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Adrian Collins

HISD Trustee runoff overview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So there you have it.

Meet the HISD Parent Visionaries

I’ve mentioned the group HISD Parent Visionaries a couple of times in this space. Here’s an article about them from the Examiner.

Parent Visionaries was spawned after HISD’s former superintendent, Dr. Abelardo Saavedra, voiced an interest in eliminating or reducing magnet school transportation. The parent group, largely from District V, became vocal in opposition and since, has spread support to parents in other districts in HISD.

“Our goal is to have memberships from all districts,” says Mary Nesbitt, one of the group’s driving forces.

Parent Visionaries now claims a list of about 350 members who communicate in person and online.

As noted in the story, HISD Parent Visionaries was active in the Trustee elections, with two of their three endorsed candidates – Mike Lunceford in V and Anna Eastman in I – either winning or making it to the runoffl. They have now endorsed Trustee Larry Marshall in his race in IX, and in each case – Marshall versus Adrian Collins, Eastman versus Alma Lara – they are opposed by candidates who are backed by the Houston Federation of Teachers. It’ll be very interesting to see who wins this particular fight.

Trustee Marshall endorsed by former opponents

In the runoff for HISD Trustee in District IX, incumbent Trustee Larry Marshall received the endorsement of the third and fourth-place finishers, George Davis and Michael Williams. I find that a little odd, since one presumes when they ran to unseat Marshall they thought a change was needed, but I guess they decided they didn’t want Adrian Collins to be that change. Marshall has also been endorsed by the HISD Parent Visionaries group, who backed Trustee-elect Mike Lunceford and runoff candidate Anna Eastman. You can read their runoff analysis and recommendation here. Note the difference between Marshall and Collins’ positions on paying prevailing wages for capital improvement projects in HISD. Labor unions are upset with Marshall for breaking promises made to them about prevailing wages in return for their support of the 2007 bond referendum, which is why they are strongly backing Collins. We’ll see if that can be a difference-maker here.

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HISD candidate spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HISD Trustee IX overview

One more Chron overview of an HISD Trustee race, this one in District IX where three candidates are challenging incumbent and Board President Larry Marshall.

During the last several months, Marshall has had a tumultuous stint as board president. The 77-year-old has lashed out at his fellow trustees — once saying they had “an overly inflated” view of themselves — and sparked criticism for not allowing some items onto meeting agendas.

Marshall, though, points to his success at leading the board through an intense search for a superintendent — a process that ended with a unanimous vote to hire Terry Grier. Marshall also notes that HISD has won praise for its healthy finances during his tenure on the board.

“I’ve made a difference,” said Marshall, who runs an education and management consulting business.

Marshall has had some electoral challenges before – he was forced into a runoff in 2005 by Daisy Maura, who has endorsed Adrian Collins in this race. Collins also has the support of the Houston Federation of Teachers, who had backed Marshall in 2005. And of course, he has his former boss, State Sen. Rodney Ellis, in his corner as well, plus the Chron’s endorsement. You can listen to my interview with Adrian Collins here. The HISD Parent Visionaries is backing George Davis. I don’t know if Marshall will survive again, but I think it’s safe to say we’ll have another runoff this year.

Endorsement watch: HISD Trustee

The Chron finishes up their work for this election by making its endorsements in the HISD Trustee races.

For HISD Trustee in District I, an open seat, we recommend Anna Eastman. As the president of the Travis Elementary PTA, Eastman was known for fighting hard for her school, and she’s likely to be just as persistent in attacking HISD’s dropout rate. As a former social worker, she understands the complex problems facing Houston’s least-privileged kids. She’s a strong proponent of school choice, magnet-school busing, and of holding HISD employees accountable for students’ performance.

For HISD Trustee in District V, also an open seat, we recommend Mike Lunceford, a petroleum engineer and member of HISD’s bond oversight committee. He notes that as a parent he’s seen the best that HISD has to offer — his daughter graduated from Bellaire with 42 hours of AP credits — but he states strongly that we must fix the system’s worst. Our “horrible” dropout rate, he says, can be mitigated with early-childhood programs and by assigning strong teachers to students when they begin to fall behind.

