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Elizabeth Santos

The proposed HISD charter partnership policy change

I don’t have a lot of time to dig into this, but there are a couple of things I wanted to touch on.

Parents, education advocates and a group of Houston elected officials including three Houston ISD trustees on Monday blasted a proposal by other school board members that would change the district’s policy surrounding charters, calling the measure dangerous to public schools and imploring it be taken off an agenda days before its first reading.

Revisions to the policy, which was initially issued in April 2018, would grant parents or guardians the authority to approve or turn down a partnership with a charter, or other entities permissible under the state’s education code, that is initiated by the district’s administration.

A detail of the proposed changes that garnered opposition would create a pathway for 60 percent of parents or guardians of an HISD school “to be served by a new or existing school,” according to a draft of the proposal, allowing them to initiate such a partnership.

The board of education is scheduled to have a first reading of the proposal on Thursday morning, which has also drawn criticism as it will occur during working hours. While nearly 60 other policies will have a first reading this week it appeared the charter one was the only to have been presented by trustees; it included a line that called the proposed changes “boardmember-proposed revisions.”

Trustees Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Elizabeth Santos and Myrna Guidry stood with a group of parents and elected officials — including Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, and various state representatives — at a Monday afternoon news conference opposing the proposed policy.

“This is not about giving parents voice in our school,” said Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of local advocacy group Community Voices for Public Education that organized the event. “Charter operators will promise the sun, the sky and the moon to get parent buy-in.”

Trustee Sue Deigaard, who represents HISD schools from parts of Montrose to southwest Houston, said the proposed changes could help the district with its deficit, and declining enrollment, as the partnerships give schools systems additional funds through a state law. The policy as it is gives the board and administration discretion over the decisions on such partnerships — and not much say to parents, she said.

HISD, the state’s largest school system, has about 195,000 students and is not projected to increase its enrollment to pre-pandemic levels, administrators told trustees during budget workshops. In 2015, for instance, HISD had about 215,000 students.

“We know from the budget conversations in the spring that we are going to have some really tough decisions ahead, possibly close schools,” Deigaard said in an interview. “I wanted to make sure that the superintendent had that tool if he wanted to use that tool.

She added, “Here’s a sort of grounding value that I had in the process, really multiple grounding values: One was — how do we make sure we open up opportunities but make sure that we’re not doing anything that would be harmful. The other grounding principle was when we make these big decisions, such as a school closure or partnership, how do we ensure that we’re doing it with families and not to them.”

[…]

Deigaard said concerns about the policy were valid but in her view the proposal empowered parents to approve or disapprove such a change.

“I think it’s a very real fear for families to think, ‘Oh, my school is going to get partnered off,” Deigaard said. “If that’s not what they want, this policy says they don’t have to have that.”

This all bubbled up after a tweet on Saturday, which made a reference to this change but didn’t have anything specific. I wound up having a conversation with Sue Deigaard, who has always been very generous with her time when I have questions about complicated school stuff. There are a number of things that motivated this, including the possibility of utilizing underused space in existing schools and giving parents who aren’t currently sending their kids to HISD a reason to do so – she mentioned conversations with parents who want a particular type of program or school option that doesn’t currently exist. Countering the enrollment decline, and taking steps to keep HISD as a primary option for parents were a main message I took away from my conversation with her.

At a fundamental level, I trust Sue Deigaard – who, as I have said in previous posts, is someone I’ve known for a long time, going back to when we were both at Rice – and I don’t believe there’s any appetite within HISD to give a bunch of power and money to charter schools. Your mileage may vary on these points. I’m sure there’s plenty of room for discussion and disagreement about this proposal, as would be the case for any big proposal. The story notes that Superintendent House may not end up supporting it, if there isn’t sufficient public support for it. If so, then so be it. This is a first reading – it may not make it to second reading. I want to hear more about it. From there, we’ll see where it goes.

