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HISD Trustee runoff overview

Here’s the Chron story on the two runoffs for HISD Trustee. It echoes a theme from that Examiner story we saw yesterday.

The outcome of the races could reshape several board debates — particularly over wages for construction workers, efforts to hold weak teachers more accountable and the role of magnet schools. Early voting runs through Tuesday, and Election Day is Dec. 12.

Both Lara and Collins support paying contractors higher wages based on standard federal rates. They argue that bigger paychecks will draw more-qualified workers and prevent shoddy construction.

The Harris County AFL-CIO, which endorsed Lara and Collins, pushed the board to adopt the wages this year. Marshall, who has had crucial support from unions in past campaigns, agreed with the majority of the board in rejecting the idea as too costly.

“This is insulting in a way, that as hard as times are that any organization could even make this an issue,” said Marshall, who estimated that paying the federal rates for the 2007 bond projects would cost an extra $75 million.

Lots riding on the line for several organizations in these races. I noticed that of the four runoff candidates, the Chron did not say where Anna Eastman stood on the issue of prevailing wages. So I sent her a Facebook message to ask, and this is the answer she sent me:

Thanks for asking me about this issue. It never came up in my interview with [Chron reporter Ericka Mellon]. My understanding of the recent argument between the AFL-CIO and the Board of Trustees is tied to some promises that were made by the former superintendent and HISD school bond program administrator Dick Lindsey during the 2007 bond campaign, but not agreed upon by the board.

As a board member I would hope that any negotiations of this sort would involve all parties. I believe when we are spending public dollars there should be accountability on both sides and we should be hiring licensed workers at a fair wage and insure that we are following policy guidelines for inclusion of minority contractors.

Our dollars should be spent to effectively serve and benefit the most children possible, not to fund adult interests. As a board member of a public institution charged with educating children, my decisions will be guided first and foremost by what benefits children and their education.

So there you have it.

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7 Comments

  1. M Morrow says:

    Thanks for asking Ms Eastman to clarify this Charles, although she did tell the Chronicle in District 1 Candidates in their own Words:

    When Chron asked: Should HISD pay “prevailing wages” to construction workers? Why or why not?
    Ms Eastman responded. HISD should pay fair wages that allow for the most efficient and far reaching improvements for our children.

    Just to be fair, this is what Alma Lara said about that question:
    Should HISD pay “prevailing wages” to construction workers? Why or why not?
    HISD should pay prevailing wages to construction workers. First, if we did a better job of getting the work done right the first time, then we would not have to invest so much in maintaining the buildings. Second, we would reduce the amount of campus-wide interruptions that occur any time construction is being done simultaneously while class is in session. Third, it is just the right thing to do. We strive to provide our kids with a good education so they can have decent jobs when they grow up. HISD allows an absolute free reign on their contractors with no concern for accountability. We should minimally be able to expect licensed electrical workers being employed to ensure our students are safe when we open the buildings.

    So ask the parents if it makes sense that the children have to attend a school where the job was done by the lowest bidder. Don’t they have numerous examples where the children are not able to learn in an environment where the facility is in need of repair, like the situation at Bellaire High School. Why aren’t the examples given equal time instead of looking at the budget. So how much money will we need to repair buildings and how much of education time will be interrupted? How is that an adult interest? Maybe she should explain that.

  2. Amy Tehauno says:

    As an HISD Parent who once took a logic class, I would note that this is a ridiculous argument. At no point does Anna Eastman say that she supports paying workers the lowest wages possible to ensure shoddy construction. Again, I see mischaracterizations of her positions by Alma Lara supporters, and frankly, I don’t see those of us parent advocates who support Anna Eastman trying to bash Alma Lara.

  3. M Morrow says:

    I beg to differ. I have heard many insinuations from Eastman supporters about Alma Lara in comments in the Chronicle articles and from emails from HISD Parent Visionaries and in letters to Heights civic associations.

    I took several logic classes in college, not just one.

    I believe that Ms Eastman’s comments are flawed. How can you spend our dollars to efffectively serve and benefit the most children possible, and not fund adult interests, when it is in the best interests of ALL CHILDREN and not MOST CHILDREN to have the construction work done right the first time. How is that serving adult interests? I know that parents are not in favor of shoddy work and unsafe facilities but you cannot have it both ways. If you go with the lowest bidder and they bring in unlicensed workers, that is not in the best interests of the children and has nothing to do with adult interests.

    I was also trying to point out that Charles did not find her comment in the Chronicle so I found them for him. How is that being negative? It is clearly there in the article. He found it necessary to call Ms Eastman for a comment but not Alma Lara. Charles also did not put what Alma Lara said about the wages in his story, so I believed this article to be swayed toward one candidate. Maybe you did not see it but Richard Shaw responded to the Examiner article about kids getting shocked by the water cooler at one school because of bad electrical work.

    I was also trying to address the comment:
    “said Marshall, who estimated that paying the federal rates for the 2007 bond projects would cost an extra $75 million” so how much money does it cost to not do it right the first time?

    In projects that I have been involved in, when we went with the lowest bidder, we always got burned because we spent three to four times the initial investment in redoing it. No one ever places a price tag or does analysis of how much it costs not just in building and rebuilding but in outages and ongoing maintenance.

