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Rhonda Skillern-Jones

HISD will begin process of renaming schools with Confederate ties

Good.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

[HISD] trustees plan to start the process with a vote to revise the district’s policy to state explicitly that names should be non-discriminatory. The revised policy also details how the board can initiate renaming schools.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said this week that after the policy gains approval, she will propose renaming at least six schools named after Confederate leaders or loyalists.

In June, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called on the Houston Independent School District to rename six campuses following the shooting deaths of nine black churchgoers by an alleged white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. Ellis mentioned campuses including Davis, Lee and Reagan high schools and Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools.

Alumni have expressed mixed reactions.

Renaming is expected to come with a cost – for new logos, school uniforms, marquees. The estimated price tag was $250,000 in 2013 when HISD changed the Confederate-linked Rebels mascot and three others deemed offensive to Native Americans.

[…]

“I’m pleased to see the HISD board move in this direction,” Ellis said in a statement Wednesday. “As an extremely diverse school district in the most diverse city in the nation, the names of our community schools should not lionize men who dedicated themselves to maintaining the ability of one human to own another.”

See here and here for the background. That story was published Thursday morning, before the board meeting, at which Superintendent Terry Grier announced his imminent departure. I didn’t see any followup story, so I’m presuming this went ahead; if not, I’m sure it will be picked up at the next meeting. I’ve said before that I support this. Having a school named after you is a privilege, not a right. I have no idea why anyone would think it controversial to reserve that privilege for people who didn’t take up arms against the United States, but maybe that’s just the Yankee in me talking. I’ve never known a school named for Benedict Arnold, so I don’t know why there should be a school named for Jefferson Davis. The fact that there is such a school here in Houston, and that the board of trustees is seeking to change it isn’t an insult to anyone. The insult is that it was named for Jefferson Davis in the first place.

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.

On cellphones and school zones

I guess I need to talk about this.

Six years ago, state lawmakers hoping to protect students banned drivers from texting and talking on hand-held cellphones in school zones.

The ban, however, has never been enforced in Houston. City and school district officials have opted not to install the warning signs needed to issue tickets, citing a lack of funds.

The city puts the cost at roughly $2.34 million for about 7,800 signs. Based on estimates from the Texas Department of Transportation, however, the price tag should be significantly lower.

Houston lags behind the state’s other major cities and several of its neighbors, including Bellaire, Conroe and West University Place, which installed the signs years ago and enforce the law. With school back in session after summer break, police in some jurisdictions have started issuing tickets for a seventh straight school year.

[…]

About two years ago, Mock said, the city clarified that HISD could take on the task. HISD, however, hasn’t budgeted funding, either. Mock estimated that the district would need about 2,000 signs to cover all the school zones.

Price estimates differ. Using the city’s figures of about $300 each, including anti-graffiti coating and mounts, the HISD signs would cost about $600,000.

The Texas Department of Transportation estimates the tab at $100 each, assuming the cellphone notice can be added to an existing school zone sign. The price tag for installing independent signs is $450 to $600.

In Dallas, spokesman Richard Hill said the city’s public works department funded the installation of more than 2,360 signs in 2010. He said the material cost was less than $22,700 – or about $10 each.

“The cost has been the concern,” said Janice Evans, spokeswoman for Mayor Parker, who was unavailable for comment.

Let’s put the cost question aside for a moment. If this law was passed in 2009, then it took effect in September of 2009, in the latter days of the Bill White administration at a time when he was gearing up to run statewide, and at a time when Annise Parker was in the midst of a hot Mayoral race. I follow this stuff pretty closely as you know, and I have no memory of this bill passing. My guess is that no one in either the outgoing White administration or the incoming Parker administration had this on their to-do list, and it fell through the cracks. Had there not been a story in the Chronicle calling attention to it, my guess is no one would have realized it was on the books and that the city was not in compliance. These things happen. The people who are now making a fuss about it could have been making a fuss about it a week or a month or a year or five ago, they just didn’t know it was there to be fussed about. I say all this not to make excuses – surely this should be done now that we all know about it – but to suggest that we try to maintain a little perspective.