(Today is “move kid #1 into her college dorm day”, so I’m a little pressed for time right now. I’ll try to know more about this next time.)

HISD approves its budget

First one for the new Superintendent.

Houston ISD trustees on Thursday unanimously approved a $2.2 billion budget that will give teacher raises some have called long overdue and fund the upcoming school year when the district is expected to begin implementing a strategic plan aimed at making the state’s largest school system more equitable.

All nine trustees voted in favor of the proposed budget following a presentation from Superintendent Millard House II about how parts of the budget will meet board goals, which a few trustees had asked about. A roughly $100 million deficit will end up being reduced to some $30 million at year’s end through unspent funds, mostly from job vacancies, administrators have said they anticipate.

“We cannot hope to serve the needs of our children by being close-fisted on the most important determinant of their success: high-quality professional educators,” Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who frequently advocates for educators from the dais, said in a statement posted on Twitter after the vote. “This budget honors our kids by honoring our teachers, support staff and principals. It is past time for HISD to be the district that sets the standard in our region. I’m proud to be part of the team that gets us there.”

The compensation package, backed with the help of federal COVID-19 relief money the district received, will boost the salary of a starting teacher to $61,500 from the current annual pay of $56,869. Employees at the higher end of salary ranges will see about $3,000 more each year, those salaries reaching the mid- and high-$80,000s.

Other employees are also expected to receive raises as the district will update its master pay table.

The spending plan also set the financial framework for the first full year of House’s five-year strategic plan. Campuses will be required to staff librarians or media specialists, nurse or nurse assistants, and counselors.

In addition to the $2.2 billion operating budget, the district expects to pay another $374 million in debt service. Central administrators this spring cut $60 million in what House has called the first step toward financial sustainability. The cuts did not affect the police force, financial or legal services, House said.

See here and here for some background. HISD was known to pay its teachers less than other area districts, and it has seen some teachers leave as a result, so the pay raise was needed. We’ll see how those first pieces of the strategic plan go. I’m generally optimistic, but there are always some bumps in the road. Now that this has been settled and HISD appears to be in fairly stable shape for the near term, it’s probably time to start talking about the next capital bond issuance. The last one was in 2012, and there are surely numerous buildings that need work, and that’s without mentioning the urgency of better ventilation as a COVID mitigation. I don’t know if there’s time to get a bond item on the ballot this year, but if they wait until next year at least it’s a city election year and we’ll have an open Mayor’s race, so they won’t have to sweat as much to get their voters to the polls. Hope you’re working on a plan for this, HISD.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: HISD

Previously: City of Houston

HISD campaign finance reports are almost always less sexy than city of Houston reports, but we just had some expensive races last year, so let’s see where all the current Trustees are with their finances.

Elizabeth Santos – Dist I
Kathy Blueford-Daniels – Dist II
Dani Hernandez – Dist III
Patricia Allen – Dist IV
Sue Deigaard – Dist V
Kendall Baker – Dist VI
Bridget Wade – Dist VII
Judith Cruz – Dist VIII
Myrna Guidry – Dist IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,404     10,202        0         192
II    B-Daniels          0         59    2,000         132
III   Hernandez          0          0        0       2,192
IV    Allen              0          0        0           0
V     Deigaard       2,712     59,870        0      12,189
VI    Baker          2,100      2,000      208           0
VII   Wade           6,192     10,818    7,000       3,130
VIII  Cruz               0        460        0         686
IX    Guidry         6,805      9,046    5,500       2,256

Here are the July 2021 reports, and the 8 day reports from the general election. I didn’t post reports from the runoffs. For candidates not on the November 2021 ballot (Kathy Blueford-Daniels, Dani Hernandez, Patricia Allen, and Judith Cruz, these reports cover the last six months of 2021. It’s not surprising that they weren’t raising money during this time. For Myrna Guidry, who won in November without a runoff, this report should cover the period from the 8-day report in late October through the end of the year, but looking at it I can see that it includes contributions from August through October. It also lists a $2K in kind contribution of “polling expenses” from Rep. Alma Allen, but on her Subtotals page she has both that amount and the $6,805 that she has as her overall total listed as just cash contributions. Someone needed to review this report before it was submitted. For the other four, it covers the period from the 8-day runoff report in December through the end of the year.