  4. In regards to the ‘construction wage’ issue with HISD, Larry Marshall stood at a news conference that was held on Tuesday, October 9, 2007, and stated that he supported our agreement with HISD to update prevailing wages to US DOL standards, that includes Apprenticeshiip Training, in return for our support of the 2007 Bond Eleciton; Larry’s ‘insult’ is a cover for his lying to get our support. He was supposed to put it on the agenda for an up or down vote – never happened. This is not just about the wages, but the quality of the construction. We found HISD contractors paying their unlicensed electricians between $9 and $11 an hour (HISD’s current Prevailing Wage for Electricians is $16.70 per hour and the current market in Harris County for a licensed Eletrictrian is $25 an hour take home). We documented unsafe electrial installations and hazards for children and staff. We contacted the City Inspections department about same. HISD scrambled and our Representatives accompanied the District’s Master Electrician (last June and July) to the worksites and actually found more and dangerous violations. The Houston Chroncile reporter did not cover any of this and would not meet with us in order that we could share this information with her. As we and Larry Marshall and other Board Members and District Officials stood in that Octover 9, 2007, news conference at the Sheet Metal Workers Union Apprenticeship Training facility, we promised the community that there would be Apprenticeship Opportunities for their children (upon graduation from High School) as opposed to the practice by HISD contractors importing all of their labor from accross the border. We agreed (and did) to work with HISD’s Career and Technical Education program to make sure that proper and relevant pre-apprenticeship materials and curriculum would be in the Building and Construction Trades classes in order to better prepare the students for our Apprenticeship Programs upon graduation and entry. Our programs are all certified by the U.S. Department of Labor. This is what comes with U.S. Department of Labor Prevailing Wages. All HISD candidates and Board members should support this. We are talking about good jobs and good school construciton. HISD is bleeding 48% (on average) of its students to the dropout streets right now. Shame on them for not wanting to help train future construction workers for good jobs. Shame on HISD for lying to Labor and using our good reputation and our Apprenticeship programs to promise the community something that they will not see for their children. Richard C. Shaw, Secretary-Treasurer, Harris County AFL-CIO Council

  5. Amy Tehauno says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but stating that I took a logic class does not logically imply that I took only one (that is, under the rules of logic that statement is consistent with the fact that I took three logic classes for my undergraduate degree in Philosophy!).

    I agree with you that HISD should make decisions that are driven by good data on total costs of construction and repairs, and that it does not always do so (certainly, it is the case that projections as to new school construction, etc., change dramatically over a short period of time). I dispute, until documented otherwise, that union wages automatically equal good quality, which is the assumption underlying your argument. Also, saying that parents must either support inflated wages or choose shoddy construction is a false dilemma. What I, and I assume the other parents, are looking for is the ideal point at which quality and cost savings are maximized, since school districts have lots of things other than physical facilities that are important to quality education. Yes, I do think that living wages are important. I also think that our schools run on tight budgets.

    With regard to apprenticeships and the AFL-CIO, I can understand feeling as though you’ve been had by HISD – that was how I felt about Dr. Saavedra and his attempts to demolish some of our most successful magnet programs. I also appreciate the importance of offering career paths to non college-bound students, with a BIG caveat – historically, Mexican American and other students were funneled away from college and toward labor type jobs. We are still underrepresented in higher education (the higher the educational level, the fewer of us there are). All work is of intrinsic value, and should be honored. I do not want to see kids with college bound potential be tracked into non college bound job.

  6. Richard C. Shaw says:

    In regards to those ‘labor type jobs’ I am talking about $24-$30 an hour with health benefits for the entire family and a retirement. Our Apprenticeship programs include enrollment in the Houston Community College System with credits toward an Asscoiates Degree and with opportunities for our ‘Journeyperson’ graduates to start their own construction businesses etc. Bottom line: our communities ought to be building our schools and gaining valuable Apprenticeship opportunties at the same time. Critical jobs identified by workforce experts are: Electrician, Pipe Fitter, Plumber and Sheet Metal Worker. By the way, it is a documented fact that the HISD construction is shoddy and unsafe and yes, Uniion craftpersons do perform better than non-union. It is called pride in their work and integrity that only Apprenticeship Programs can produce. Check our our programs and schools. Shame on HISD for lying to the community. Richard C. Shaw

  7. Something else you need to know, Amy: Construction workers in HISD now, who are employed by many of the HISD’s subcontractors are working under the following conditions: they are employed as independent contractors (misclassified by the way) and do not pay payroll taxes (like to the IRS); their contractors do not pay payroll taxies either (to the IRS); some do not even get their pay at all; others are hired in one classification and are working in another but without the pay increase due them for that work; in the case of the electrical workers, many are not licensed and neither their contractor checks it or does HISD; many, if not most of them, are not even getting the wage that HISD promised them; no one from HISD is even checking on the quality of their work; HISD maintenance has to go back and repair what they did not do in the first place; HISD is covering all of this up.

    This does not happen with Union contractors and some other legitimate contractors that may not be Union. The bottom line: taxpayers that expect quality for their tax dollars are not getting it and legitimate contractors who may want to bid on HISD projects cannot compete against the above employment practices. I repeat again, HISD is totally aware of all of this. If you have been told differently by HISD, they are lying to you. Alma Lara will be a voice on the Board that will not have a long learning curve only to find out some 4 years later that the District was lying to her. It is time to go with experience. Richard C. Shaw