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Anna Eastman

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

We cover three endorsements today: HD148 (I presume the Chron is not endorsing in HD28), HISD IV, and City Council District C. Endorsements for the constitutional amendments were in the print edition on Saturday, I’ll run them on Tuesday. That leaves the Mayor and Controller, and I assume those will be in today’s print edition, and will have been online as of later in the day Saturday. I’ll get to those on Monday.

For today, we start with HD148 and the Chron’s recommendation of Anna Eastman in HD148.

Anna Eastman

Voters have their work cut out for them in making a choice because there are 14 candidates for the job, including 11 Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent — all of them appearing on a single unified ballot.

We recommend voters choose Anna Eastman, who was a respected member of the HISD board for eight years before she stepped down this year. Her HISD district included 75 percent of District 148.

Eastman stood out as a smart, dedicated member of the board who generally favored enlightened policies.

Should she win the House seat, she has a laundry list of issues she wants to tackle, including, of course, education, starting with improved teacher pay.

There are fifteen candidates running for this office, unless one of them has dropped out and I missed it. Not sure if the Chron knows something I don’t know or if they just goofed on the math. Either way, I agree that there are a plethora of good choices, and I’m kind of glad I don’t have to pick just one. My interviews with ten of these candidates can be found here, and a look at their 30 day finance reports is here. If you’re in HD148, who are you voting for?

Meanwhile, in another race with a lot of credible candidates, the Chron recommended Abbie Kamin in District C.

Abbie Kamin

Houston City Council District C is home to one of the city’s most vibrant and prosperous neighborhoods, the Heights, and neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. It’s also home to some of Houston’s most engaged residents, so it’s no surprise that so many candidates are competing to represent the district on City Council.

Council member Ellen Cohen, the city’s mayor pro-tem, faces a term limit and is not in the race.

To replace her, voters should choose Abbie Kamin, a bright, thoughtful civil rights attorney. Three other candidates also stood out as strong contenders, each impressing the editorial board during screening meetings.

Shelley Kennedy, who served under former Mayor Annise Parker on the Keep Houston Beautiful Commission and currently serves on city’s police oversight board, was compelling. So was Greg Myers, who served on the Houston Independent School District board from 2004 to 2016. Amanda Wolfe asked smart questions about Metro, and obviously has a firm grasp on neighborhood-level concerns within the district.

But it was Kamin, 32, who brought the best mix of policy smarts and a can-do spirit of compromise and team work. Those skills, as much as determination to fight for her constituents, are absolutely essential to success as a member of the Houston City Council.

Kamin is also a fundraising machine, and has a record of achievement that makes you realize how big a slacker you were in your 20s. Again, there are a lot of strong candidates in this race, and with 14 candidates anything can happen.

Finally, there’s Matt Barnes in HISD District IV.

Matt Barnes

In a 2018 op-ed published on these pages (“Houston ISD’s misdiagnosis and the cure” ), Matt Barnes issued a clarion call to Houstonians, asking qualified candidates to run for the Houston Independent School District board of trustees. “Those of you who are as angry as I am about young people growing up unprepared for adult life: Get ready. The cure to HISD’s governance problem starts with us running (and voting) in 2019.” After his preferred candidate decided to pass on this race, Barnes tossed his own hat into the ring for District 4 that is held by outgoing board member Jolanda Jones. The district includes the Third Ward, where Barnes has been a resident for 20 years.

Barnes, 48, is well-suited in experience, temperament and commitment to be an outstanding trustee. His professional background includes more than 20 years of involvement in education from pre-K to university, including his recent position as CEO of Educational Makeover, an organization dedicated to providing free coaching to parents. Not only is Barnes familiar with the dividing line between board of trustees and management, he also has served on several nonprofit boards. To prepare for this race, the radio talk show host immersed himself in data about the district and has staked out his priority for enhanced student achievement, early literacy. While the candidate does not support a takeover of the board by the Texas Education Agency, if the change does occur, Barnes promises to be a “bridge builder” between the appointed board and the community.

My interview with Matt Barnes is here. I know it seems weird to be electing HISD trustees when the TEA is about to appoint people who will have the real power, but someone has to oversee those appointees and hold the TEA to its promises and responsibilities. In that sense, the HISD Trustee elections are even more important than usual. Don’t blow them off.

All the Legislative interviews

Just to collect them all in one convenient place for you:

HD28

Eliz Markowitz

HD148

Anna Eastman
Alva Treviño
Penny Shaw
Chris Watt
Terah Isaacson
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Rob Block
Michele Leal
Adrian P. Garcia
Carol Denson

And there you have it. Before you know it, I’ll be doing interviews for runoffs and primaries. In the meantime, I do have two more City Council interviews to present, so look for them next week. Hope this has been useful.

30 Day finance reports: Special legislative elections

As I said earlier, I’m still working my way through the unfathomably ginormous number of 30-day campaign finance reports for City of Houston candidates. There are other elections of interest for which 30 day reports are required, so we’ll take a look at those. First up will be the two special legislative elections for the Houston area. Here are the reports for HD148:

Michele Leal
Anna Eastman
Rob Block
Chris Watt
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena
Penny Shaw
Carol Denson
Adrian P. Garcia
Alva Trevino
Lui La Rotta
Mia Mundy
Terah Isaacson
Chris Carmona
Ryan McConnico


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
148   Leal            108,824      9,384        0     61,526
148   Eastman          50,477     22,735        0     28,494
148   Block            38,885     11,147        0     27,787
148   Watt             32,999      8,163        0     27,845
148   Camarena         17,370     10,531   10,000      9,260
148   Shaw             13,237      7,976   14,000     14,787
148   Denson           11,265      2,095    1,000      4,527
148   Garcia            8,525      3,980        0      4,525
148   Trevino           7,150      5,549    5,549      5,226
148   La Rotta          6,511      3,889        0      3,219
148   Mundy             3,170      3,000        0      1,148
148   Isaacson          1,327      8,561        0      1,327
148   Carmona             830      5,473   10,000        830
148   McConnico           415        733        0          0

Anna Nunez did not have a report showing as of yesterday; all the others are present. Some clear separation here among the candidates, which shouldn’t be a big surprise. Michele Leal leads the way with an impressive total. Of that $108K, $10K came from Latino Texas PAC, which she once led, and $1K came from State Rep. Christina Morales, who as far as I can tell is the only legislator to have gotten involved in this race. Anna Eastman received $250 from Dianne Johnson and $50 from Mike Lunceford, two of her former HISD Board colleagues. Rob Block, who is an HFD firefighter, got $20K from the HPFFA PAC, and $10K from Peggy Robinson; I don’t know who that is, but that’s a big enough piece of his haul that I thought it was worth mentioning. Chris Watt gave $5K to his campaign, which reminds me to note that the difference between that and a loan is that a loan is supposed to be paid back at some point. Finally, Carol Denson had literally broad support, as 33 of her 58 donations came from outside Houston, which is to say any city for which something other than “Houston” was listed in the address. Of those, 15 were from outside Texas. This is not a criticism in any way, as the first group of people one turns to for contributions to a political campaign is one’s personal network, which in Denson’s case includes people around the country. That’s Fundraising 101 right there.

Meanwhile, the three Republican candidates combined to raise less than $8K, with Chris Carmona loaning himself $10K to make it all slightly less embarrassing. I mean sure, this is a seat Jessica Farrar won with 68% of the vote in 2018 so it’s no one’s idea of a swing district, but in a race with 12 Dems there’s surely a path for a Republican to sneak into the runoff, and then who knows what can happen. That prospect, or perhaps the candidates who would be a part of it, does not seem to have had much appeal to the Republican establishment.

One last thing. I noticed that Eastman had several contributions of exactly $148, while Lui La Rotta had several of $17.87. Sometimes donations of an oddly specific amount are made as part of a particular appeal, or for a reason that has special meaning to the campaign or candidate. The reason for the $148 donations to Eastman is obvious, but I’m unclear on what $17.87 is supposed to mean. I guess it could be a reference to the year the US Constitution was signed, which is adorable, but if it’s not that then I have no idea.