Santos’ report obviously stands out here, but the vast majority of the amount raised was actually in-kind contributions, mostly in the form of mail and GOTV efforts on her behalf, and mostly from the Texas AFL-CIO and Sylvia Garcia campaigns. Just under $2K of that total were cash donations. Kendall Baker gave $1K to himself and also received $1K from the campaign fund of County Commissioner Tom Ramsey. Bridget Wade was also a recipient of Commissioner Ramsey’s generosity, to the tune of $2,500.

Sue Deigaard spent her money on mailers (about $24K), phonebanking ($10K), digital ads ($7,500), a newspaper ad ($2K) and texting ($1,500). There were also multiple expenditures ranging from $80 to $950 attributed to “blockwalking” that I didn’t bother adding up. I’m now moderately curious about what the unsuccessful candidates reported on their final form, but the houstonisd.org’s 2021 Election page appears to have been archived, so I’m not able to find the reports for non-incumbents now. Not a huge deal, I was just wondering, but it is a little annoying to not see that data now.

Not much else to report here. I’ll take a look at the HCC reports next, which will be equally not very exciting, and we’ll be caught up for now.

2021 runoff results

Here are the vote totals, and here’s an early Chron story which has the results right but was just before the last batch came in. To summarize:

– Sue Deigaard had the only easy night – she led by 30+ points early on and cruised to a 64-36 win.

– Bridget Wade had a modest early lead, which stretched out to a 54-46 win.

– The next closest race was in HCC, where Eva Loredo had a small lead all the way, eventually winning by five points.

– Elizabeth Santos held on by 41 votes, and unfortunately Kendall Baker finally managed to get elected to something, by 78 votes. It would not surprise me if there are recounts in either or both of these, though as we know, those seldom make any difference.

– The HISD board has Republicans on it again, for the first time since the 2017 election that put Deigaard and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca on and gave Anne Sung a full term. Democrats now hold a 7-2 advantage on the board. I fully expect Wade and Baker to make trouble, but they’re not going to be able to get anything passed unless they can convince at least three other members to go along with them.

– So is this a portent of Bad Things to come for Democrats? Eh, maybe, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. These were pretty solidly Republican districts – as was Deigaard’s – before 2017, and both Sung and Vilaseca were caught up in the Abe Saavedra fiasco. For what it’s worth, Harvin Moore beat Anne Sung by a similar 53-47 margin in the 2013 race, while Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VI were unopposed. In fact, the last election in District VI before 2017 that wasn’t unopposed was in 1997.

– Total turnout in the four HISD district was about 35K, which is right about where I thought it would be.

– Election results came in at normal times, with the first Election Day numbers coming in at 8:15 and the final tallies being posted three hours later. Isabel Longoria tweeted that it was a wrap at 11:27. I saw some concerns about slowness at the voting sites related to the processing of the paper receipt, but I think that can be ameliorated by having more scanners at voting locations for future, higher-turnout elections.

It’s 2021 Runoff Day

The interactive map of voting locations is here, and a list with addresses is here. I do believe that most of the votes for the runoff have already been cast, but I’ve been wrong before. I’ll have results tomorrow. Those of you in HISD district V (Sue Deigaard), VI (Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca), and VII (Anne Sung) really need to make sure you vote.

Final 2021 runoff early voting totals

The last day of early voting is always the busiest. (Well, other than the 2020 election, but you get the idea.)

Early voting for four Houston ISD board seats and local council races ended Tuesday with 21,732 ballots cast, according to unofficial county totals.

The final day of voting saw its largest turnout for in-person balloting, with 2,851 voters hitting the polls, about 1,200 more than the next highest one-day total.

