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Alief

HISD candidate spending

After all I’ve done detailing how city candidates are spending their campaign money, I’d love to be able to tell how how candidates for HISD Trustee are spending theirs. I’d love to, but unfortunately I can’t, because that information isn’t available online, and I just don’t have the time to tromp over to HISD headquarters and request printed copies to peruse. Fortunately, Ericka Mellon did do that, and she reports on it. Not as detailed as I’d have liked, but much better than nothing. And with that, I resolve to ask every HISD candidate I’ll interview in 2011 whether they support a requirement that these reports be made available online, as it is with the city, county, state, and feds. That really shouldn’t be an issue this far into the 21st century, but there you have it.

On a related note, you should also read this article about what the Houston Federation of Teachers is doing in the HISD Trustee races.

In a letter to union leaders this month, HFT President Gayle Fallon campaigned for a “pro-employee board” that won’t push for teachers to be fired or put on improvement plans if their students perform poorly on state tests.

For the last three years, the Houston Independent School District has ranked teachers based on their students’ performance and paid bonuses to those at the top of the pack. Some trustees have been calling on the administration to focus now on those teachers ranked near the bottom.

“If our candidates win … the balance of power shifts,” Fallon wrote to her union stewards. “You get a pro-employee board and we end the threats and begin to restore some sanity to HISD.”

HFT is backing Alma Lara, whom they’ve been supporting since before Natasha Kamrani decided not to run for re-election, in District I, and Adrian Collins in District IX. They did not endorse in District V. I certainly sympathize with what the HFT is doing – it’s their purpose to protect the interests of their members, after all – but I also think there’s merit to what HISD wants to do, and by Fallon’s admission later in the article, the threat of which she warns has been overstated.

And finally, if you’re in the Alief ISD, you should read this story about a candidate forum for the Alief ISD contestants.

School board candidates who are campaigning for reform in Alief ISD had few specifics about where they would cut spending. The group includes [Sarah] Winkler’s opponent for Position 6, Baltazar Gutierrez, sales representative for an industrial casting company, along with incumbent Nghi Ho, Tammi Sturm, mother, and business owner, and Marilyn Swick, co-owner with her husband of The Houston Sleep Center.

Graduate student Gary Floyd, who is in the race for Position 7 with Swick and incumbent Gary Cook, did not participate in the forum.

Gutierrez denied he’s aligned with Improve Alief Schools Political Action Committee created by affluent homeowners, but he’s pictured on the group’s flyer, which advocates for a line-by-line budget review to trim 2 percent, about $9 million, from the current budget and give taxpayers relief.

Ho’s competition is for the Position 5 seat by Grace Parmer, 19, a Hastings High graduate currently enrolled in the Honors College at Houston Baptist University. She has aligned with Winkler, Cook, who is a hospital administrator, and retired teacher Ella Jefferson in a campaign to protect and further academic gains the district has made in the past few years. Budget cuts can’t occur without having an impact on personnel and school programs, they say.

You know how I feel about the “tax cuts above all else” philosophy, especially when it’s those who would benefit the most that are pushing it. My interview with Sarah Winkler is here.

Interview with Sarah Winkler

Sarah Winkler

Sarah Winkler

For what truly will be my last interview of the 2009 cycle, I bring you a conversation with Alief ISD Trustee Sarah Winkler, who serves District 6 and is also the President of the AISD board. She has been in office since 1997, and is a 28-year resident of Alief whose five sons all attended Alief schools. She also now serves as the President of the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB). Alief is having its school board election in November for the first time, and also for the first time, a majority of the seven-member board is up for election. This year, there is a concerted effort by a group of tax cut uber alles types to run a slate of candidates on a slash-and-burn platform in an effort to take over the board, which is what attracted my attention to this race. I hope this helps shine a little light on it.

Download the MP3 file

PREVIOUSLY:

Karen Derr, At Large #1
Brad Bradford, At Large #4
Stephen Costello, At Large #1
Lane Lewis, District A
Lonnie Allsbrooks, At Large #1
Noel Freeman, At Large #4
Brenda Stardig, District A
Oliver Pennington, District G
Amy Peck, District A
Herman Litt, At Large #1
Natasha Kamrani, HISD Trustee in District I, not running for re-election
Alex Wathen, District A
Robert Kane, District F
Council Member Melissa Noriega, At Large #3
Jeff Downing, District A
Mike Laster, District F
Council Member Jolanda Jones, At Large #5
Mills Worsham, District G
Rick Rodriguez, At Large #1
Council Member Sue Lovell, At Large #2
Carlos Obando, At Large #5
Richard Sedita, District G
Jack Christie, At Large #5
Dexter Handy, District G
George Foulard, District G
Alma Lara, HISD Trustee District I
Anna Eastman, HISD Trustee District I
Linda Toyota, HISD Trustee District I
Council Member Ed Gonzalez, District H
Council Member Wanda Adams, District D
Council Member Anne Clutterbuck, District C
Progressive Coalition candidates
Council Member Mike Sullivan, District E
Council Member James Rodriguez, District I
Council Member Jarvis Johnson, District B
Mike Lunceford, HISD Trustee District V
Ray Reiner, HISD Trustee District V
Council Member Ronald Green, candidate for Controller
Council Member MJ Khan, candidate for Controller
Council Member Pam Holm, candidate for Controller
Gene Locke, candidate for Mayor
Council Member Peter Brown, candidate for Mayor
City Controller Annise Parker, candidate for Mayor
Adrian Collins, HISD Trustee District IX
Otis Jordan, District D