For HISD Trustee in District IX, we believe that Adrian Collins is the best choice. District IX is home to several of HISD’s most troubled schools. Incumbent Larry Marshall has served for more than a decade, but we believe that, for the sake of the district’s students, it’s time for change.

Once again, I’m pleased that they managed to get all this done before the start of Early Voting. That’s not how it had been in recent elections. I hope this is the new normal.

You can listen to my interview with Eastman here, my interview with Lunceford here, and of course my interview with Collins is just beneath this post. You can also find interviews with the other candidates in Districts I and V on my 2009 Election page. Today is also the day that the Chron has its overview of District I, which notes that Eastman is endorsed by outgoing Trustee Natasha Kamrani.

Kamrani pushed for the Houston Independent School District to more aggressively weed out weak teachers based, in part, on low student test scores — an idea that drew fighting words from HFT President Gayle Fallon.

Even before Kamrani announced she would not seek re-election, Fallon lent support to candidate Alma Lara, a retired HISD principal.

[…]

All three District I candidates said HISD should continue rewarding performance bonuses to top teachers based on student test scores, and they agreed that teachers who fall short need more training.

“If there is no change in students’ success, career adjustments and growth plans need to be in place and enforced,” Toyota said.

Eastman agreed that struggling teachers should be put on improvement plans.

“Kids only have one chance,” she said. “We must insist that we have teachers who can achieve academic growth in their classrooms.”

Lara said the district has a process for documenting poor-performing teachers, and it should use student data to improve teacher training.

I fully expect this race to go to a runoff, just as Kamrani won election in 2005 in a runoff. Just over 3,000 votes ultimately decided the winner in December. If you’re in District I, please pay attention to this race. Your vote really matters.

Interview with Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

I know, I said I was finished with interviews. Turns out that wasn’t quite the case, and so today we have a conversation with Adrian Collins, who is running for HISD Trustee in District IX against incumbent Larry Marshall. Collins is a veteran of the Army and of the Texas Legislator, where he spent a decade working for State Rep. Scott Hochberg and State Sen. Rodney Ellis, most recently as his Deputy District Director. Collins is currently a member of the White House Advance Staff, having served that role on the Obama campaign as well. His wife Lena is an HISD teacher, and their two sons attend HISD schools.

Download the MP3 file

PREVIOUSLY:

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

The HISD Trustee candidates speak

These are short videos – I think Art Rascon’s intros of the candidates take as much time as they get to speak for themselves – but if you’ve not met the HISD Trustee candidates or listened to any of my interviews, here’s a chance to see and hear them from KTRK. First, in District I:

District V:

District IX, where three candidates are challenging incumbent Larry Marshall:

According to School Zone, there will be a full length candidate forum aired on KTRK on Sunday at 11 AM. The forum was sponsored by Parents for Public Schools, and you can read a few highlights at that link. Check ’em out.

Monday election tidbits

Just some news and notes that I thought were worth passing along…

KPRC had a longish story on the hoax email that was sent in the name of Christians for Better Government. Whoever pulled this particular dirty trick sure got his or her money’s worth for it.

– Council Member Mike Sullivan tells CM Peter Brown that NASA is his turf.

– Speaking of Peter Brown, he’d like to know what your vision for Houston is.

– At Large #1 candidate Stephen Costello releases a video.

– Not really election-related, but there will be an interesting conference later this week called Megaregions+MetroProsperity: Sustainable Economics for the Texas Triangle to discuss high speed rail and other transportation-related matter. Go to TexasTriangle.org for more information.

– District F candidate Robert Kane talks to neoHouston.

– HISD Trustee candidate Adrian Collins, one of three people challenging incumbent Lawrence Marshall in District IX, launches his campaign website.

UPDATE: One more link to add. Turns out that “What recession?” video clip was a dirty trick by the Hutchison campaign. Whatever. I’ll say again, Rick Perry is the last person in the state who gets to complain about that sort of thing happening to him.