Election day will be Saturday for the HISD seats, individual city council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, and a trustee race in the Houston Community College System that were forced into runoffs after none of the candidates in the contests secured at least half the vote during the Nov. 2 election.

Polls will be open Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To find your ballot, go to harrisvotes.com

You can see the final totals here. While the mail and in person totals were almost identical as of Saturday, there were about 5K in person votes cast on Sunday through Tuesday, but only a thousand mail ballots were returned. I thought we’d get to about 20K votes by Tuesday, so I was a bit pessimistic, but in the ballpark. My estimate from the weekend of 30-35K total votes overall may be a bit low as well, but I’m sticking with the idea that more than half of the votes have been cast already. Put the over/under at 35K, and we’ll see what happens. That would make turnout for the runoff about 75% of turnout from November for the affected districts. We’ll know by Sunday. Have you voted yet?

2021 runoff early voting report: Just checking in

I haven’t been following the daily early voting reports for the runoffs very closely. Only a small portion of the populace is voting, so comparisons to the November EV totals don’t mean anything. But we’re most of the way through the EV period, and I voted yesterday, so I thought I’d take a look. You can see the report through Saturday here. So far, about 15K votes have been cast, with an almost exact 50-50 split between mail ballots and in person ballots.

For what it’s worth, there were about 48K votes cast in the HISD districts that have runoffs. I’m not including the HCC 8 total as there’s overlap – I’m in both HISD I and HCC 8. Maybe we get to about 20K early votes by the end of the period on Tuesday – I’ll take a look after early voting ends. I would guess that in the end maybe 30-35K total votes are cast – I’d bet that early voting will be a significant majority, maybe two thirds of the final total. All of this is of course extremely back-of-the-envelope, but I feel reasonably comfortable saying that final runoff turnout won’t equal or surpass November turnout. At least, not cumulatively – it’s possible one of the districts could be running ahead. I’ll revise all of this when I see the final EV numbers.

One more thing – I voted at the West Gray multi-service center, which used to be my go-to place but isn’t now that there are places closer to my house, and since I don’t have a commute that takes me past there any more. This was the first time I’ve voted there without seeing a single candidate or campaign volunteer. That place is always jumping, so that felt very weird. Have you voted, and if so did you encounter anyone with a campaign?

Early voting starts today for the 2021 runoffs

You know the drill – It’s runoff time for the 2021 elections, and early voting starts today. There are nine early voting locations, which you will find in the various districts that have runoffs – HISD districts I, V, VI, and VII, and HCC district 3, as well as City Council races in Bellaire and Missouri City(*). Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 7. Early voting hours will be from 7 AM to 7 PM each day, except for Sunday the 5th, when it will be 12 PM to 7 PM. You can vote in the runoff whether or not you voted in November, though of course you can only vote if you’re in one of those places.

The HISD runoffs are particularly important because there are some characters in those races that we really don’t want or need to have in positions of power. The race in District I, which is my district, is one where reasonable people may reasonably disagree on the better choice. The races in districts V, VI, and VII involve perfectly fine endorsed-by-the-Chronicle incumbents against people who are going to crusade against masks and “critical race theory” and a whole lot of other nonsense. District VI in particular features a perennial candidate who frankly got too damn many votes in November despite a documented history of sexual harassment, and as I have come to find out, credible allegations of domestic abuse following his divorce a couple of years ago. Vote for Sue Deigaard in V, for Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca in VI, and for Anne Sung in VII.

The race in HCC is also one where you can go either way; the Chron restated their endorsement of challenger Jharrett Bryantt over the weekend. Get out and vote, you have plenty of time to do so.

(*) Several non-HISD districts don’t have runoffs, as a plurality is enough.

Runoffs will be on December 11

As is usually the case, the second Sunday in December for municipal and school board/community college runoffs.