HISD’s Mock said the law would not be easy to enforce – officers have to catch drivers typing or holding their phones to their ears – but he still wants the signs up.

“It would be helpful – not so much because that allows you to write citations … really just to create awareness,” Mock said.

That’s pretty much the debate over banning texting while driving in a nutshell. The vast majority of people who text while driving are never going to get caught at it, but the act of making something illegal, and publicizing that it’s illegal will cause some number of people – probably a lot of them – who currently engage in it to stop doing it. You may not write a lot of tickets for texting while driving, but you’ll make it less common, and that will have a beneficial effect.

Houston City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford, a former Houston police chief, said the signs should be funded.

“What is a child’s life worth?” he asked. “We do a lot of things at City Hall that cost a lot more money. We have a $5 billion operating budget, and to say we cannot find money to erect signs in school zones to help protect children, that’s unconscionable.”

All due respect, but you can use this exact line of reasoning to justify any individual expenditure. Budgets always involve choices, and different choices can always be made. I’m always amused to hear self-styled budget hawks talk like this. Their priorities are obvious and self-explanatory. It’s those other priorities that need to be scrutinized and justified.

The Conroe department, which monitors about 20 school zones, issued 14 cellphone citations last year, [Sgt. Robert Engel of the Conroe Police Department] said.

In Spring Branch ISD, the ban applies only to a handful of schools that fall outside the Houston city limits. In those areas, the local villages have installed the signs, according to school district police Chief Charles Brawner.

The Hedwig Village Police Department, for example, has issued 741 citations for school zone cellphone use since 2009, according to Police Chief David Gott. He said he was surprised by the large number – more than 100 a year on average – but his staff spot-checked the data for accuracy.

“It’s important for people to pay attention in school zones,” Gott said. “It can be very dangerous.”

Bellaire, which has schools in HISD, has issued about 100 citations in six years.

Auto collisions involving distracted drivers – whether on a cellphone or fumbling with the radio – result in roughly 424,000 injuries nationwide annually, according to the latest federal data from 2013. More than 3,150 were killed that year.

My guess is that the Hedqig Village PD doesn’t have a whole lot else to do during the day. A ban on texting while driving is right in their wheelhouse.

Getting back to the matter of cost:

“It comes down to the cost of installing the signs – who bears that cost and whether there’s enough of a benefit to make it worthwhile,” Parker said. “Clearly if it saved one child’s life, it would be a worthwhile investment.

“But we don’t believe that putting up a bunch of signs stops anybody from doing anything. Because if they don’t already know it’s dangerous to do … I don’t think there’s any education we can do to stop people from being stupid. It’s an enforcement issue.”

Houston school board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said Wednesday that she planned to discuss the issue with her fellow trustees.

“I would like to see there be some cooperation between the school district and the city,” she said. “The safety of our students should be a collaboration between the two entities.”

Marney Sims, general counsel for Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, said she was surprised to find out that the district’s three schools under city jurisdiction did not have the cellphone signs. She said she planned to verify that the district had the authority to install them. “If we do,” she said, “then we will pay to add those.”

Look, we’re most likely talking about a couple hundred grand, which despite my earlier snark really isn’t that much in the context of the city’s budget. In addition, the cost can surely be split to some extent with the big ISDs within Houston – HISD, Cy-Fair, Alief, et cetera. In the name of dropping one annoying little thing from the list of things that the Mayoral candidates can grandstand about, can we please get this done? Thanks. Campos has more.

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.

The debate over changing Confederate-named schools in HISD

Predictably, not everybody likes the idea of rechristening HISD schools that were named for Confederate generals.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Houston ISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones has said she wants her fellow trustees to consider renaming six campuses, following the June shooting deaths of nine black worshipers by an alleged white supremacist at a church in South Carolina. In that state, the Confederate flag hangs on statehouse grounds.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and James Douglas, president of the NAACP of Houston, are among those requesting new names. Superintendent Terry Grier said he is seriously considering asking the board to approve changes.