Meanwhile, here’s HD28:

Eliz Markowitz

Anna Allred (PAC)
Gary Gates
Gary Hale
Tricia Krenek
Sarah Laningham
Clinton Purnell


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
28    Markowitz        61,845     15,591        0     38,080
28    Allred          158,570    142,234   20,000     86,279
28    Gates               265    213,552  821,100      7,191
28    Hale                421     10,525        0      9,150
28    Krenek           30,058     67,213  150,000    113,067
28    Laningham           100      2,199        0        100
28    Purnell               0         55        0      1,195

Here, Eliz Markowitz is the sole Dem in a field of Republicans, which offers her a clear path towards a runoff, likely at the head of the pack. She too took in a decent amount, having previously collected $18K for the July report, which was before we knew there would be a special election.

On the Republican side, about eighty percent of Anna Allred’s haul comes from a collection of medical interests. She got $37,500 from US Anesthesia Partners, $25K from American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, $25K from Texas Medical Association PAC, $25K from Texas Society of Anesthesiologists PAC, and $10K from Metropolitan Anesthesia PAC. Who even knew there were that many anesthesia-related PACs in existence? Former Rep. John Zerwas is himself an anesthesiologist, and US Anesthesia Partners is where he practices, so I guess we know who his choice to succeed him is. Gary Gates has run for office a couple of times before, and his report lists only some of those outstanding loans on his total. Basically, assume he’s gonna spend however much of his own money, and there’s not much more to it than that. Tricia Krenek is the only other Republican to raise any money, along with writing herself a check. On the assumption that this will be a Markowitz-versus-Republican runoff, it will be interesting to see if one or more of the Rs who fail to make the cut take another shot at it in March. I’ve speculated about that for the plethora of Dems in HD148 as well, and there’s no reason to think the same dynamic won’t be true here.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

So you’ve probably heard that there’s a special election in HD148 this November, to succeed the retiring Rep. Jessica Farrar. You’ve also probably heard that there are many candidates – fifteen of them, to be exact – who are running in this election. You may be wondering “How can I learn more about all these candidates in the small amount of time there is before the election?” You’ve come to the right place, because over the next two weeks I’m going to bring you interviews with most of these candidates. We’ll start with one candidate you may already be familiar with, Anna Eastman. Eastman served two terms on the HISD Board in District I, where among other things she helped overhaul the Board’s ethics policy and led the effort to pass a fully inclusive non-discrimination policy. She does education and policy consulting these days, and serves on a bunch of boards. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet now has all of the Democrats who are running for HD148 listed. I have a list of all 15 candidates here. I’ve interviewed Anna Eastman before, during her campaigns for HISD. Most recently, I did an exit interview with her in 2017. I’ll be publishing many more HD148 candidate interviews over the next two weeks.

Where to find the HD148 candidates

One of the things I observed as I was frantically updating lists of who had filed to run in the HD148 special election was that some of the candidates were easier to find online than others, and that some had already created a web presence for themselves while others had not. As I intended to do interviews for this race, that mattered to me. About two weeks out from the filing deadline, I’ve been able to track down many of them, and the Erik Manning spreadsheet has more information. But for my convenience and yours, here’s how to find the Democrats of the HD148 special election online:

Rob BlockFacebook
Kendra Yarbrough CamarenaFacebook
Anna EastmanFacebook
Adrian P. GarciaFacebook
Terah IsaacsonFacebook
Michele LealFacebook
Mia Mundy (no website, just Facebook)
Anna NúñezFacebook
Penny ShawFacebook
Alva TreviñoFacebook
Chris WattFacebook

Still can’t find anything online for Carol Denson. I’ll leave it to you to locate the Republicans.

If you want to know if you or someone you know is in HD148, you can of course look yourself up on the Tax Assessor’s voter registration webpage. Or, you can use this map of HD148 to see if your address is in or out. I will have a bunch of interviews with HD148 candidates for you beginning September 30, so you’ll have a chance to hear what they have to say for themselves. If you’ve had the chance to see any of them in action, let us know what your impression was.

The special election lineups are set

From the Trib:

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Democrats in HD-28 have coalesced around Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz, who was the only Democrat to file. Markowitz, a Katy teacher, unsuccessfully ran last year for State Board of Education District 7, which overlaps with HD-28.

Six Republicans, meanwhile, filed for the seat, making it likely that there will be a runoff featuring one of them and Markowitz, who will not have to split the Democratic vote. The GOP contenders are:

  • Anna Allred, a Houston anesthesiologist from the same doctor group as [outgoing Rep. John] Zerwas
  • Gary Gates, a Rosenberg businessman who has unsuccessfully run for several other offices, most recently railroad commissioner in 2016
  • Gary J. Hale, a Katy business owner who has his own intelligence firm and is a retired intelligence official with the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Tricia Krenek, a Katy attorney and former member of the Fulshear City Council
  • Sarah Laningham, a Richmond woman who works in sales and unsuccessfully ran for House District 14 in 2018
  • Clinton D. Purnell, a Katy man who works in logistics and customs compliance

[…]

The HD-148 candidates:

  • Rob Block (D)
  • Kendra Yarbrough Camarena (D)
  • Chris Carmona (I)
  • Carol Denson (D)
  • Anna Eastman (D)
  • Adrian Garcia (D)
  • Terah Isaacson (D)
  • Michele Leal (D)
  • Ryan McConnico (R)
  • Mia Mundy (D)
  • Anna Núñez (D)
  • Luis La Rotta (R)
  • Penny “Morales” Shaw (D)
  • Alva Trevino (D)
  • Chris Watt (D)

See here for my interview with Markowitz. Most of these HD148 candidates we’ve discussed before. One of the four new names is Ryan McConnico, who was Farrar’s Republican opponent in 2018. Of the other three, the only one I can positively identify is Michele Leal, though there’s not yet any biographical info on her Facebook page or nascent campaign webpage. Here’s the public part of her LinkedIn profile, which notes her past presidency of the Latin Women’s Initiative, which in turn tells me she also goes by Michele Leal Farah. As for Rob Block and Carol Denson, I can find people with those names, but none that I can say with any degree of certainty are the people who filed for this election. If you know something about them, please leave a comment.

Three other points of note: Like Campos (who lists each candidate’s occupation), I don’t know what the deal is with the quotes around Penny Shaw’s maiden name. I don’t know if longtime Republican Chris Carmona is calling himself an independent due to a pure-hearted change of mind or a cynical attempt to differentiate himself from the other Republicans. And despite filing a CTA, it appears that Anna Nunez did not follow through and enter the race. Not sure what happened there.

I do plan to do some interviews, how many is yet to be determined. In the meantime, there’s your field. The candidates from the third legislative special election, in HD100 to succeed new Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, are also in the Trib story. What do you think?

UPDATE: Apparently, the omission of Anna Núñez from the Trib list of HD148 candidates was the result of an error by the Secretary of State, which has now been corrected. My apologies for my role in extending that error.

The HD148 field keeps growing

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Here’s the current list of people who have filed CTAs for HD148, not including Rep. Jessica Farrar and her 2018 opponent Ryan McConnico:

83999 COH Isaacson, Terah C. 08/20/2019 State Representative Dist 148
65547 COH Yarbrough Camarena, Kendra J. 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84004 COH LaRotta, Luis Humberto 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
83177 COH Mundy, Mia 11/26/2018 State Representative Dist 148
83989 COH Shaw, Penny 08/18/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84010 COH Nunez, Anna L. 08/22/2019 State Representative Dist 148
69682 COH Carmona, Christopher 08/26/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84029 COH Watt, Christopher B. 08/29/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84025 COH Garcia, Adrian 08/28/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84022 COH Eastman, Anna M. 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84026 COH Trevino, Alva I 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148

The first six, down to Anna Nunez, I’ve discussed before. Let’s review the others.

– No, that’s not County Commissioner Adrian Garcia. According to Carlos Calbillo on Facebook, this Adrian Garcia is a “former Texas Senate intern, Aggie and campaign worker in the race that now-Commissioner Adrian Garcia ran for Congress against Gene Green. He is no relation to the Commissioner.” You can see a picture of him at the link above, and this appears to be his Facebook page. It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.