Runoff elections will be held Dec. 11, the Harris County Elections Department announced Friday.

Four Houston ISD board seats, and individual council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, as well as a trustee race in the Houston Community College System will be decided in runoffs after none of those candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Early voting is scheduled to begin Nov. 29 and end Dec. 7. Voters can cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during early voting, except for Dec. 5 when polls will be open from noon to 5 p.m.

Election day voting hours will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and permit individuals in line by the cutoff time to vote even if their ballot is not cast until later.

Elections officials said they must wait for a Nov. 8 deadline before completing a final canvass of results and officially announcing runoff races. Four of five open HISD board seats were forced into a runoff, per unofficial returns.

The runoffs include four HISD trustee races, one Houston Community College board seat, and a single city council race in Bellaire and Missouri City.

The HISD runoffs have the potential to bring significant change to the Board of Trustees, though I think in the end the effect is likely to be fairly small.

Three incumbents — Elizabeth Santos in District 1, Sue Deigaard in District 5, Holly Flynn Vilaseca in District 6 — all were the leading vote-getters in their races, but failed to garner at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. Trustee Anne Sung in District 7 finished about 4 percentage points, or 631 votes, behind challenger Bridget Wade in unofficial returns. Neither passed the 50 percent threshold.

The only HISD race decided by voters Tuesday was for District 9, where Trustee Myrna Guidry fended off two challengers with nearly 61 percent of the vote.

The outcome of the runoffs, which will be scheduled for next month, could alter the board just as the district has reached a sense of stability with new Superintendent Millard House II preparing a multi-year strategic plan and the district considering its first bond referendum in nearly a decade.

The district still faces a potential takeover threat by the Texas Education Agency, but that effort remains tied up in litigation.

Two paths led to runoffs, said Jasmine Jenkins, executive director of education nonprofit Houstonians For Great Public Schools.

First, she said, there have been national conversations led by conservatives to encourage people to run for local office, sometimes by playing to racial divides and appealing to grievances, such as those surrounding mask mandates to fight the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time, and more locally, Jenkins said there may be voters who are happy with the district’s direction and current stability but wary of any board members “steeped in the dysfunction of years past.”

[…]

“I am still cautiously optimistic about what is to come no matter what the results of the runoffs are,” Jenkins said. “I am hopeful not just for stability and improved governance, but I am hopeful that the bold ideas of a new superintendent will be really supported and will be given shape by the vision and direction that the board gives him.”

I’m the least worried about Sue Deigaard, who came very close to getting fifty percent. Elizabeth Santos is in a similar position as she was going into the 2017 runoff, except this time she’s facing a Latina instead of an Anglo opponent. I think she’s a favorite to win again, but it’s not a sure thing. This is the one race where the ideology of the Board member won’t change that much either way, at least on the current hot button issues like masking and whatever the “critical race theory” debate is supposed to be about.

I think Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca is also the favorite to win in District VI, mostly because her opponent is a clueless perennial candidate, but the margin in round one was a lot closer than I would have liked. She’s going to need to work it to win, and I really hope she does because Kendall Baker would be a disaster on the Board. As for Anne Sung, she’s clearly in trouble. Running behind a candidate who has more money than you is never a good spot to be in. This is the one race in which the Chron will have to redo their endorsement, and I’ll be very interested to see if they care more about Bridget Wade’s opinions on those hot button issues or the quality of Anne Sung’s apology in the Saavedra/Lathan open meetings fiasco. They either overlooked or didn’t notice the “critical race theory” issue with their initial endorsement, so we’ll see.

As for HCC, we’re stuck with Dave Wilson again sigh but at least the runoff in District 8 between incumbent Eva Loredo and challenger Jharrett Bryantt isn’t a threat to the board’s functioning. Please remember that these elections are as important as the November elections, and make a plan to vote if you live in one of these districts.