A consensus is far from clear.

A Facebook page called “Reagan High School Houston – Save the Name” has received more than 1,200 “likes” since it launched June 28. Former Lee students mostly came to the moniker’s defense on an alumni page.

[…]

School officials stopped using the full name, Robert E. Lee High School, in 2001, though a district spokeswoman could not confirm whether the board formally approved the shorter version. The mascot remains the Generals, but the revised logo looks more like a silhouetted cowboy holding a school flag.

Marla Morrow, a U.S. history teacher at Lee and a 1980 graduate, recalled her classmates proudly waving the Confederate flag at football games. Then, the student demographics of the southwest Houston school were different. According to data from 1988, the earliest year readily available, Lee’s enrollment was 46 percent Anglo, 31 percent Hispanic, 17 percent black and 6 percent other. Last year, Lee was 4 percent Anglo, 74 percent Hispanic, 15 percent black, and 8 percent Asian and other.

With HISD rebuilding the aging Lee campus, Morrow said the time is right to rename the school without reference to the top Confederate general.

“I was raised to believe he was this great mythical hero,” she said. “With my study of the Civil War and of U.S. history, I think he was an admirable man in many ways, but he was fighting for the wrong side. I know people say the South was fighting for states’ rights, but the right they were fighting to defend was slavery.”

Melanie Hauser, a 1971 Lee graduate who chaired the spirit committee and helped start the alumni association, countered that the school name should endure. She noted that Lee graduated from West Point and served as president of Virginia’s Washington College (now Washington and Lee University, named after him).

“He was an educator first and foremost,” said Hauser, a sportswriter. “Lee moved on and helped heal the country. There’s more to the narrative than just screaming one way.”

Houston City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a 1987 Lee graduate, said he leans toward changing the name but wants a community dialogue first.

“It’s not to say we castigate our history forever,” he said, “but should it be prominent with every graduating class going forward when there’s an opportunity to pivot and change?”

See here for the background. I’ll say again, as a damn Yankee I’m woefully ignorant of the Confederate iconography that we are inescapably steeped in around here, and completely indifferent to any appeal to history or “heritage” in favor of keeping it in place, unless that place is a museum or the like. It’s fine by me to change these names, but if we don’t get there at least we’re talking about what those names represent. Campos has more.

HISD Board President backs changing Confederate school names

Fine by me.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Amid a growing move to shed symbols of the old, slave-owning South, the Houston school board president said Thursday that she supports renaming six campuses named after Confederate loyalists.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she plans to discuss the issue with her fellow trustees at an upcoming meeting. Superintendent Terry Grier added that he is “strongly considering” recommending that the board change the names.

The nation’s seventh-largest school district would join a mounting list of agencies and businesses taking steps to shun reminders of the Confederacy following the June 17 shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers by an alleged white supremacist in Charleston, S.C.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a letter to the Houston Independent School District Wednesday urging the renaming of six campuses named after Confederate army officers or others tied to the Confederacy: Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools and Davis, Lee and Reagan high schools.

“Remembering our past is important, especially if you want to avoid making the same mistakes,” Ellis wrote. “But we can teach our students about the evils of the past without endorsing the actions of those who fought to uphold them. When we honor hate at our schools, we teach hate to our children.”

Ellis previously urged HISD to eradicate certain mascots. In 2013, the school board, at Grier’s recommendation, agreed to abandon the Rebels mascot, a symbol tied to the Confederacy, and three others considered offensive to Native Americans.

“Just as we engaged in the important work around changing the inappropriate mascots,” Skillern-Jones said, “we should also engage in that equally important work around making sure that our schools are named after individuals that wholeheartedly represent what our district stands for and the diversity in the district.”

