A few weeks back, HISD Superintendent Abe Saavedra wrote an op-ed that discussed the state of HISD’s magnet programs and the costs associated with them. One item has caused alarm among parents and activists:
As we continue to move the district forward, we must remain diligent about addressing challenges that have clearly impacted our country. The school does not go untouched by the economic climate and crisis that have changed the financial foundation of small and large businesses in our nation, our city and even our own homes.
The truth of the matter is that these are difficult financial times for all, including the school district. Resources are not unlimited, and it is prudent for the school district to explore more-efficient ways to provide services to all students. A discussion of magnet transportation is clearly one we must consider.
In response to this, a user who identifies him/herself as DoNoHarm wrote this blog post on the Chron.commons site. It runs through the various options for reducing magnet transportation costs, then concludes as follows:
We applaud HISD efforts to identify and implement cost savings strategies. Reducing magnet transportation services now, before magnet programs overall have been analyzed for their effectiveness, and in absence of a larger, more comprehensive strategy, is destructive to public education, undermines high performing magnet programs, scales down excellence, and ultimately increases costs to students, schools and communities – regardless of the good intentions. Any loss of students now due to transportation decisions is a financial blow for which HISD and the affected schools are not prepared for. Instead, we recommend waiting until after the overall magnet system is evaluated and comprehensive recommendations are developed. Then and only then can total cost savings and total efficiency be accurately determined.
I will note that according to the findings of the 2006 HISD Magnet PEER Review Committee, their first recommendation is “The District should provide HISD bus transportation to all qualified, enrolled Magnet students in all approved Magnet programs.” I’ve uploaded a copy of this document (in Word format) here.
I was sent these links by an attorney and HISD parent named Amy Maldonado Tehauno, who also forwarded me the following email that’s making the rounds among those who want to defer a decision at this time:
Today is the day to email, call, or write your HISD Trustee and tell them that cutting magnet transportation services without a comprehensive plan for real improvement is misguided and an idea that you want your Trustee to vote down. Dr. Saavedra can only pass his proposed plan for reducing magnet transportation services if he persuades five HISD Trustees. He is working as we speak to negotiate terms with his Trustees to pass this initiative this week or when the board meets in early January. A coordinated response successfully stopped his Carnegie-Worthing plan and is needed to stop this one, too.
Here are six reasons why we need you to email your HISD Trustee today:
1. HISD Proposed Transportation Cuts Will Increase, Not Save, Costs. Reducing Magnet Transportation Services will easily end up costing HISD more money than it will save. If 4% of the magnet population leaves HISD for private schools or charter schools any cost savings will be erased. With the State Board of Education considering an increase in the number of charter schools that can open in Houston, and the overwhelming public outcry at HISD’s public meetings on magnet transportation, the district easily stands to lose far more than 4% of its magnet students.
2. Fuzzy Math. New bus stop locations mentioned in the four HISD options, will not even be identified or finalized by the HISD transportation department until August, 2009. How can HISD possibly state that relocating bus stops will generate “cost savings” when it doesn’t know where they are? This gap raises serious questions about the credibility and reliability of HISD’s proposed “cost savings”.
3. Transportation Tax on Economically Disadvantaged Families. HISD’s preferred plan requires removing the three-mile bus stop requirement in order to be “more efficient”. The three-mile rule prevents HISD from locating bus stops farther than three-miles from a student’s home. By removing this restriction, HISD will shift responsibility to families and require them to drive farther or for students to walk farther than three miles in order to catch a bus. The $6.1 million in cost savings that HISD claims from removing this three-mile rule will now be loaded on the backs of families who can least afford it:
- 84% of the magnet students who live farther than ten miles from their chosen school are classified by HISD as economically disadvantaged; and
- 55% of all magnet bus riders participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
HISD claims that the greatest opportunity for cost savings (shifting costs) lies in those bus stops beyond ten miles. HISD has not revealed how much its cost-cutting options will cost these magnet families, nor has it explored whether the impact of this “transportation tax” will deny these children real school choice.
4. Costs For Student Safety Not Factored Into Estimates. The proposed cost savings from cutting transportation services do not currently take into consideration the added security HISD will require in order for HISD to protect elementary and middle school students who will be waiting at high schools for their bus. It also does not account for the added police necessary to manage the added traffic congestion when hundreds of extra families and vehicles are dropping elementary school age children off at high schools and other campuses around the city all at the same time.
5. Less School Choice. All 119 elementary, middle, and high school level magnet schools will be put at risk for losing students and related funding if the transportation cuts proceed. The magnet program your child may want to attend in middle school or high school may no longer exist, contain similar levels of diversity, or perform at the same academic level, by the time your child is ready to apply. Money follows the child in public education. Schools are funded based on enrollment numbers. Limit student access to schools and you will reduce school budgets.
6. No Plan For How The Money Will Be Spent. HISD would like us to trust what Dr. Saavedra will do with the “cost savings”. While nearly all Houstonians fundamentally support the idea of strengthening schools, Dr. Saavedra’s recent proposal for a Carnegie-Worthing joint campus raises serious questions about whether we can believe what Dr. Saavedra promises. Given that there does not exist an overall plan or detailed strategy for improving schools, it makes it nearly impossible for Houstonians to hold Dr. Saavedra accountable for what he actually does with the money. This is a risk Houstonians can no longer afford to take.
Dr. Saavedra must persuade five Trustees to vote for his plan to slash magnet transportation services. We need concerned citizens to tell our Trustees that HISD cannot slash key services without a comprehensive plan for real improvement, nor sacrifice the interests of the most vulnerable children under the pretext of “cost savings”. We need to send HISD a clear message that Houston will not tolerate any cost cutting schemes that deny children equal access to quality education.
To reach HISD Board of Trustees President Harvin Moore, or Trustees Diana Davila, Carol Mims Galloway, Natasha Kamrani, or Larry Marshall, send your email to HISD Board Services: [email protected].
Please, email your Trustee today.
HISD District Advisory Committee Member
I confess, I had not been paying attention to this, so I appreciate the information. The folks like Ms. Tehuano who are advocating deferment make a pretty good case for it. I’m passing this along for those who might want to get involved.