More on the November 2021 election results

Here’s the Chron story on the Tuesday election results. It is mostly a straight recording of the individual races, including those I covered yesterday and others that I didn’t. Of the most interest to me is this:

Results were delayed until late Tuesday, in part because of a reported power outage at Harris County Elections’ counting center. Early and absentee totals were not available until after 10 p.m.,

“The machines are sensitive to any interference, so to ensure the integrity of the computers we conducted a full logic and accuracy test, which takes about two hours,” according to a Facebook post by the county’s elections administration office. “Though we want to get the results out quickly, we prioritize processing everything accurately even if it takes some extra time.”

The post said judges were dropping off equipment at the central counting location at that time.

People still were voting at 8 p.m., about an hour after polls closed, at one poll location, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria tweeted.

“Standby, watch the Astros, and we’ll catch you soon,” Longoria said in the Tweet.

The Astros advice probably didn’t help anyone’s mood, but that’s hindsight. The Facebook post in question, which contains video of Longoria explaining what is happening, is here – there are more vids further up the page as well. Campos was furious, called it a “botched” night and an “epic failure”, and expects “outrage” from Commissioners Court. Stace was more measured, saying “these glitches give the County a chance to fix things so we can avoid them when everyone shows up next November”. I lean more in that direction, but I get the frustration – I wore myself out hitting Refresh on Tuesday – and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. I will be interested to see how the Court reacts.

Longoria also had this to say, on Twitter:

The line about jail voting refers to this. Not sure where she’s getting the 12% turnout figure from – going by the Election Day totals posted, there were 227,789 votes cast out of 2,482,914 registered voters, for 9.17% turnout. Still, that’s a significant increase from 2017, which had 150,174 ballots cast out of 2,233,533 voters, for 6.72% turnout. That’s a 52% increase in voters, or a 36% increase in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, in a year where there was nothing sexy on the ballot. What gives?

It could be an effect of a more energized Republican base, going to the polls to express their feelings about President Biden. I don’t know that the Constitutional amendments were a great vehicle for that, but maybe the school board races were. Conservative challengers are in runoffs in three races, so maybe that had something to do with it. Here’s a comparison of turnout from 2017 to 2021:


Year  Dist   Votes  Voters  Turnout
===================================
2017     I   9,784  78,479   12.47%
2021     I  10,108  87,671   11.53%

2017     V  12,431  85,309   14.57%
2021     V  17,153  89,123   19.25%

2017    VI   7,399  73,575   10.06%
2021    VI   8,972  77,508   11.58%

2017   VII  12,219  89,177   13.70%
2021   VII  15,596  99,824   15.62%

2017    IX   8,622  84,185   10.24%
2021    IX   8,935  90,067    9.32%

On the one hand, the two races that didn’t prominently feature conservative candidates actually had less turnout (at least percentage-wise) than they did in 2017. On the other hand, outside of the District V race, the increase wasn’t that much. In District VI, it was a jump of 21% in total voters, and 15% in turnout of RVs, and in District VII, it was 27% for voters and 14% for turnout of RVs. Not nothing, but much less than Harris County as a whole. Even District V, at a 38% increase in voters and 32% increase in turnout of RVs, was below the county level.

So who knows? Final turnout was definitely higher than I thought it would be, and in the end it was still the case that almost exactly half of the vote came in on Election Day. Again, more than I thought it would be but still a big step down from 2017, when 59% of the vote was on E-Day. Given the huge turnout in 2020, it may be the case that there are just now more habitual voters. If that’s so, we’ll see some of that effect in 2022 and especially 2023, when the open Mayoral race will also drive people to the polls. I don’t think there are any big conclusions to draw here, but let’s put a pin in this and see what we think a couple of years down the line.