Here are the op-ed and letter that Sen. Ellis wrote. This conversation isn’t just happening in Houston, as cities like Austin and San Antonio have Robert E. Lee schools as well. Lee is a legitimately important historical figure with ties to Texas that predate the Civil War, but that doesn’t mean he – or any other figure – deserves to have schools named after him. As with the school mascots that got renamed last year, I see no reason not to take this seriously. And as with the mascots, I expect there will be some heated dissent, from current and former students of these schools as well as other folks with various motives, and if the decision is made to make a change then a year or two from now hardly anyone will remember any of it.

You may ask, why now? These schools have been around with these names for a long time. As with the mascots and with the SCOTUS decision on same-sex marriage, the time is right. The horrible mass shooting in South Carolina and the stated reasons for it by the shooter have opened the door for this conversation, and many people who would not have been amenable to it for whatever the reason a month or a year or a decade ago now are. Why not now?

And if we start this conversation about Confederate generals, what then?

I wonder if they are going to include slave owners from the past. How about those that supported segregation or opposed civil rights and voting rights. How about some of the folks that help found the state of Texas and nearly succeeded in making Native-Americans an extinct people. These same folks also made Texas a slave-owning state. How does one define hate? I wonder where they will draw the line. I am glad Board President Skillern-Jones and Sen. Ellis are the deciders and not me. Go for it!

I’m sure plenty of people will be making “slippery slope” arguments now that this can of worms has been opened. I get that, but you know what? I do not and will not accept such arguments as a reason to end the conversation. Nothing in the Constitution says that once a school – or park, or bridge, or street, or courthouse, or whatever – has been named for someone, it must remain named for that person forevermore. Let’s have this conversation, in full and in public. I welcome it, and I welcome the awkwardness that a lot of people, including myself, will feel about it. You want to move past the symbolism of a handful of governors lowering the Confederate flag in their states? This would be a fine place to start. Let’s get it all out there. What are we afraid of?

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.

HISD mostly declines to rezone its schools

Lots of noise, not nearly as much action.

HISD School Map

A divided Houston school board on Thursday rejected most of the rezoning proposals designed to reduce class sizes after dozens of parents expressed concerns about families having to send their children to different campuses.

Only two of the six proposals passed, with parents and board members in those areas generally supportive of the changes.

In the booming Energy Corridor, the attendance zone for the popular Bush Elementary School will shrink, and Shadowbriar Elementary in the area will become a specialty school designed to relieve overcrowding for nearby campuses.

In southwest Houston, the Tinsley Elementary boundaries will decrease, with homes rezoned to Anderson Elementary.

Current students and incoming kindergarten students will be grandfathered and can stay.

[…]

Superintendent Terry Grier said the proposals were an attempt to cut the number of waivers that the district receives from the Texas Education Agency to exceed the state’s cap of 22 students per class in elementary schools. The district requested about 1,500 waivers this fall, more than double the number five years ago.

Hair Balls details who was and wasn’t shuffled around.

Schools that won’t see their lines redrawn include Rice, Roberts, Twain and West U elementaries in one group. Another group that won’t be reconfigured includes Smith, Crockett, Love, Memorial Sinclair, Steven, Harvard and Travis elementaries – mostly on arguments from Sinclair supporters who said they’d built something special and didn’t want to see it diminished and trustees who agreed with that.

A third group including Hartsfield, Bastian, Kelso and Young elementaries will stay as they are. It’ll be status quo for Kennedy, Burbank, Lyons and Northline elementaries. Lyons in particular was pointed out as a school that has done well and shouldn’t be disturbed.

The schools that will see their boundary lines change include the Anderson, Tinsley and Halpin group as well as the Shadowbriar, Ashford, Bush, Askew, Daily, Emerson and Walnut Bend group. In the second case, there were several parents supporting the change as well as those who criticized it.

This was brought up in January and then put on hold in March, as it proved to be as challenging and contentious as any other form of redistricting is. The main reason why parents argued for the status quo is that they were willing to trade a few fuller classes for not messing with something that was working, as it was generally highly-rated schools that were overpopulated. Ultimately, what we need is for more neighborhood schools to be doing as well as their most-crowded peers. Lot easier said than done, I know.