– Chris Carmona is a Republican who has run for office a couple of times – City Council against Melissa Noriega in 2011, County Attorney in 2016 (he lost in the primary), and for HD148 against Rep. Farrar in 2014 (he got 39.7%). Having more than one Republican in the race may split that vote enough to prevent either of them from making the runoff, though with this many Dems in there as well I wouldn’t count on that. He still has his 2016 campaign Facebook page; I assume he’ll repurpose it for this race.

Christopher Watt is an attorney (this is why I’m pretty sure I’ve got the right person). His Facebook page suggests he’s a Democrat. I didn’t find any campaign presence for him.

Alva Trevino is an attorney who serves on METRO’s Executive Leadership Team, having previously been METRO’s General Counsel. Her husband Joe Trevino ran for City Council in 2007, losing in the runoff to Jolanda Jones for At Large #5. She should be a serious contender, able to raise some money quickly, which everyone is going to need to do in this short campaign with a lot of background noise.

– Last but certainly not least is Anna Eastman, who I’d say starts out with the name recognition advantage after serving two terms as HISD Trustee. She announced her candidacy on Friday to a lot of acclaim.

So that’s eleven candidates, which needless to say is a lot, all running for an office that they’d need to run for again next year, beginning with the primary. I had originally thought that whoever won the special election would have a leg up in the primary, but now I’m not so sure. Mostly that’s because with this many candidates – and remember, the filing deadline is Wednesday, so there’s still time for more people to jump in – the potential for an unexpected result is non-trivial. As I’ve said many times, we’re going to have a super high turnout primary next March, which means the incumbent advantage for someone who would have literally just won, will be small. I’d still give the winner of this race the edge, but it would not shock me at all if we wind up electing someone else next year.

I’ll update again once the filing deadline passes. I’m going to do some interviews for this race, but we’ll see how many.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HISD

We still don’t know what’s happening with city of Houston elections this fall, but there’s plenty of action with HISD Trustee races. You can see all of the candidates who have filed so far and their July finance reports here. I’ve got links to individual reports and summaries of them, so join me below for some highlights.

Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl
Monica Richart

Kara DeRocha
Sue Deigaard

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Gerry Monroe
Karla Brown
Susan Schafer


Name        Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
==============================================
Santos      13,161    2,037        0     7,845
Himsl       17,685      832      500    17,352
Richart      5,565    5,996    6,197     5,765

DeRocha     17,676    2,006      355    15,669
Deigaard    22,716      769        0    20,381

Vilaseca    14,043      157        0    13,613
Albert           0        0   30,000         0
Lundin      13,480    1,565        0    11,915

Sung        31,660    1,673        0    29,208
Luman            0        0        0       456

Adams            0    6,484        0       421
Monroe           0        0        0         0
Brown            0        0        0         0
Schafer      4,690    2,543        0     2,026

So we have two open seats, in Districts I and V as Anna Eastman and Mike Lunceford are stepping down, one appointed incumbent running for a full term (Flynn Vilaseca), one incumbent who won a 2016 special election running for a full term (Sung), and one regular incumbent running for re-election (Adams). We could have a very different Board next year, or just a slightly different one. That includes all three of the traditionally Republican districts – V, VI, and VII. Interestingly, there is no Republican candidate in District V as yet, and the Republican runnerup in last year’s special election in District VII has apparently been idle so far this year. Daniel Albert is Chief of Staff for District F City Council member Steve Le, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s a Republican. Robert Lundin is a Rice faculty member who has been an HISD teacher and administrator and also opened YES Prep Southwest. I don’t have a guess as to what his politics may be. Whatever the case, I have to assume there will be more of a Republican presence in these races, but it’s starting to get a little late in the cycle.

The next most remarkable thing is Wanda Adams’ report. I’m not sure if it was filled out incorrectly or if she really did raise no money while spending her account almost empty. I don’t know what to make of that.

Otherwise, and putting the weirdness of the Sung/Luman situation aside, it looks like we have some competitive races shaping up. If you didn’t know anything but what is in this table, you might be hard-pressed to tell who’s an incumbent. I know there’s a lot of activity already for 2018, and I feel like we’re in a bit of a holding pattern until we know for sure what the deal is with city races. I suspect there’s a lot more to come in these races. Maybe we’ll see it in the 30-day reports.

June CEC meeting candidate update report

The June County Executive Committee meeting for the Harris County Democratic Party was a few days ago. There was some official business to take care of, mostly swearing in new precinct chairs, but in addition to the good crowd in attendance there were numerous judicial candidates, there to collect petition signatures to get on the primary ballot. I was pleased to see that among the handouts for the meeting was a document listing all of the judicial positions, incumbents, and Democratic candidates who are aiming to be on the ballot next year. I’ve scanned and uploaded a copy of that document, which you can see here. So far, there is at least one Democratic candidate for every position except the 315th Juvenile Court, the 14th Court of Appeals, Position 5, and Justice of the Peace in Precinct 8. I’ll be surprised if at least the first two of these aren’t filled by the deadline.

There was not a listing of statewide judicial candidates in this document because people file with the state party for that. I inquired about getting a similar document for candidates for other offices, but as most people don’t collect petition signatures to get on the ballot for other positions – you are required to get them for judicial races – the HCDP doesn’t necessarily know who’s running for what at this time. Some people make themselves better known than others. Hopefully more people will be making themselves more visible in the coming weeks. The end of June finance reports will also help locate some candidates.

In the meantime, I do have some candidate news, and the first bit I have is unfortunate. Angie Hayes, who has been running for HD134, announced last week on her Facebook and Instagram pages that due to personal health reasons, she will be ending her campaign. I’m sorry to hear that, and I wish her all the best. I have heard that there is another candidate for HD134 out there, but at this time I don’t know who that might be. If you know anything more, please leave a comment.

The top priorities for State House in Harris County are HDs 135 and 138, with 132 and 126 right behind. Adam Milasincic is running for HD138, against Rep. Dwayne Bohac. HD138 went (very slightly) for Clinton last year, and was roughly 55-45 at the judicial level. Milasincic is an attorney and first-time candidate, and if you want to see some younger people run for office, he’s someone you should check out. If you know of candidates for the other three districts, please let us in on it.

Finally, one election for this year: I reported Anna Eastman’s retirement announcement in May, but I have not mentioned who is running to succeed her. There are three candidates in the race for HISD Trustee in District I. They are Monica Flores Richart, Elizabeth Santos, and Gretchen Himsl. I’ve known Richart and Himsl for years, Richart through previous work as a campaign consultant (she worked with Diane Trautman in the past) and Himsl on the Travis Elementary PTA board. I’ve not yet had the opportunity to meet Santos, but I’m sure that will happen sooner or later. I’ll certainly be doing interviews with them all. I don’t expect there to be any more candidates in this race, but you never know. As noted, the finance reports will give us a better picture of who’s running for what.

No changes to HISD magnet programs

Not this year, anyway.

Houston ISD Superintendent Richard Carranza this week withdrew a plan to deeply cut funding for the district’s magnet programs over the next three years, shelving a proposal that had angered parents and some school board members who consider the specialized academic programs to be jewels in an oft-troubled school system.

The proposed cuts, outlined in a presentation to the HISD board last week, would have eliminated all extra funding per student to many of the district’s 121 magnet programs by the 2019-2020 school year while cutting funding to many of the other programs by hundreds of dollars per student. Only funding for secondary-language and early-college programs were spared.

But after the plan triggered a backlash from magnet school supporters, Carranza and district officials pulled back the proposal and said they instead planned to conduct a review of the district’s magnet funding and programs.

HISD spokeswoman Lila Hollin said in a written statement on Wednesday that the district had no plans to cut funding or make changes to magnet schools for the coming 2017-2018 school year.

“HISD magnet programs are reviewed annually. Discussions about the equitable funding of schools – both magnet and neighborhood campuses – are part of that review process,” Hollin wrote.

She added that a comprehensive review of the magnet program would likely be completed by January.

[…]

Magnet schools and programs have been a touchy subject in Houston ISD as their prevalence and prominence has grown. While some are more diverse both in terms of race and economic status than many other district schools, critics have argued that they accept a much larger percentage of white and Asian students than those groups account for district-wide.

