At a Mayoral forum on Thursday, Gene Locke and Peter Brown get into it over the school system.
Gene Locke, the former city attorney, targeted Councilman Peter Brown's recent statement to the Chronicle that Houstonians should consider forming an urban school district heavily influenced by the mayor through board appointments.
"I think that's an awful idea," Locke said. "It's going to be hard enough to make sure this city is safe, to make sure the business development grows."
Brown retorted, "We cannot punt on education like my colleague said."
Several independent school districts, overseen by elected school boards, operate inside the city limits. Brown said Thursday he does not favor having city government take over the Houston school district in the way that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has suggested for urban areas.
City Councilman Brown is pitching the formation of a new "urban school district," perhaps spanning from downtown past the 610 Loop, that would fall under the mayor's power.
"I would favor the creation of this urban school district that is controlled by the mayor, that has a board that is largely appointed by the mayor, so there's accountability," he said.
Brown added that a task force should study several ideas, including breaking the 200,000-student Houston ISD into smaller districts.
"I wouldn't want to say, 'I'm elected mayor, and the second week I'm elected mayor we're going to dismantle HISD,' " he said.
One more thing:
Morales asserted that when he served on a grand jury, "50 percent of Hispanics who came across our court were illegals and 90 percent of them were committing crimes against their children and other children." The figures could not be confirmed late Thursday.
Most of the candidates dodged a question about whether they would propose no annual spending increases in the city government budget. Morales, however, said he would cut the budget and that police and firefighters have told him billions of dollars are wasted in their departments. He did not cite specifics.
From Gene Locke:
At the Houston Rotary Club Mayoral Forum today, candidate Gene Locke addressed an issue that has raised headlines, and eyebrows, across the country, mayoral control of local schools. "There's no harder job than educating our kids and running our schools. The mayor's role is to champion education, not run the schools. Under my administration the city will work closely with educators and administrators to secure the best possible schools for our children." The issue was raised during a luncheon forum where Locke and mayoral hopefuls Peter Brown, Roy Morales, and Annise Parker responded to questions.
In response to a question posed by Locke today Councilmember Peter Brown said, "I do not support the idea of the mayor taking over HISD." In Sunday's Houston Chronicle, however, reporter Ericka Mellon quoted Councilmember Brown as "pitching the formation of a new 'urban school district' which might span from downtown past the 610 Loop..." Brown is quoted, "I would favor the creation of this urban school district that is controlled by the mayor, that has a board that is largely appointed by the mayor ..."
On the question of mayoral control of schools Locke responded, "I think that's a bad idea. I think that's an awful idea." He went on to note his strategy for improving schools and retaining students would include a robust dialog between parents and educators, improved safety and infrastructure for existing schools, and ensuring after school programs and job training are available.
Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 16, 2009 to Election 2009
There's a crisis in Houston and it threatens the economy, safety and future of our city.
The dropout rate for Houston Independent School District is 49.9%, according to an independent study, which means nearly half of Freshman who enter schools in Houston don't graduate. It's a problem that disproportionately affects minority communities as Hispanic students are three times as likely to dropout of school as their white peers.
Sadly, my opponent Gene Locke would rather criticize me for claiming I was open to new strategies for dealing with the problem than actually face the problem himself. Rather than provide real leadership and new ideas, Gene Locke has decided to play the cynical blame game of political distortion. The state of our schools, to him, is merely another issue with which to score political points and he's gone so far as to misrepresent my views.
Our children don't have the luxury of waiting for overburdened schools to magically transform themselves. Houstonians deserve a mayor who isn't afraid to take on anyone, anywhere, anytime to help ALL of our children succeed.
I believe it's going to take more than weak promises of more dialogue to address this serious issue. Gene Locke said, in his attack, that he wants to "champion schools." I don't want to champion a system that's failing half our students, I want to fix it. I won't ignore possible solutions because it's the politically convenient thing to do. As your mayor, I'll make education a top priority and not a political football.
I'm running for mayor because I want to deal with the important issues, not avoid them, and there are few greater challenges for Houston than education.
The buck stops here.