Mostly positive reviews for the Aycock school finance plan

So far, so good.

Jimmie Don Aycock

A plan from a top House lawmaker to overhaul the state’s public education funding system received largely favorable reviews from school districts during a marathon legislative hearing that ended late Tuesday night.

“While this bill, some consider it not to be perfect, for us fortunately it is a significant step in the right direction,” Houston Independent School District Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said during a meeting of the House Committee on Public Education.

Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has argued since the legislative session began that lawmakers shouldn’t wait for the outcome of a school finance lawsuit to consider changes to the school finance system.

[…]

Aycock’s proposal removes multiple provisions in the current school finance system.

It drops the number of districts that must send money back to the state under “recapture,” or what’s commonly known as Robin Hood. The nickname comes from the practice of taking property tax revenue from richer districts and redistributing it to poorer districts in an attempt to equalize school funding throughout Texas.

That adjustment, Skillern-Jones said, was a life raft for school districts that are “property rich, but poor in students,” like Houston. The district faces sending $200 million back to the state in the 2016-2017 school year.

(See how individual school districts would fare under Aycock’s plan here.)

It also eliminates the “Cost of Education Index,” which gives districts extra money based on characteristics like size, teacher salaries in neighboring districts and percentage of low-income students. Under Aycock’s proposal, that money would instead go to overall per-student funding.

That change that generated the most discussion Tuesday. Both smaller school districts that would lose money meant to help them account for economies of scale and districts with high numbers of the low-income and English-language learning students that the index is supposed to help raised caution about the effects of such a shift.

“While I never say no to money… I would ask that it would be looked at in the way that it is distributed,” said Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers. “I believe that our most needy students … are perhaps are going to get left out.”

See here for the background. The Observer notes the points where there is still work to be done.

But the biggest change Aycock proposes is the elimination of the Cost of Education Index (CEI), which steers more funding to urban and high-poverty districts to pay for higher teacher salaries. In the last few weeks, Aycock has stressed that the index is hopelessly outdated—it was created in 1991 and hasn’t been updated since—and nobody argued that point Tuesday night. But many weren’t willing to simply let it go.

“The underlying premise of the CEI is undeniably sound,” said Lori Taylor of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, who has conducted a series of studies since 2000 on how the Legislature could update the index to reflect current costs.

Former state Rep. Paul Colbert (D-Houston), a school finance leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s, agreed that while the index is flawed, its purpose—steering more money to urban and high-poverty districts that must pay higher salaries—is still vital. “You can’t just do away with it and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. You’re merely not addressing an uncontrollable cost,” Colbert said. “And that’s not equitable.”

Aycock agreed the change would affect districts unevenly; changing any piece of the school finance system creates winners and losers. Aycock has said he’s trying to minimize the pain of simplifying the system. “The party that gets hit the worst removing the CEI is the Valley area,” he noted at one point last night.

“How do we fix that?” wondered Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston).

“I don’t know that I can,” Aycock told her. “I’ve done everything I think I can to fix that.”

[…]

Aycock has suggested his bill would improve equity by moving more districts closer to the state average of per-student funding. But it would also enrich wealthy districts more than poor districts, which some analysts last night noted was basically the opposite of equity. San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD, with 96 percent students are from low-income families, would gain $171 per student under Aycock’s bill, while nearby Alamo Heights—with 22 percent low-income students—would gain $469. In South Texas, Los Fresnos CISD would gain $54 per student while the wealthier Point Isabel ISD. which includes South Padre Island, would gain $289.

Analysts outside the Capitol realm have noted these disparities too. Bellwether Education Partners analyst Jennifer Schiess recently told Education Week that Aycock’s bill “isn’t negative on equity. It just doesn’t move very far.” Schiess wonders whether such modest improvement is truly worth the fight.

Representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Intercultural Development Research Association urged the committee to focus on steering money to students who need it most, and to follow Travis County District Judge John Dietz’s suggestion last year by updating the adjustments for poor students and those with limited English. Like the CEI, those weights have been untouched for decades.

None of these problems are going to get solved until there’s more money allocated to public education. That ain’t gonna happen until the Supreme Court says so.

Aycock’s bill has not yet been voted on in committee, and while I expect it will eventually pass who knows what will happen when it hits the Senate, which has shown little appetite so far for anything positive for public education. Even if this does get signed into law, there will still be questions of adequacy of school funding for the Supreme Court to rule on, as well as to decide whether or not this satisfies the equity issue. There’s still a long way to go.

HISD postpones redrawing school boundaries

This stuff is hard, y’all.

HISD School Map

The school board [had planned] to vote Thursday on the district’s biggest rezoning plan in recent years, involving more than two dozen campuses.

The proposal mostly would redraw attendance boundaries to shift homes from more crowded schools to campuses with space. The major impact may not be immediate, however. As a nod to surprised parents, the district plans to allow current students and those entering kindergarten this fall to stay at their old schools if they choose.

Superintendent Terry Grier and his staff said in January that the rezoning plan was driven by concerns from the Texas Education Agency that HISD had too many elementary school classes over the state’s cap of 22 students.

Grier told the school board Monday, however, that he spoke recently with Education Commissioner Michael Williams and does not expect the state to crack down on the district. This fall, HISD requested size waivers for 1,499 classes – far more than the 80 sought by Dallas ISD, the state’s second-largest district.

Still, Grier said, he thought most board members wanted fewer waivers, and rezoning is a common way for districts to even out enrollment.

“It’s frustrating to my staff to do what you asked us to do and then get called out publicly and go to meetings and get pounded on,” Grier told the board.

Parents, particularly on the city’s west side, have packed recent meetings about the rezoning.

In response, Grier’s administration has revised the plan. The biggest change involves removing fewer homes from the Bush Elementary zone and turning Shadowbriar Elementary, about 4 miles away, into a magnet school that would take overflow from Bush, Ashford, Askew and Daily.

The hope is that Shadowbriar’s specialty program – the theme has not been picked – would reduce crowding by drawing students voluntarily from nearby campuses.

The plan also calls for reducing crowding or expected enrollment growth at Lyons, Smith, Tinsley and Young Elementary schools. Their attendance boundaries would shrink, with students rezoned to other schools.

See here for the background. The Board ultimately tabled the proposal and will ask for a more comprehensive plan, one that will presumably draw fewer complaints from parents who are no longer in the zone they wanted to be in. I notice on the Chron’s interactive map that the two popular schools in my neighborhood, Travis and Harvard Elementary Schools, are both affected by this plan, but only in a minor way in that no current students would be zoned out. People looking to move into the Heights in the future, however, would be wise to stay on top of this.

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 passes its budget

They restored a lot of funding, but it’s the changes to magnet school funding that everyone is talking about.

BagOfMoney

Bouncing back from recent cash-strapped years, the Houston school board Thursday approved a bigger budget that gives raises to all employees, provides more money to campuses and may require a tax rate increase.

The board, over complaints from passionate parents, also voted 5-4 to overhaul the system for funding the district’s beloved magnet schools. Superintendent Terry Grier’s plan to standardize the haphazard funding for the specialty programs will slash some schools’ budgets and boost others over the next three years.

The board will not set the tax rate until October, but the district’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, said he estimates needing a 1-cent or 2-cent hike, depending on the final tally of property values. The increase is tied to the district’s voter-approved 2012 bond program.

Any rate increase would come on top of the 3 cents the board added last year to fund operating expenses, which put the rate at $1.1867 per $100 of assessed value. With property values rising across the city, many taxpayers would feel an even bigger hit if the rate goes up as expected.

[…]

Grier’s plan to standardize magnet school funding drew the most controversy, bringing roughly 60 parents, students and community members to the board meeting to speak in opposition. The proposal funds programs with the same theme – such as fine arts or engineering – by the same amount per pupil, instead of the current arbitrary system.