Only 8 percent of HISD’s students are white, according to TEA data, yet they make up about 36 percent of students at Carnegie Vanguard High. At DeBakey High, about 50 percent of the students are Asian, even though only about 4.7 percent of students district-wide belong to that ethnic group.

But the district’s demographics don’t match those of the city overall, largely because more-affluent white families have generally opted to send their children to private schools or to other districts. About 15 percent of those 18 and under in the city of Houston are white, according to Census data.

Houston ISD Trustee Anna Eastman said she’s glad the proposed cuts to magnet schools and programs appear to be off the table for next year, but she worries that any future cuts along the lines of the recent proposal would be “incredibly drastic.” She said cutting extra funding to the magnet programs is not the way to bring more diversity to those campuses.

“I think our goal should always be to create schools that draw the diversity of Houston into them and spread it across and throughout the district,” Eastman said. “I don’t think the problems in our other schools is the fault of kids in our magnet programs.”

I haven’t been paying close attention to this, but nothing that happened here surprises me. As the story notes, there have been reviews of the magnet program going on for some time, and they usually don’t get very far because the stakeholders really don’t like the proposals. The last section I quoted above captures the conflict succinctly – this program and its schools are very successful and desirable, but there’s limited space and the schools’ demographics don’t come close to mirroring the district as a whole, and they draw students away from their neighborhood schools, which can suffer as a result. It would be best to have more magnet-style programs in more schools all around the district, but that’s a hard thing to do when resources are scarce. I don’t see anything about this dynamic changing much in the near future.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman has served two terms as HISD Trustee in District I, which is where I live. She has been a leading advocate for having strong accountability measures in place for schools, she was a frequent critic of former Superintendent Terry Grier, and she was the most outspoken Trustee for passing the recapture referendum, both the one that failed in November and the one that passed on Saturday. Her term expires this year, and she has decided that she will not run for a third term. As I did with her predecessor Natasha Kamrani, Eastman wanted to do one last interview to talk about what has happened while she was in office, where things are now and where they are headed going forward. I was happy to oblige, so here’s what we talked about.

(Note: we were interrupted twice by the Eastman dogs barking. I paused the recorder till we could restore order, so if there are a couple of places where it sounds a little weird, that would be why.)

I should note there are two candidates already in for HISD District I, and I expect there will be at least one or two more. I’ve got a post on who’s running for what in HISD planned for the near future. I will of course be interviewing candidates in the fall.

What HISD is saying about recapture

Here’s their official webpage. I think you’ll be able to discern their position.

HISD voters will be asked on May 6 how the district should pay its Recapture obligation to the state of Texas: by Purchasing Attendance Credits or through Detachment of Commercial Property. Here’s the language that will appear on the ballot:

“Authorizing the board of trustees of Houston Independent School District to purchase attendance credits from the State of Texas with local tax revenues.”

A vote FOR means Purchasing Attendance Credits by writing a check to the state for local property taxes. It also means:

  • The district will continue to make annual recapture payments as long as property wealth grows.
  • Our total tax collections will continue to grow to offset these payments as property values rise.
  • The district will have more capacity in the future to fund schools.

A vote AGAINST Purchasing Attendance Credits means Detachment of the most valuable non-residential, commercial properties from the district’s tax roll. The properties will be reassigned to other school districts for taxing purposes. It also means:

  • Under current law, those commercial properties will be permanently detached, and the district will permanently lose those tax collections for district operations.
  • The district will lose debt service tax collections used to pay back bonds, which is debt used to build schools.
  • The district will face budget cuts and have less capacity to fund schools.

There’s more, but you get the idea. In addition, Trustee Anna Eastman, who was one of the louder voices in favor of the November referendum, has am op-ed touting this one as well. Please note that the referendum wording is dictated by state law – HISD has no discretion, so don’t gripe at them if you don’t like it. The HISD Recapture Flyer (English version) and Recapture FAQ came home as printouts in my fourth-grade daughter’s weekly folder, so at least one school is getting the word out to parents. Have you received any official communication on this, from your school or an elected official? Leave a comment and let me know. Remember, early voting begins on April 24 and runs for a week, with the final vote on May 6.

Recapture re-vote will happen

Mark your calendars for May 6.

On Thursday, the board voted 5-3, with one abstention, to put another referendum on recapture on the May 6 ballot. Placing a second referendum on the May ballot will cost the district $800,000, according to an HISD spokesman

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who campaigned in favor of not paying recapture with the first referendum, said HISD called the state’s bluff, and, in turn, the state called HISD’s bluff, but the state has the upper hand.

“The TEA offered this; the TEA is the same agency that has the power to take this district over. If they take over, do you think they’ll send people who care about equity or our kids? Their whole agenda is not about our kids,” said Skillern-Jones, who voted in favor of the second referendum.

But Trustee Jolanda Jones, who spearheaded the effort to reject paying recapture, said the whole reason for the first referendum was to get the Texas Legislature to move on overhauling school finance.

She said if the district pays recapture this year, the recapture fees will keep going up each year, essentially robbing the district of more and more money.

“The only reason they’re paying attention is not because we have a great lobbying team, it’s because we voted no,” Jones said.

About 10 speakers at Thursday’s meeting lambasted the idea of the board reversing its stance on paying the recapture money. Ken Davis, principal of Yates High School, said the TEA’s lessening HISD’s recapture bill is not a favor.

“That’s not a gift -they’re still taking money from our schools,” Davis said. “Push back on that. You are all standing at a time where you set a standard for what the rest of the state does. Stand up and take a step forward.”

See here and here for the background. According to the HISD News Blog, Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford, and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca voted for the approval of election, while Diana Dávila, Jolanda Jones, and Manuel Rodriguez voted No, with Anne Sung abstaining. I know Eastman was a Yes vote on recapture back in November; she is the only Trustee that I’m certain favored it at that time. I appreciate what Jolanda Jones is saying here, but I lean more towards what Rhonda Skillern-Jones is saying. I think this reduced bill for recapture, which came about after the TEA reinterpreted existing law to give HISD and other districts a break for allowing a larger homestead exemption, is the best we’re going to get without the Legislature getting involved, and I would not bet on that happening. This isn’t the outcome we really wanted, but it’s a lot better than where we began. I think we should declare victory, take the half-a-loaf being offered to us, and make an extra push for a genuine legislative fix in 2019. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

HISD board moves to change some school names

There may be more to come at a later date.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The five-trustee majority also voted to rename Henry Grady, Richard Dowling and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson middle schools and Robert E. Lee High School.

Now, a committee at each school, including a teacher, student, parent and alumnus, will be charged with proposing a new name to the district administration. The policy then calls for the superintendent to make recommendations to the board for a vote – expected to take place in May, according to the meeting agenda.

[Outgoing Board President Rhonda] Skillern-Jones had included eight schools on the renaming list, but trustees agreed to remove four – Lanier and Johnston middle schools and Davis and Reagan high schools – to allow for more discussion.

[New Trustee Jolanda] Jones, who represents Lanier, posted Wednesday on Twitter that she supported changing the school’s name. However, on Thursday she proposed removing the campus from the immediate renaming list to host a meeting at the school.

“Sidney Lanier was a confederate soldier despite what some say,” Jones posted on social media. “I would vote 2 change an anti-Semitic name if asked 2.”

Numerous parents and students from Lanier dressed in the school’s purple color and urged the board to keep the name. Sidney Lanier, they said, is better known as a poet than as a soldier in the Confederate army.

“This is clearly a very important question, and it brings out a lot of emotion on both sides of the issue,” Adriane Arnold, president of the Lanier parent group, told the board. “It is something our kids will be discussing at Lanier moving forward.”

Trustee Harvin Moore tried to postpone the renaming item “indefinitely,” but it failed on a 4-5 vote. He and Eastman said their votes on the board-driven items were not statements on the merits but on the process.

“I don’t think my vote represents pro-celebration of the Confederacy at all,” Eastman said.

Skillern-Jones backed the idea of renaming schools after the shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers in Charleston, S.C.

Skillern-Jones, who is black, said later that her colleagues should not have been surprised that she packed the agenda.