Today the HCDE, tomorrow the world!

Remember those Cy-Fair school board candidates I mentioned last week? Turns out they each have Facebook groups supporting their candidacies. A brief look at them reveals a couple of interesting things. One is that spelling, or at least spell-checking, is not a high priority. From Willie Wright’s group’s description:

The incumbent has also voted in recent years to raise property taxes in Cy-Fair and the incumbent also supported the building of the collosal Berry Center, also known as the Cy-Fair Taj Mahal or Ceasar’s Palace.

And from Bill Morris’ group’s description:

Additionally, as a GOP Precinct Chairman, Bill knows the importance of being a Conservtaive Republican voter, unlike the incumbent in this race who voted in the 2008 Democrat Primary.

Does the TAKS test include a spelling component? I’m just asking.

And two, these groups were both created by our old friend HCDE Trustee Michael Wolfe. Good to know Wolfe’s famous attention to detail isn’t just limited to his work with the Department of Education. Now, I don’t know what Wolfe’s involvement in these races is – it may be nothing more than setting up Facebook groups as part of the local GOP’s social media outreach program. But I do know that Wolfe tried to increase his influence on the HCDE by supporting a couple of far-right candidates in the 2008 primary; they won that battle, knocking off more moderate GOP incumbents, but thankfully lost in November to the much more qualified Debra Kerner and Jim Henley. And I do know that one of those Wolfe-backed candidates, Stan Stanart, is also in these groups and has apparently announced his intention to run for the to-be-open position of Harris County Clerk. (Former State Rep. and HCDP Chair Sue Schechter has announced her interest on the Democratic side.) Finally, I do know that I’d prefer less Michael Wolfe in my government, not more. So if you live in the Cy-Fair ISD, please be aware of who’s running for these offices, and please vote accordingly. That goes for the Alief ISD as well, about which I’ll have more to say shortly. Thanks.

Where conservative governance gets incubated

This story about area school board elections is both a revealing look at the state of the modern conservative philosophy of how to govern, as well as a stark reminder of why these obscure little elections really do matter.

In Cy-Fair ISD, where six people are running for two seats, challengers are campaigning to protect an optional 20 percent homestead exemption that administrators suggested slashing earlier this year to stave off spending cuts. While candidates say recession-related frustration drove them to advocate for relief for home and business owners, few have specific plans on how to both lower taxes and improve the quality of education.

“I wish I had an answer for that. If I did, I’d be a real politician,” said Cy-Fair candidate Willie Wright, a real estate agent who said she’s running to help build a conservative consensus on the board. “There’s some of us that just have recognized that we need to be fiscally responsible.”

Another challenger, Bill Morris, wrote in a school district candidate questionnaire that Cy-Fair needs to keep its homestead exemption and “encourage morality-based principles in our classrooms.”

Remember, this is the same Cy-Fair that had to lay off staff and drastically reduce bus service because of that property tax exemption. But don’t worry, the magic pixie dust of the free market will rescue them, or something. You Cy-Fair parents who say you want better bus service, I hope you’re paying attention to this.

And just to demonstrate that there’s no idea so bad that nobody will want to copy it:

Backed by residents of the wealthy Royal Oaks neighborhood, the Improve Alief Schools Political Action Committee is pushing for tax relief and academic improvements. At question is the size of budget cuts that would be needed to offset an extra homestead exemption.

Administrators have said the tax break could cost teachers jobs, while the three PAC-backed candidates say it can be done without staff cuts.

Marilyn Swick, one of the conservative challengers in Alief, argued that a tax break could be granted without cutting teachers. When pressed, she said she couldn’t yet provides specific examples of what she would propose cutting.

“People have blown this out of proportion with their own scare tactics,” she said. “I’m running to improve academic standards. I’m not even here to talk about (tax relief).”

In other words, cut the taxes first and ask the questions later. I don’t think there’s anything to add to that.