Critics say the new formula does not take into account what the programs need to thrive and could cripple some of the district’s best schools.

“It is 40 years of inequity, and it is time we do something,” Skillern-Jones said, speaking for the narrow board majority, which also included Wanda Adams, Paula Harris, Greg Meyers and Manuel Rodriguez Jr.

Opposing the measure were Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford, Harvin Moore and Juliet Stipeche.

See here and here for the background. I still don’t know what to think about the magnet funding changes because I’m still not clear on what the formula is and what it’s supposed to achieve. I’m not necessarily opposed to this change, and I recognize that any essentially zero-sum alteration will have winners and losers, I just don’t feel like HISD had communicated this well enough to objectively evaluate it. At this point all I can say is that I hope the schools that lost money aren’t adversely affected, and that if there are negative effects that the Board revisits the issue as soon as possible. Hair Balls and School Zone have 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…)

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.

Interview with Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

We now shift to HISD and HCC Trustee races, which will take us through the end of the interview series. To start off, I bring you a conversation with Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who will succeed Carole Mims Galloway as the Trustee in District II. Skillern-Jones is a mother of five children, all of whom have attended HISD schools, and a longtime volunteer/activist who has been PTA president, member of HISD Parent Visionaries, and has served on various HISD committees such as the Superintendent’s Parents Advisory Committee and Budget Advisory Committee. (School Zone has more about Ms. Skillern-Jones.) Here’s what we discussed:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

Your 2011 electoral lineup

There are many candidates running for office this year. Some of them have a better rationale for running than others, but thankfully for them that’s not a requirement.

A flurry of late filings to run for city office Wednesday filled out an election ballot that left only two Houston officials unopposed for re-election in November.

The city’s second-highest elected official, Controller Ronald Green, will run unopposed for a second two-year term as the city’s chief financial officer. Two-term District E Councilman Mike Sullivan also is unopposed.

Mayor Annise Parker has five challengers, but their combined campaign bank accounts total less than $5,000, compared with the $2.3 million Parker reported as of June 30.

You can see the full lineup here. There are a few oddities. The story list an Avery Ayers for District B and a Terence Jewett for District D, but the City Secretary does not. Similarly, the Chron only has Brad Batteau challenging CM Melissa Noriega in At Large #3, but the City Secretary has had Chris Carmona listed since early in the day yesterday. Also, there had been a candidate named Sergio Leal on the City Secretary’s page in At Large #4 before yesterday, but he has apparently dropped out. For that matter, I thought I had seen Jewett listed earlier, but at this point I couldn’t swear to it. Anyone know anything about these discrepancies?

There are two additions to the Mayor’s race: Jack O’Connor, who had previously been in At Large #5, and Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – who presumably didn’t feel that the rest of the field hated gay people enough. I have no idea what made O’Connor decide to switch races. From what I can see, politically speaking he’s an Anglo Fernando Herrera, without the firefighters’ endorsement. There’s an anti-Parker vote out there, but I don’t see how the entrance of O’Connor or Wilson expands it in any way. They’re all fighting for the same 30% ± ε that was always going to vote against the Mayor. Had someone from the other end of the political spectrum jumped in, that might have made things more interesting. Wait till 2013, I guess. Speaking of which, now that both Ben Hall and Paul Bettencourt are officially non-candidates, can we please declare a moratorium on quoting them in any election-related story until after this election is over? Thank you.

What last minute surprises there were took place in the HISD races. First, we had a last minute dropout:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, a mother of five who is active in the advocacy group HISD Parent Visionaries, confirms that she has filed to run for the District II seat now held by Carol Mims Galloway.

Galloway, who praised Skillern-Jones at a recent HISD board meeting, is expected to withdraw her application for re-election.

And withdraw she did. I respect Carole Mims Galloway, but I do not like this kind of placeholding. Handing your seat off like that to someone who will not be subject to any kind of scrutiny is not democratic. The voters deserve a choice. Even having a crackpot candidate in opposition would be preferable.