“I decided to stop listening to all the reasons why we can kick the can down the road and become more proactive about stopping that inequity that has persisted in this district since I came here in kindergarten,” she said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Skillern-Jones discussed her plans to push this issue in the interview she did with me last year; she described it as something she was proud to do. The specific list of schools to be renamed generated a lot of discussion, mostly having to do with Sidney Lanier. Texas Monthly wrote a piece sympathetic to Lanier, mostly expressing the viewpoint of former Lanier teacher and champion debate coach Jim Henley. Henley and Mike Bordelon, writing in Gray Matters, expanded on that. Andrea Greer pushed back. I support the overall move to rename these schools, though I’m still thinking about the Lanier case, but I will note two things. One, having a school named for oneself is a privilege, not a right. Two, however one feels about the particulars, having this discussion has been a very good thing. I’ve sure learned a lot from it. It’s easy to go through life without giving much if any thought as to why certain places are named the way they are, and what those names may mean to people. I know this because I’ve done it. Talking about these names, and hearing about what others think about them, has been enlightening, to say the least. If this conversation and the possibility of changing some names makes anyone uncomfortable or upset, consider that not talking about it and leaving things as they are because no one is interested in talking about it also makes people uncomfortable and upset. The Press has more.

No decision on interim Superintendent

The HISD Board of Trustees is still deciding how to proceed in the wake of Superintendent Terry Grier’s resignation.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Trustee Anna Eastman said after [Tuesday’s board] meeting that she continues to have a lot of questions about how the job-order contracts have been administered. Among other things the audit showed that the district’s Construction and Facilities Service Department wasn’t asking for detailed information about costs before writing big checks to contractors and that it was cutting up the same project into different pieces so that it could come in under the $500,000 state-mandated threshold and grant contracts without having to ask permission from that pesky school board.

“Someone’s got to be held accountable for it. There’s been too many ‘oops.’” Eastman said. “I have concerns about people with less authority in the organization taking all the responsibility. I think leadership has to take responsibility for anyone in the organization thinking that was ok or that was the right thing to do.”

As for the interim question:

“The board cannot name an interim unless we officially reassign the superintendent to other duties which he has to agree upon,” said Eastman. “It would have to be a negotiated agreement, or we would agree on a quicker termination of his contract and I don’t think the board is interested in that or the superintendent.”

Eastman said she thinks the board should concentrate on finding a new superintendent and wait till after Grier’s March 1 departure to appoint an interim. “I’d like to see a person [new superintendent] in place before the next school year. Dr. Grier started in September so basically the organization that was in place was his predecessor’s organization.” Eastman also said it was important for any new board members to be part of the process, as well as the community.

Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones thinks the board should work quickly in moving along the process for a new superintendent, but not so fast that they don’t get input from all aspects of the community to make sure that person is a good match for HISD and its demands.

As for the interim spot, Skillern-Jones said, “I don’t think it’s unanimous around the board that we not appoint one now. We have a superintendent who is out on leave. He has an acting deputy superintendent which is in place [Don Huewitt] I have some trouble with that situation as it exists. We suspect that the superintendent may be out on medical leave for a long period of time. And I have some concern about where responsibility rests in that situation.

“Does it rest with the superintendent who is physically absent or does it rest with the deputy superintendent and who gets to decide where that responsibility rests is the board? So until we have a clear cut picture of who’s responsible, who’s actually at the helm, and who we hold accountable then I’m uncomfortable with that as a situation. So I think that should be temporary. It may not be popular opinion. We’re looking at six months out of a nine-month school year. A lot of things can happen. Who do we hold accountable and in what way? “

See here and here for the background. Both Eastman and Skillern-Jones make good points, and I’m not sure myself what the best course of action is. I think it’s all right to keep Huewitt in place to run things, but the chain of command – and of accountability – needs to be established and agreed upon by all. It would also be nice to have a new Superintendent in place well before the start of the 2016 school year, for the reasons Eastman identified. Frankly, the sooner the Board can get the job search going, the better.

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.

HISD hires its defenders for the teacher evaluation lawsuit

I have to say, I’m a bit uncomfortable with this.

Earlier this year, seven teachers sued the Houston Independent School District in federal court over their evaluation system.

That system uses a statistical formula and student test scores to grade teachers.

At its meeting this week, the Houston school district decided to hire a high-profile law firm to fight that case.

The board will pay those legal fees with a grant from Houston billionaire John Arnold, who helped created that same system to grade teachers.

With a 6-2 vote, the trustees approved hiring the law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, LLP, to defend Houston’s teacher evaluation system in federal court.

“I think there’s the potential for this to be a high-profile case and I think it’s important for the district to have the best representation possible in this and any situation that we confront through the legal system,” said HISD Trustee Anna Eastman.

See here for the background. I have no issue with HISD being represented by top-notch counsel, and I can certainly see the merit in having what is likely to be an expensive legal bill covered by someone other than the taxpayers. But this raises an important and uncomfortable question: Whose interests are being represented by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher – HISD’s, or John Arnold’s? If the HISD Board of Trustees finds itself in disagreement with John Arnold over the legal strategy employed by Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, who will the lawyers listen to? If the Board decides they want to negotiate a settlement, but John Arnold insists on pushing through to a verdict, whose opinion carries the day? What if Arnold threatens to cut off the spigot and leave HISD with the remaining bills if they don’t do things his way?

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic here, but my point is that lawyers represent clients, and this arrangement has the potential to complicate that relationship. Perhaps the Board has thought all this through and gotten an agreement in writing from all relevant parties about who gets to approve the decisions that will need to be made during this process. If they haven’t however, then all I can say is that billionaires tend to think they’re in charge, especially when it’s their money being spent. I just hope everyone went into this with their eyes open.

One more thing:

These particular outside lawyers just won a groundbreaking case in California.

There a judge ruled that California’s teacher tenure, firing and discipline procedures are unconstitutional.

That decision was controversial, to say the least, and there’s a good possibility it may not survive appeal. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the main point of this story, I just wanted to mention it.

Last stand against school closures

Last chance, too.

Community activists called Tuesday for HISD to spare two schools from closure in a last-ditch effort that included filing a federal civil-rights complaint alleging racial discrimination.

Charles X. White, president of the city’s South Park Super Neighborhood group, said he had asked federal authorities to investigate HISD’s proposal to close schools in mostly black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

The Houston school board is set to vote Thursday on Superintendent Terry Grier’s scaled-back proposal to close Jones High School in the South Park neighborhood and Dodson Elementary near downtown. He first proposed closing five small schools.

[…]

Grier has said the Jones and Dodson buildings are needed to house students from other campuses being rebuilt under the district’s 2012 vote-approved bond issue.

After the new schools are built, Grier said, Jones could be reopened as a vocational school or one for gifted students. Dodson could be turned into a middle school with a specialized program.

Trustee Paula Harris, whose district includes Jones, said at a board meeting Monday that she supported reopening Jones with a new theme but called for it to happen next year – not years after using the space during rebuilding.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. A spokesperson for the Office of Civil Rights confirmed there was a complaint filed with them, but I’m sure we won’t hear anything further on that until some action is taken. A Chron op-ed from earlier in the week lays out a pretty good case against the district taking steps to close Jones and Dodson at this time:

In her Sunday op-ed “Low-performing schools drag down kids and districts” (Page B9), trustee Anna Eastman said HISD should close struggling schools and re-open them as charter/magnet schools. More specialty schools do not necessarily mean more access for children most in need. When HISD closed Third Ward’s Ryan Middle School last year and re-opened it as a magnet school, only 11 percent of the enrollment included neighborhood children.

Moreover, contrary to common expectations, research on 60 school districts shows that student performance actually declines following school closures. HISD has closed 19 schools since 2010, sending many students from exemplary to lower-performing schools. We know of no parent who would want that.

Grier defended the closure proposal with a November 2013 HISD report implying these schools have seen long-term enrollment declines. However, this ignores the district’s own research showing that enrollment changed less than 3 percent over the past 10 years at each elementary school targeted for closure – schools that met state standards every year.

Enrollment declines at Jones are due in part to HISD’s removal of its Vanguard “gifted” program and a revolving door of leadership. And when the expensive and controversial Apollo program was imposed on Jones – with its fixation on excessive test prep – families fled. Parents don’t want the school to close; they want HISD to clean up its mess and invest in quality programming.