More on the HISD candidates

The Bellaire Examiner looks at the contested HISD Trustee races, two of which weren’t hadn’t been contested before the day of the filing deadline.

HISD Board President Lawrence Marshall appeared to be one of three incumbent trustees unopposed in the upcoming board election. Instead, three last-minute entries will make Marshall’s attempt to retain his District IX seat more difficult than he expected.

George Davis, Adrian Collins and Michael Williams filed for candidacy Wednesday, the last day for election filing.

Marshall, who has been at the center of the superintendent transition and who has recently been target of some internal board unrest, expected late challengers.

“It’s amazing how certain communities of interest work,” said Marshall. “Some communities of interest see incumbency as an asset, that it represents leadership that they don’t want to replace. Other communities sometimes respond differently.”

“I run year-round,” added Marshall. “That’s the way I’ve been doing it for twelve years. I wasn’t worried about any element of surprise, because we’ve already geared up our campaign.”

[…]

Davis has received backing from the advocacy group HISD Parent Visionaries. Davis, who oversees business programs for continuing education at Houston Community College, is a Lanier High School graduate who has extensive experience with Workforce Solutions.

“I just think it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” said Davis. “People have shared with me their desire for a need for new leadership and a fresh perspective.”

Collins, a community liaison for State Sen. Rodney Ellis, has also been a consultant to the White House and President Barack Obama on community and education issues.

“Over the last decade we have seen a decline in the quality of education the students of District IX have received compared to other parts of the districts,” Collins wrote in a prepared statement.

Williams, a 1980 graduate of Worthing High School, is a businessman in auto sales. Williams has a fourth-grader in private school, though he has been a member of the Worthing PTO.

“There’s no school in our area I can think of sending my kids to,” said Williams, who is a resident of Sunnyside.

“As of late we haven’t seen any changes in our area.” said Williams. “Money seems to come up missing in our area and nobody can tell us where it is. I just think it’s time for a change.”

That’s some pretty serious competition for Marshall, who has certainly drawn the ire of the HISD Parent Visionaries group. Marshall is no stranger to tough races – he was forced into a runoff in 2005, and won a runoff in 1997 after finishing second on Election Day. In other words, don’t count him out. Just so we’re clear, I’m a member of the HISD Visionaries group, though all I’ve done is receive their messages. (I don’t remember who invited me to join the group, for what it’s worth.) I don’t know George Davis, but I do know Adrian Collins.

Moving over to the open District V race, in which Mike Lunceford picked up an opponent, Ray Reiner:

The race between Lunceford and Reiner represents a surprising and intriguing challenge. Lunceford submitted his candidate paperwork with the district immediately when the filing period opened; Reiner declared his candidacy Wednesday.

Reiner, highly regarded for his 40-year tenure as an administrator with the district, retired in 2005 and has remained active in various consultancy and mediation roles. Reiner was mentioned by various HISD sources when the school board began the search to replace former superintendent Dr. Abelardo Saavedra.

“I look at this as a really golden opportunity to come back into communities and help students, help parents, and help their communities,” said Reiner. “Over the last four or five years there’s been a lack of sensitivity in various communities within the larger community itself. I think I can not only address those concerns but also be an advocate for change.”

“I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve,” added Reiner.

Lunceford, a petroleum engineer, has had longtime committee involvement in District V under former trustee Don McAdams, and has served on HISD bond committees. Lunceford has drawn praise from Johnson and his candidacy has been backed by various HISD parent groups.

“Everybody’s been very supportive,” said Lunceford. “It’s a very interesting time with a new superintendent coming in, with the views that he has.”

Lunceford added: “If you look at the history of District V, people who run for the board or become trustees rarely have any aspirations of higher office, and that’s kind of what I’ve focused on. I have no further aspirations after this—my goal is to get our schools going.”

According to HISD Parent Visionaries founder Mary Nesbitt, that group is supporting Davis, Lunceford, and Anna Eastman in District I. Should be interesting to see what kind of an effect they can have, especially in what may be a low-turnout election. I will have interviews from all three District I candidates on the blog the week after Labor Day.