Another candidate discovered that he didn’t live in the district that he thought he lived in.

The Houston school board manager today notified Arturo “Art” Huerta, who had filed last month to run against trustee and board president Paula Harris, that he may not run for that seat because he does not live in the boundaries of the redrawn district.

The surprise came on the last day to file to run for the board. Like those of other governmental entities, the redistricting was done as a result of the new U.S. census data.

“I wanted to inform you that due to recent redistricting of HISD trustee boundaries, I have confirmed that your residential address of […] Vermont Street is in precinct 38,” board manager Suzanne Harrison emailed Huerta this morning, “and although precinct 38 is ‘split,’ your street falls within HISD Trustee District 8, not District 4 as we had originally discussed. I had this confirmed with the Harris County Voter Registrar this morning. Therefore, you will now be running against incumbent trustee Juliet Stipeche, Trustee for HISD District 8.”

[…]

Huerta said he will not seek election in District VIII, so he is out of the school board races for good this year.

“I have no interest in running against Juliet Stipeche,” Huerta said. “Her track record’s not the one that motivated me to run for this office.”

[…]

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said the district’s legal consultant on school board boundaries, Gene Locke, confirmed that Huerta lives in District VIII — and the recent redistricting did not change that. The problem, Spencer said was the color-coded map that Harrison used. Huerta’s address looked like it was in District IV based on the color coding, which didn’t account for the precinct being divided into different school board districts.

I have sympathy for Huerta, who says he spent a bunch of his own money on signs, but I wonder if he was at that same address four years ago. If so, perhaps he remembers who he voted for in the Trustee race that year. For what it’s worth, I tried to find Huerta’s voter registration information so I could see what the Tax Assessor’s office thinks his HISD precinct is, but I could not find a registration for him. I don’t know what to make of that. Texas Watchdog has more on this.

In any event, Paula Harris will have an opponent, one who is familiar to her.

• In District IV, retired HISD principal Davetta Daniels is challenging Paula Harris, the school board president. Harris defeated Daniels four years ago. As we reported earlier today, Arturo “Art” Huerta, who had filed to run for the seat, was notified this morning that he didn’t live in that district and couldn’t run, despite being told by an HISD official last month that he did live in District IV.

• Juliet Stipeche, who represents District VIII, faces a challenge from Dorothy Olmos, who lost to Stipeche last year in a special election for the seat.

• Ramiro Fonseca, a Houston Community College financial aid associate, is running against incumbent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. for the District III seat.

Harris easily defeated Daniels in 2007 (page 19), garnering over 66% of the vote. Harris’ ethics issues may make this race closer, but I don’t really see Daniels, who also ran for At Large #5 in 2009 and received 8% of the vote, getting much traction. As for Olmos, she has run for numerous offices in recent years, and finished third (page 41) in the six-candidate special election for District VIII; as a multiple-time Republican candidate for office, I daresay she was bolstered by the makeup of that particular electorate. I don’t expect Stipeche will have much to worry about this time around. Fonseca, who has racked up a couple of nice endorsements since his entry into the race, looks to be the most interesting challenger.

Oh yeah, there’s also the HCC Trustee races. I have no idea who’s running for what beyond what I’ve said before, I will only list endorsements on my 2011 Election page if I can find a link to them. If an endorsing organization can’t or won’t list their supported candidates on a web page, I don’t see any reason to bother with them. I am listing the Houston Professional Fire Fighters’ endorsements because they were listed in this Houston Politics post, and that does count even if it is a technicality. The other endorsements mentioned in that post have no such luck. Whether you’re an endorsing organization or a candidate, if you want me to list your endorsements, show me the link.

UPDATE: I sent an email to story author Chris Moran to ask about Carmona in At Large 3, and was informed that his exclusion in the story was an error; there should be a correction in the online edition by now. CM Noriega does indeed have two opponents.