As community opposition has grown, officials now say Jones and Dodson are needed as “swing space” – temporary buildings for schools during a rebuild. HISD policy does not authorize school closures for this purpose.

Here’s the Anna Eastman op-ed they reference. At this point, while HISD may have a good demographic argument for pursuing these closures, they seem to be weak on procedure and on community engagement about them. I’d like to see more done to address those issues before any further action is taken. There will be a rally by anti-closure forces outside the Hattie Mae White building tomorrow at 1:30 – see beneath the fold for details.

(more…)

HISD to take action on “Redskins” nickname

Good for them.

Houston school district officials, plunging into a national controversy, are considering a policy change that would ban mascot names that might play on racial, ethnic or cultural stereotypes.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier is expected to propose a new policy that would require changing the mascots of the Lamar High School Redskins, Hamilton Middle School Indians, Welch Middle School Warriors and Westbury High School Rebels.

Specifically, the proposal would prohibit the use of “any race or ethnic group” as a mascot, nickname or descriptor of any Houston school. Officials said the mascots of Lamar, Hamilton, Welch and Westbury would fall outside the policy.

The issue is scheduled for discussion Monday at a school board review meeting. The board could vote on the change at its regular meeting on Thursday. The new mascots would be in place for the 2014-15 school year, and initial discussions of the transition have begun.

[…]

“The time has come for the Houston Independent School District – the most vibrantly diverse school district in the nation – to acknowledge that some decisions made generations ago need to be reconsidered,” [Superintendent Terry] Grier wrote. “Traditions are important. But respect for cultural difference and sensitivities matters more.”

Anna Eastman, the school board president, said the board does not intend to dictate mascot names, but to set guidelines.

The new policy would bar names with inappropriate connotations, Eastman said, adding that it is up to school district administrators to determine which mascots need replacing. Local groups at the schools will then select new mascots where needed.

Eastman said she expects some public comment on the policy change.

“I wouldn’t be surprised. I know that people feel strongly about mascots and school colors,” she said. “I wish we would see the same level of passion to the fact that we have kids who can’t read.”

Good to hear, and I couldn’t agree more with Anna Eastman. Honestly, if anyone gets more than a little upset about this, they need to rethink their priorities.

As the story notes, earlier this week Sen. Rodney Ellis wrote an open letter to Grier asking for something to be done.

On Tuesday, State Senator Rodney Ellis tweeted out a letter he sent to HISD Superintendent, Dr. Terry Grier (view the tweet here). In the letter, Ellis requested the district start a process to change Lamar’s mascot (Redskins) and any other derogatory mascots in HISD.

“I recently met with local Native American leaders, all of whom expressed sincere concern about the use of Lamar’s inflammatory manscot name,” the letter reads.

In an October column by Randy Harvey (click here for the column), Lamar school officials acknowledged the nickname was wrong by disassociating the school from virtually everything about it except the nickname itself.

The actual mascot was eliminated. Any new teams, groups or awards are known simply as Lamar. Drill team members are called Rangerettes.

“I know that the leadership of HISD and Lamar High School do not intend to offend anyone with the mascot’s name, but, simply put, times change,” the letter reads.

As noted, you can see his letter, which is quite congenial, here. I of course agree with him, as does the Chron editorial board, and I applaud him for taking this step. I don’t know if this had a direct effect on the subsequent actions by Grier and the board or not, but either way it’s encouraging.

By the way, I saw this in the Chron’s Sports Update blog, which was their Rice Owls blog when I first subscribed to it. Somewhere along the line, the blog morphed into a catchall sports section news blog, and the feed was redirected. I personally think this story belongs in their Metro section, or at least in the Houston Politics blog, but at least it was somewhere. I’m glad for that little bit of serendipity that allowed me to see it, since I would not have subscribed to that feed on my own.

One last thing from yesterday’s story:

“I’m not sure a change is really necessary,” said Frank Staats, a 1975 Westbury graduate and vice president of the school’s alumni association.

Images of the school’s Rebel mascot have been changed to make any connection to the Civil War barely noticeable, Staats said.

[…]

At Lamar, which his daughter attends, Staats said he understands the name is a greater concern. However, “it doesn’t bother the kids, from what I know,” he said.

Staats said in 20 years of alumni participation, he’s never heard a complaint about the Westbury Rebel name from students or alumni.

I suspect that’s because most people don’t really think much about it. If that is the case, then hopefully people will be equally indifferent about the proposed changes.

Demagnetized

Some unhappy changes are about to occur at Houston schools.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

HISD officials unveiled a plan Thursday to cut funding and end bus rides next year for transfer students at 20 struggling magnet schools, tackling a politically tough topic that has confounded the district for years.

The campuses will be the first to feel the consequences of the school board’s policy, passed in May, to end the specialty programs that draw few students from outside the neighborhood or post low test scores. Until now the board has put off eliminating any of its 115 magnet programs – roughly 40 percent of its schools – amid protests from parents.

The campuses on the hit list will lose a combined $2.3 million in extra funding next year.

In addition, the hundreds of students who transfer to the schools and now get district transportation will have to arrange other rides.

Superintendent Terry Grier described the decision bluntly.

“If you don’t meet standard, you should not be a magnet school,” he said.

The HISD Board of Trustees approved the change to the magnet school policy back in May, and while Board President Anna Eastman disputed Grier’s assertion that no Board vote was needed to affirm these cuts, there was no opposition from any Board member or education-related group noted in the story. With HISD still struggling with the deep budget cuts in public education from 2011 and the property tax rate about to go up to fund pay raises and the Apollo program, I’m sure this savings will offer some relief.

Here’s the list of schools affected by this:

* The 20 campuses that will lose their extra magnet funding and busing next year are Burbank, Elrod, Law, Pleasantville, Wesley and West University elementary schools; Attucks, Deady, Dowling, Henry, Holland, Jackson and Key middle schools; and Jones, Lee, Madison, Sharpstown, Westbury, Wheatley and Worthing High schools.

* Those on probation are Crespo, Garden Villas, Helms, MacGregor, Pugh, Ross and Wainwright elementaries; Hogg and Long middle schools; and Kashmere, Scarborough, Sterling and Washington high schools.

Helms and Hogg are in my neighborhood. Helms has a dual-language program that some friends of mine have their kids in. Hogg has been aggressively pursuing upgrades to its IB and STEM programs in part to make the school more attractive to Heights-area parents. I hope they can close whatever gaps they face. The school on these lists that surprised me was West U Elementary. According to Harvin Moore, who responded to an email query I sent, West U Elementary has only about 40 magnet kids, in a school of 1100 students. I guess they draw plenty from their neighborhood. Which is ideally what it should be – every neighborhood should have a school that resident want their kids to attend. We’ll see how this plays out. Hair Balls, which takes a negative view of this action by HISD, has more.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Endorsement watch: HISD

Clearly, this is an early endorsements year for the Chronicle, as they follow up their HCC recommendations with their endorsements in the contested HISD Trustee races.

District 1: Anna Eastman, the board president, has been a thoughtful leader and a strong advocate for tightening the board’s ethics policy. We heartily endorse her re-election.

Eastman, an HISD parent, joined the board four years ago. She believes that the turnover among the district’s best principals and teachers is too high, and that HISD needs to pay more attention to retaining and developing its staff, and not focus only on non-renewal of low performers: “You can’t fire your way to excellence.”

She argues that openness is the best way to fight graft. “Corruption isn’t overt,” she says. “You don’t see bad people lurking in the corners. It’s far more subtle, an assumption about the way that influence works. The best way to fight it is to make as much as possible accessible to outside third parties.”

About Apollo 20, she says, “The program has noble, worthy origins, and I think it’s done an incredible job at changing school cultures. But it’s very, very expensive. The analysis that we’ve done to date shows that its biggest impact comes from the math tutors, which are the expensive part, but we haven’t seen whether their effects last beyond a year. Are there sustained performance gains?”

District 7:Harvin Moore, a member of the board since 2003, has been perhaps the strongest supporter of Superintendent Grier. Though we are impressed by his challenger Anne Sung, we endorse Moore as a steady hand and a master of HISD’s details.

Moore is a fan of technology-aided “blended learning,” which he says could help eliminate benchmark tests that consume too much classroom time. He supports expansion of Apollo 20: “It’s shown astounding results in math. And no one doubts that it’s reduced the dropout rate.”

