A “WTF, HISD?” roundup

Expect more protests later this week.

Houston ISD families plan to protest Saturday morning near City Hall as word of forced principal and teacher departures rip through campuses as the end of the first year since state takeover approaches.

Community members are being asked to meet at 10 a.m. Saturday on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, 901 Bagby St. Parents are also organizing to speak at Thursday’s Board of Managers meeting and plan to protest at 7 p.m. Friday outside of the district’s Educators of the Year Banquet at the Hilton Americas Hotel, 1600 Lamar St.

The protests come on the heels of an undisclosed number of teachers and principals being asked to resign due to the district’s view of their performance.


Briargrove Elementary School parents, who have said some of their teachers were told to resign, are organizing City Hall’s Saturday protest. It’s unknown how many teachers are being asked to leave due to the district’s view of their performance.

Crockett parents are organizing Friday’s protest outside the banquet. The school is slated to become a NES, or New Education System, school. Part of that model removes librarians and converts the libraries into what the district calls “Team Centers.” Crockett will be losing its library as its librarian is up to win Librarian of the Year on Friday, Crockett parent Liz Silva said.

“Librarians do way more than check out books,” Silva said. “They offer just so much guidance in that area for kids, and we would really hate to lose that space.”

Of course the “Librarian of the Year” will be getting booted. If HISD gave “Nurse of the Year” and “Custodian of the Year” awards, I’m sure those folks would be getting fired, too. Anyone want to bet that the prize being given to the Educator of the Year winners at that banquet on Friday will be a pink slip?

In re: the announced budget cuts for HISD, the Houston Landing had a story about wraparound specialists:

Over the years, Detra Harris has received helpful resources from her grandchildren’s Houston ISD schools: coats, hygiene kits, bus passes and even dry clothing when her grandson got wet on his walk to class.

The extra support came from HISD “wraparound specialists,” employees who work in schools to aid students struggling with non-academic issues, such as hunger and homelessness.

The on-campus specialists have helped students access clothing, food, and mental health services since the program was created roughly five years ago. But now, some families and community organizations are skeptical of how students’ most urgent needs will be met under HISD’s plan to eliminate more than 100 specialists, the result of steep budget cuts.

The reductions will mean significantly fewer employees on campuses tending to students’ needs, which are often vast in a district where about 80 percent of children are considered economically disadvantaged by the state. Many of the wraparound specialist duties will fall back on teachers and other campus employees, who already have other responsibilities.

“You wouldn’t have anybody there that can say, ‘This child or this family might be struggling,’” said Harris, whose grandchildren attend Garden Oaks Montessori and Waltrip High School.

HISD officials have declined to specify how many of the district’s roughly 280 wraparound specialists will be cut, though multiple sources told the Houston Landing that about 170 people attended a virtual meeting last week in which a district administrator told affected employees about the changes.


It isn’t immediately clear how much money HISD will save under its plan for addressing students’ non-academic needs. The district likely would save roughly $10 million in salaries and benefits from cutting 170 wraparound specialists.

Not a lot of savings from this, and one wonders what the real cost will be. One assumes that children who are hungry or cold or otherwise under the kind of stress that people in poverty experience don’t do as well in school as they might if their needs were being met. One assumes these same children will have a harder time of it without those specialists in place. How this aligns with the overall goal of improving HISD’s performance is a mystery only Mike Miles can understand.

HISD’s current financial situation is of course partially due to the Legislature not appropriating more money to schools, which they tried to do but had their bills vetoed by Greg Abbott because all he cared about was his voucher scheme. Now that school districts all over the state are making similar cuts to their budgets, Abbott is out there bravely saying “Don’t blame me!”

Texas public schools are struggling with layoffs, closures, and cuts to student services caused by severe underfunding, according to a report released this week by the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

The report cited data showing Texas ranked 41st in the nation for per-pupil education funding, and said more than 91% of kids in Texas public schools attended schools that were inadequately funded.

During a Monday conference call with reporters, Texas AFT President Zeph Capo said it was disheartening that calls to increase state funding weren’t gaining traction with Gov. Greg Abbott, who wants to create a school voucher program in Texas.

“That is Governor Abbott’s handiwork,” Capo said. “It’s the failed policy of the legislature that’s left our schools without funding or without a funding increase since 2019.”

The report came out the same day 39 Democrats in the state House of Representatives called on Abbott to hold a special legislative session for increased public education spending.

In a letter posted Monday by Texas Rep. Jon Rosenthal, D-Houston, the lawmakers pointed to $5 billion appropriated and unspent for public education, and said it was necessary to stave off a “school budget crisis.”

“Texas public schools are facing serious budget challenges from inflation, historic underfunding, and unfunded mandates that will drive drastic budget cuts in ISDs across the state,” they said in the letter. “These issues arise from the state’s failure to improve school funding since 2019.”

Abbott responded later on Monday, criticizing the lawmakers for voting against his failed school voucher plan that tied public school funding to education savings accounts.

