies.

For some kids, those may be the ingredients of a perfect school lunch. But for at least one Houston school district trustee, they may be the makings for a food fight.

At a board meeting Monday, trustee Juliet Stipeche questioned the district’s request to spend as much as $3 million on pizza, ice cream, chips and juices.

“This really bothers me that so much money is going to things that are not healthy,” Stipeche said Tuesday. “We should be offering something that is healthier than ice cream.”

The district has proposed spending up to $750,000 on Blue Bell ice cream, up to $960,000 on Papa John’s pizza, and up to $800,000 on beverages from Sunny Sky Products, which supplies juices and Slushie-type drinks.

With childhood obesity affecting about 17 percent of the country’s children, Stipeche said she worries that the district is sending the wrong message.

“Is it wise to promote children to eat unhealthy food?” asked Stipeche. “I’m not someone who’s just being picky about pizza and ice cream. This is a health crisis and something we need to show leadership on.”

News item number two.

Advocates of free play on the school yard won an endorsement Thursday when the HISD Board unanimously adopted a resolution recommending daily recess in addition to physical education classes for all elementary students.

Though the measure doesn’t guarantee unstructured play on campus, supporters say the policy brings the youngest pupils closer to an opportunity every school day to blow off steam on their own terms.

“I think it is a great step in the right direction,” said Chrysi Polydoros, a member of the district’s school health advisory council – which made the recess proposal – and the mother of four HISD students. “They need to get their sillies out so that they can go refocus in the classroom. They are kids and we have them in schools like little business professionals. They need a little extra bit of free time to get themselves ready to go back in and do more hard work.”

I pretty much said all I have to say in the title of this post. Gotta take your silver linings where you can find them.

Sometimes an apology isn’t enough

That’s what we tell our kids when they do something particularly egregious. It’s what I would tell Manuel Rodriguez, too.

The day after he retained his Houston school board seat by just 24 votes, Trustee Manuel Rodriguez formally apologized for a campaign brochure he distributed last week that many described as homophobic.

“I am aware that some people have said they were offended by one of my ads, and I apologize to all of those people,” Rodriguez wrote in a letter he released Wednesday afternoon. He said he “respect(ed)” challenger Ramiro Fonseca’s “contributions to our community and his record of public service.”

[…]

“I’m glad he finally did this,” [Trustee Juliet] Stipeche said Wednesday night, when she learned of Rodriguez’s apology. “I just wish he had apologized earlier. But I hope he truly understands how the ad was hurtful and harmful. Perhaps we can use this as a means of truly understanding our total non-discrimination policy and have a better understanding of what ‘bullying’ is.”

Fonseca was not impressed by Rodriguez’s words.

Fonseca said he was waiting for the final vote tally, which would count outstanding mail and provisional ballots, before deciding his next step – including a possible request for a recount.

“I think the hurt has been deep in the community,” Fonseca said in response to Rodriguez’s statement.

[…]

Mike Pomeroy, a member of the GLBT caucus, said he thought Rodriguez’s statement was insufficient, and he plans to join others – including an HISD student – in addressing Rodriguez during the public comment period.

“I don’t think he gets it,” Pomeroy said. “He was throughout the weekend saying, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with this. It’s the truth.’ And he was still handing out the flier at the polls. This is all coming a little bit too late.”

I agree with all these reactions. Rodriguez didn’t admit to doing anything wrong – his “apology” amounts to little more than “I’m sorry if someone was offended by what I said” – and didn’t say what if anything he might do to atone for his words. Talk is cheap. Rodriguez has shown us who he is, now he needs to show us – not tell us – that he intends to be better than that. He’s got a long way to go. Hair Balls has more, while K-12 Zone and Stace report from the protests at last night’s HISD meeting.

2011 Houston results

Let’s go through the races…

– Mayor Parker won with a shade under 51%, with none of her opponents cracking 15% on their own. Obviously, this is not a position a Mayor with no serious opposition wants to be in, and it won’t surprise anyone if one or more potential opponents for 2013 are on the phone already calling potential financial backers. It’s certainly possible, perhaps likely, that she will face a much tougher challenge in two years. It’s also possible, given a better economy, a less dire budget, and fewer externally-driven issues like a red light camera referendum, that she could be in a stronger position for re-election in two years and that the time to have beaten her was now. Many people thought Rick Perry looked vulnerable after winning with 39% of the vote in 2006, but things don’t always go as you think they will. Often uncertain the future is, that’s all I’m saying.

– Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate.

– Only two of the five open seats will feature runoffs. Ellen Cohen in C (53.62%), Mike Laster in J (67.27%), and Larry Green in District K (67.23%) all won. Alvin Byrd (25.11%) and Jerry Davis (24.38%) head to overtime in District B, while the perennially perennial Andrew Burks led the field in At Large #2, garnering 17.33%. Kristi Thibaut came in second, with 15.65%, followed by Elizabeth Perez and David Robinson. This is at least the third time Burks has made it to a city election runoff – he lost to Sue Lovell in overtime in 2009 – and I wonder if he will get any official support. Being in a runoff with Jolanda Jones and a District B race also on the ballot will help him, but beyond that it’s hard to see him doing much of anything. You have to wonder what Michael P. Williams is thinking this morning. Oh, and Eric Dick finished seventh out of ten. Apparently, it takes more than spreading campaign signs like grass seed and putting out puerile press releases to win public office. Good to know.

– Paula Harris and Juliet Stipeche easily won re-election in HISD, as did Chris Oliver in HCC. Carroll Robinson defeated Jew Don Boney by a 55-45 margin to succeed Williams as the District IV Trustee. The closest race of the election, one that will have people gnashing their teeth all winter, was in HISD III, where Manuel Rodriguez barely held on. I’m a staunch advocate of early voting, but you have to wonder how many early-goers to the ballot box may have regretted pushing the button for Rodriguez before his shameful gay-baiting mailer came out.

– There were 123,047 city of Houston votes cast in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, making this election a near exact duplicate of 2007 turnout-wise. There were 164,283 votes cast in Harris County, of which 120,931 were Houston votes, for a Houston share of 73.6%. The final early vote total for Harris County was 60,122, almost exactly what I hypothesized it would be, and the early vote total was 36.6% of the overall tally in Harris. There were 920,172 registered voters in Houston, about 15,000 fewer than in 2009 but 7000 more than in 2007. City turnout was 13.14% in Harris County.

I have my second tour of jury duty today, this time in the municipal courts, so that’s all from me for now. I may have some deeper thoughts later. What do you think of how the election went? PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: Robert Miller offers his perspective.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

Time to evaluate Grier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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