Moore, who has served on HISD’s audit committee, says that the best way to fight corruption on the school board is to have a strong superintendent. And he argues that high teacher turnover has been good for the district: “We retained 90 percent of the most highly functioning teachers, and we exited 52 to 54 percent of the lowest.”

District 9: Of the three candidates vying to replace long-time board member Larry Marshall, a magnet for scandal, we believe that Wanda Adams, currently a member of Houston City Council, would do the best job. She is energetic and active in community affairs.

To fight corruption, she suggests that HISD make school board candidates’ campaign filings available in ways that are easy for the general public to search. And she says that when a board member has shown shaky ethics, it’s up to other board members to hold him or her accountable.

She presents herself as a consensus builder. And she is conscious of the changing needs of District 9, an historically African-American area with a growing Hispanic population.

I just finished publishing my HISD Trustee interviews, but in case you missed them, here they are:

Anna Eastman, District I
Hugo Mojica, District I
Harvin Moore, District VII
Anne Sung, District VII
Wanda Adams, District IX

As I’ve said before, I support Anna Eastman, who is my Trustee and who I believe has done an excellent job. I’m glad to see the Chron support her as well, not that I expected otherwise.

HISD race overviews

The Chron takes a look at the three contested HISD races.

CM Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

The District 9 race in south Houston sees the return of W. Clyde Lemon, an attorney who held the seat for two years until Marshall ousted him in the 1997 election.

“Here we are, wanting to move the focus back to children being the priority in public education,” said Lemon, 57.

City Councilwoman Wanda Adams, whose term is expiring, and HISD teacher Coretta Mallet-Fontenot also are vying for the seat.

As a way to engage students and their parents, Lemon said he would like to see Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops based at elementary schools. He also suggested offering bonuses to draw teachers to the neediest campuses.

To help with public trust, Lemon said, he thinks HISD board members should have to file personal financial disclosure forms, as state lawmakers do.

Adams, 46, said campaign contributions should be posted online in an easily searchable system like the city’s.

With the area’s growing Hispanic population, Adams said, she wants to make sure there are enough bilingual teachers on staff. She also said HISD should seek partners to tutor struggling students at all campuses, not just prioritize the 20 schools in the Apollo reform program.

Mallet-Fontenot, 42, a second-grade teacher at Law Elementary, said the Apollo label has driven students away. She criticized the “revolving door of teachers and administrators” in the district and said teachers need to have more input in their job evaluations.

I’m just quoting from the District IX section here because I interviewed all of the candidates in the other contested races – Anna Eastman and Hugo Mojica in District I; Harvin Moore and Anne Sung in District VII. Wanda Adams was the only candidate I interviewed in District IX. These are important races, and one factor not mentioned in this story is the divergent opinions among Board members about Superintendent Terry Grier. Eastman is a prominent critic, while Moore is a big supporter. There’s potential here for Grier to wind up facing a very different Board, one way or the other. That’s worth keeping an eye on as well.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

I still have some Houston elections to cover here, but for this week we turn our attention to the HISD Trustee races. I have five interviews to bring you for these races, beginning with my Trustee in District I, Anna Eastman. Eastman, the current Board President, is serving her first term after winning a runoff in 2009 to succeed Natasha Kamrani. A former social worker, Eastman headed up Travis Elementary School PTA Ad-Hoc Transition Committee while it was undergoing expansion, and served as its PTA President for two years. I don’t usually state my preferences in these interview posts, but since I have already said that I plan to vote for Eastman I’ll say it again here, so there’s no confusion. Here’s the interview:

Anna Eastman interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

[…]

Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.

[…]

Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.

[…]

The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

July campaign finance reports, HISD and HCC

Ericka Mellon did me the favor of the heavy lifting for HISD Trustees.

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Campaign finance reports filed this week show at least two non-incumbents are entering races for the Houston school board this November, while contributions for most trustees generally were smaller following new board-imposed restrictions.

Board president Anna Eastman, who represents District I, which includes the Heights, faces a challenge from Hugo Mojica, executive director of the Greater Northside Chamber of Commerce. Eastman raised more than any other trustee or candidate this reporting period, bringing in nearly $18,300 since January. Mojica, who formerly worked for the Project GRAD nonprofit that contracted with HISD, raised more than $2,100.

In south Houston’s District IX, now represented by Larry Marshall, a former HISD trustee, W. Clyde Lemon, has filed to run. Marshall, entangled in a bribery lawsuit, canceled his fundraiser in late June and raised no money this reporting period, which ran from January through July 15.

It’s unclear if Marshall, first elected in 1997, is seeking re-election. Marshall could not be reached immediately for comment Wednesday.

Lemon, an attorney who represented District IX in the mid-1990s before Marshall’s election, raised $2,550 this reporting period. He has $923 on hand. Marshall has more than $18,000 on hand from prior fundraising.

The other seats on the ballot this November are District V (Mike Lunceford), District VI (Greg Meyers) and District VII (Harvin Moore). No other candidates have filed to run. They have until Aug. 26 to file.

I couldn’t have put it any better than that. Go see the full post for Mellon’s summaries. If you want to see the reports themselves, you have to go to the HISD Trustees webpage, then click the link for the trustee in question, and from there you’ll see a link for their finance reports. The downside to this is that there’s no easy way to find reports for a challenger like Hugo Mojica. To be honest, I’m not even sure where these reports get filed, so I don’t know where to look for them other than on the Trustees’ own pages, which obviously isn’t enough. If it’s HISD that gets the reports, then my request to HISD is this: Please make it possible to find all candidates’ reports online. If Larry Marshall doesn’t run again, there’s likely to be a multitude of candidates. We deserve to know what their funding sources are.

As for HCC, their campaign finance reports page does list one challenger, Kevin Hoffman, and since they have all the reports available via that page they can easily add others as needed or appropriate. However, as of this writing they don’t have the July reports available yet, just the January ones. I’ll check back again later and let you know when those are up.

Show them the data

Interesting.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

A major donor to HISD’s key school reform effort is putting its remaining $3 million check on hold amid concerns that detailed research about the success of the program is lacking.

The president of the Houston Endowment, Ann Stern, wrote a letter to top school district officials this month criticizing the recent progress report on the Apollo program for not including “meaningful” student performance data.

Stern said in an interview Tuesday that she is optimistic the foundation ultimately will award the remaining money to the Houston Independent School District, but she wants to see more a detailed research report.

“We are hoping to be able to make this payment,” she said. “We have not canceled anything.”

The Houston Endowment pledged $6 million to the Apollo reform program in 2011 – assuming certain conditions were met – and has paid half that amount. The final $3 million payment was scheduled to be made by Wednesday.

[…]

On Tuesday, [Harvard researcher Roland] Fryer emailed [Superintendent Terry] Grier to explain that he and his team were working on a final study but are waiting on information such as whether students transferred schools or enrolled in college. The transfer data is crucial to analyzing test scores, he said, because if a student spent, say, six months at a high school and then moved to a new campus before taking the exams, the student’s results should be weighted.

Fryer said he hoped to have the final evaluation complete by Nov. 1.

“In my view, if it’s not good enough to turn in for academic publication, it’s not good enough to show a Board or a funder,” he wrote.

See here for the most recent update on Apollo, and the letter Stern sent to Grier and Eastman is here. I don’t see anything particularly objectionable about this request, and I’m as interested in seeing this data as Stern is. It’s pretty straightforward – if Apollo works as advertised, we should find a way to fund as much of it as we can. If not, there are better ways to spend that money. Let’s let the data help us figure that out.

HISD budgets for teacher pay raise and more Apollo

Whether that will mean a tax hike, and if so how much, remains undetermined.

Houston ISD employees will see a 2 percent pay raise and many schools will receive more money to help struggling students under the budget that trustees approved on a 6-3 vote Monday.

Left unsettled was whether property owners will face an increase in the tax rate next year. The school board won’t adopt the rate until October.

The district’s financial chief, Ken Huewitt, said after the board meeting that the budget will require a 4-cent increase in the tax rate unless circumstances change. Property values may rise more than expected, for example, or the board could agree to cut programs or dip into savings.