“As you surely recall, I worked with Representative Brad Buckley during Special Sessions #3 and #4 last year to design a school choice and public school funding package that would have achieved exactly what you seek,” Abbott said in his response.

You know what I say the answer to all this is, so let’s move on.

Spectrum News dropped quite the story about Mike Miles’ charter school finances.

Ten years before he took over at Houston ISD, Miles spent three years as the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District. When he left Dallas in 2015, Miles started three charter schools in Colorado called Third Future Schools.

According to both internal school records and the nationally recognized school rating agency School Digger, all three schools have since struggled with performance, enrollment and finances.

Records provided to us by TFS through open records requests reveal Miles was forced to close one of his schools, Coperni 2, last summer. The K-8 school in Colorado Springs was plagued by declining enrollment. The closure left the school with $5 million in unpaid bond debt.

The Coperni 2 financial bind was discussed at a Third Future School Board meeting via Zoom last summer after Miles took over at Houston ISD, yet Miles was still at the meeting acting as a consultant.

According to payment records, Miles earned $40,000 consulting for TFS last year.

During the meeting, Miles urged his old board of directors to find the money and pay the debt.

“It’s now becoming untenable,” Miles said at the meeting. “We have to subsidize to the tune of maybe $500,000 per year if it only has 180 kids or so. So, I think the time is right to do what the administration is asking to do.”

In 2020, around the time his financial troubles were beginning in Colorado, Miles began expanding his charter school network to Texas. First, Midland Sam Houston Elementary, then Ector College Prep in Odessa, then Austin Mendez Middle School. But by the end of the 2023 school year, as he was taking over in Houston, Miles’ three Texas schools were nearly $2.7 million in the red.

So why were Miles’ new Texas schools losing money? Third Future Schools’ 2023 audit shows of the $25 million public tax dollars being spent on Miles’ three Texas schools, $15 million was spent on teachers and supplies. The other $10 million, about 40% of the budget, was spent on unspecified administrative costs and services.

Spectrum News made multiple requests over several months for a detailed accounting of those administrative expenses. Third Future Schools never responded. However, included in publicly available financial audit records were the auditor’s notes revealing the deficit was “caused by the liabilities of other Third Future Network schools” outside of Texas and to “Third Future Schools Corporate” in Colorado.

Again, TFS Colorado officials declined to provide us with an explanation of why so many Texas public school dollars were being transferred to school operations in another state. Spectrum News requested and received from TFS an audio recording of the investors’ call. In the recording, a TFS official confirmed Colorado charter school deficits were being offset, in part, by money coming from their charter schools in Texas.

“We’ve been supplementing that school with the General Fund,” said Renea Ostermiller, then TFS’s chief of finances. “Whether they are in Colorado or whether they are in Texas or whichever state they are in, (a network fee) is assessed and then if the specific school needs funding, then the network supplements them.”

Spectrum News obtained copies of two checks for more than $1 million each, sent from Miles’ charter school in Odessa, paid and addressed to Third Future Schools in Aurora, Colorado.

Our attempts over the past five months to reach Miles for an explanation of the payments and a response to our findings have been unsuccessful. Miles referred us to Third Future Schools Executive Director Zach Craddock. We sent Craddock a 23-question list detailing our findings. Craddock declined to respond.

We also shared our findings with school finance expert and former Texas state Rep. Paul Colbert. Colbert says Texas public schools should not be spending more money than they take in. He also says TFS operators should not send Texas tax dollars out of state.

“I was the budget chair of education for eight years and research director for the Senate Education Committee for five years,” said Colbert. “My understanding is that it is not legal in Texas for money from a school district in Texas to educate students in other districts in the state let alone in other states.”

Well, at least his utter lack of transparency and unwillingness to answer questions is consistent. I would very much like to see more news organizations get on this story. See here and here for some more. You think any of this may come up at that Q&A event Miles is performing at?

Last but not least:

I would very much like to know more about what happened there. Reform Austin has more.

UPDATE: The Chron has picked up the Spectrum News story and added to it. This post is long enough, I’ll come back to this.

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4 Responses to A “WTF, HISD?” roundup

  1. Sarah Terrell says:

    Did you read that Reform Austin article? It seems to be an AI generated recap of an article that ran in the Chronicle. It uses much the same language and at the end repeats a whole section. I hope next time you’ll trace down the original article and post that instead, to support those journalists

  2. John says:

    HISD is a mess and Miles 100% needs to go. Very disappointed in the Board of Managers who are encouraging the destruction of HISD. Ric Campo is alleged cheerleader of Houston but looks like he is bending the knee to Abbott and the other crazies. Every teacher I know at HISD will leave for other districts. The Board is spineless and refuses to speak out. Glad to see Ellis and others are speaking up, hope the Mayor does the same

  3. Pingback: More on the improper use of funds allegations against Mike Miles | Off the Kuff

  4. C.L. says:

    Note to self – go back in time and buy any/all stock related to pitchfork manufacturing.

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