“We’re talking 4 cents if nothing changes,” Huewitt said.

[…]

Trustees Juliet Stipeche and Mike Lunceford, who voted against the budget, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Grier’s reform program called Apollo. The spending plan continues the program at 20 schools while giving another 126 campuses with low test scores extra money to spend on tutoring or other efforts to boost achievement.

Board president Anna Eastman, who also opposed the budget, said she disagreed with distributing money based on overall school results rather than tying funds to needy students at any campus.

See here for the background. There won’t need to be an increase to cover the construction bonds that were issued last year, thanks to rising property values, so any increase will be driven by these items. The pay raise was a must – among other things, some nearby school districts have bumped their teachers’ pay, so HISD needed to keep up or risk losing talent. Sure is nice when a job market operates like that, isn’t it? As for Apollo, it remains controversial. There’s a lot more one can say about it, but that about sums it up.

HISD contemplates tax hike

It’s not as much as they once thought they would raise them, since enough money was restored by the Legislature to stave off the need to raise taxes for that purpose.

Superintendent Terry Grier’s budget proposal, released Monday, would increase the tax rate by 2 cents and would expand his Apollo school reform program, a three-year-old effort that some trustees have not embraced.

If the board agrees to hike the tax rate more – by 4 cents – Grier proposed giving raises to teachers and other staff.

“I don’t mind paying more taxes,” Grier said at a board meeting Monday. “We know some of our schools need more help.”

A 4-cent increase would cost the owner of an average $209,000 home roughly $60 extra, assuming no change in value.

Taxpayers in the Houston Independent School District already were expected to face a 1-cent increase next year to help fund the recent bond issue for school construction, but that may not be necessary. HISD’s chief financial officer, Ken Huewitt, said Monday that higher property values may mean the district can delay the first tax increase related to the bond.

On the high end, HISD property owners would see a 5-cent tax increase in 2014 – if the 1-cent bond-related hike remained and if the school board approved another 4 cents for the general operating budget.

Trustees won’t formally adopt a tax rate until October, but they are scheduled to vote Thursday on a budget based on the rate they expect to approve.

The district’s current tax rate of $1.1567 per $100 of assessed value is the lowest among local school systems.

K-12 Zone has more on the budget considerations. They key driver here is the Apollo initiative, which remains a point of contention. The Chron op-ed pages on Wednesday had pro and anti Apollo articles, which I’ll leave you to read. I don’t feel like I know enough to make a judgment on this. HISD Board Chair Anna Eastman has some good discussion of the pro and anti pieces, if you want more reading. I need to give it some more thought. In the meantime, we’ll see what direction the Board takes.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

HISD revises magnet school policy

This has been in the works for a long time.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

The [HISD Board of Trustees] voted unanimously on a revised policy governing its beloved magnet school program, saying the schools would be held more accountable for academic performance and their ability to attract students.

While some of the 113 magnet programs are nationally recognized and draw waiting lists, others have languished over the years.

“Woo! We finally passed a magnet policy,” board president Anna Eastman said immediately after the vote.

Houston Independent School District Superintendent Terry Grier took his excitement to Twitter.

“HISD approves Magnet Policy after four years of discussion!” he wrote.

The policy does not address individual schools – a politically tougher topic. Grier and the board have said no changes will take place for the coming school year.

Yeah, it’s when the board gets around to deciding the fate of individual schools that stuff will start to get real. Be that as it may, I think this is sensible. HISD has a lot of great magnet schools, but that doesn’t mean they’re all worth keeping, or at least worth keeping as is. It’s perfectly reasonable for them all to have to demonstrate their value. This preview story has some more details.

The policy that the school board is set to approve Thursday is general, but makes a point that magnet programs should have “fair and equitable” resources and should be held accountable for academic performance. The proposal also calls for magnet schools to strive for at least 20 percent of their students to come from outside the neighborhood, but Eastman suggested this week that the provision should be loosened.

“We have to use common sense,” Grier said in response. “We’re not interested in hurting schools that are attracting kids.”

Data obtained from HISD show that 50 of 113 magnet programs don’t meet the 20 percent standard.

The programs drawing the fewest students from outside the neighborhood – fewer than 15 – are Worthing, Scarborough, Kashmere and Lee high schools, Long Academy and Ryan Middle. Combined, those schools are receiving more than $558,000 in special magnet funding this year, the data show.

The school board already has agreed to close Ryan and reopen it next year as a magnet school focused on health careers, modeled after the prestigious DeBakey High School for Health Professions.

In all, HISD gave about $17 million extra to its magnet schools this year, and the district spends another $10 million on transportation. The funding for programming varies widely. Six magnet programs got no extra money this year while three – Carnegie Vanguard High School, Parker Elementary and Garden Villas Elementary – received more than $400,000 each.

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who helped revise the magnet policy, said she hopes it will spur better programs with more relevant themes. Once the board approves the new policy, Grier’s staff plans to write more detailed standards such as specific academic benchmarks.

There’s certainly room to massage the 20 percent standard – at the very least, if things are working well at a school otherwise, there should be some discretion to leave things be. Ultimately, the goal should be to keep what’s good and fix or get rid of what isn’t. The details are obviously important, but let’s not get so bogged down in them that we lose sight of that.

HISD to begin laptops for all program

Starting small, and presumably growing from there.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Houston ISD officials announced Thursday that they are prepared to give students at up to 18 high schools their own laptops next school year, becoming among the first big-city districts to launch a one-to-one computing program.

“This is a way of transforming what and how we teach,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier told the school board.

Grier first pitched his laptop idea to the public during his State of the Schools speech in February. His chief technology officer, Lenny Schad, confirmed to the school board Thursday that the district is ready to proceed with the first batch of high schools next school year, doling out the laptops to teachers first semester and giving them to students in January. Schad’s team is finishing up an analysis of the high schools to see exactly how many are technologically ready to get the laptops next year. The number won’t be more than 18, he said, emphasizing that the district doesn’t want to rush the roll-out.

See here for the background. Starting with this pilot program would address one of the concerns raised in February by board President Anna Eastman, who was concerned about rolling out a program like this all at once. It’s not clear yet where the money will come from for this – the story estimates the price tag at $10 million – but I’m confident there will be grant money and/or partnership opportunities out there for it. HISD is not the first school district to propose something like this, so there will be examples to follow if need be. I look forward to seeing the results of this experiment.

Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood gets an early start

From the inbox on Friday:

Today the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast ACTION FUND Inc, (PPGCAF) voted to endorse the following candidates for the November City Election. Each of the endorsed candidates has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well being of Texas women and families. PPGCAF encourages all Houston registered voters to cast their ballot for candidates who support women’s health education, information and services. 

 

  • Annise Parker for Mayor
  • Ronald Green for Controller
  • Stephen Costello for Houston City Council At-Large Pos. 1
  • C.O. Brad Bradford for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4
  • Jerry Davis for Houston City Council District B
  • Ellen Cohen for Houston City Council District C
  • Ed Gonzalez for Houston City Council District H
  • Mike Laster for Houston City Council District J
  • Larry Green for Houston City Council District K
  • Anna Eastman for HISD Board of Trustees District I

A copy of the release is here. I’m still a little too focused on the legislative session to pay that much attention to the city elections, but I’m not going to let a slate like this pass by without notice. The only mild surprise on this list is CM Costello, who started out as a Republican in good standing but who has been a pragmatic moderate in office. He drew a challenge from the right in 2011 and will likely draw another this time around, but he was still viewed with considerable skepticism by left-leaning groups despite winning numerous endorsements from Democratic clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this time around.

The PPGCAF will likely have more endorsements to make as the open seat contests come into greater focus; it’s possible they’ll take a side against an incumbent or two, depending on who files for what. I’ll be curious to see if they take a position in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is a Democrat but will almost surely face a strong challenge or two. The same is true for HIDS Trustee Larry Marshall. Speaking of HISD, Anna Eastman now has an opponent, Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for District H in 2009. As I noted before, there are currently no open seats in HISD. Campos had an update on who’s filed designations of treasurer so far. Needless to say, that list is a work in progress. This is as good a time as any to ask what rumors and rumblings you’ve heard lately. Leave a comment and let us know.