8 day campaign finance reports: HISD

I don’t often go to the 8-day finance reports, mostly because there’s too little time to squeeze everything in, but HISD is the main story this year, so let’s have a look. The 30-day report summaries can be found here, and the July reports are here.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        16,677     25,640        0       6,565
I     Lindner       29,530     46,115        0      44,217
I     Kopinsky       4,225      6,087        0       2,523
V     Deigaard      20,560     14,077        0      47,097
V     Benzon         3,161      2,587        0       5,344
V     Walter         2,050      9,953        0         633
VI    Vilaseca      13,345     40,716        0      39,403
VI    Baker          5,150      1,553        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,616      5,688    5,781         212
VII   Sung          21,872     58,920        0       3,358
VII   Wade          36,256    110,643    7,000      89,071
VII   Jefferson      9,200      9,080        0         119
VII   Walker        
IX    Guidry         5,555      5,550    7,500       5,000
IX    Monroe        11,406      1,247        0      10,159
IX    Rosales        6,150      7,975    2,177         352

All of the finance reports for each candidate can be found here. There was not an 8-day report listed for Mac Walker, so the link for him is to his 30-day report.

The 8-day is generally where you start to see more money being spent than raised. There’s less time to raise it – barely three weeks since the previous report – and now is the time to send mail, do robocalls, run ads, pay canvassers if that’s your thing, and so forth.

I’m not surprised that Bridget Wade is the top spender here, given that she was the big fundraiser from the jump. She has TV ads running – I saw one during “Monday Night Football” this week. Not necessarily the best use of campaign money, given that plenty of people who are not in District VII (such as myself) will see the ad, and not all of those who are in District VII will make the connection, but the first job of any campaign is to make sure people know there’s an election and that this candidate is running in it. A TV ad checks those boxes, and as a bonus you may get other people to talk about it. Mission accomplished. Her report shows $50K for a cable TV buy, plus another $10K for radio. Anne Sung has put the bulk of her spending – over $46K – into mail, plus $3K for digital ads.

Here in District I, I’ve gotten a ton of mail from both the Santos and Garza Lindner campaigns; I’ve also been stalked on the web by Santos online ads. The Santos campaign has had canvassers out in the neighborhood – we got door-knocked on Wednesday – which led Campos (who consults for the Garza Lindner campaign) to grouse about PAC money being spent, in this race and in others, with little disclosure about how the funds are being spent and who it is that is doing the spending. This is the report he’s talking about – the PAC in question is Patriot Majority Texas, funded by the American Federation of Teachers, and in support of trustees Santos, Vilseca, and Sung. Indeed, it does not tell you much. Sung is getting more than Santos – given her opponent, Sung needs all the help she can get – with Vilaseca getting considerably less. Make of it what you will.

Both Gerry Monroe ($10K) and Dwight Jefferson ($17K) had outstanding loan totals listed for their 30 day reports. Neither reported any such total on the 8 day report, and I don’t see how either of them could have been paid off. The omission is probably an oversight on their part. Finance reports are weird, man.

Not much else to say. What campaign activity have you observed in your district?

Endorsement watch: Incumbents go one for three

In HISD District VII, the Chron goes with a challenger, in this case Mac Walker.

Mac Walker

In unruly classrooms and school boards alike, you’ve got good kids, you’ve got troublemakers, and then you’ve got the good kids who, for some reason, follow the troublemakers down a path to mischief.

That was Anne Sung in 2018. Amid the HISD board’s dysfunction, this Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher and strong advocate for special education whom we had enthusiastically endorsed for District VII trustee joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it.

“I didn’t understand what was happening,” she told us. We don’t know what’s worse — premeditating a school board coup or hastily voting for it, without public input, after two minutes’ deliberation.

Incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement and luckily there’s Mac Walker.

Listed on ballots as “Lee Walker” due to a district error, he’s a first-time candidate whose motivation truly seems to be raising up the district that raised him.

My interview with Mac Walker is here, with Anne Sung is here, with Bridget Wade is here, and with Dwight Jefferson is here. Clearly, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got luckier with her opposition than either Anne Sung or Elizabeth Santos did. The editorial also touches on the ballot name situation, so hopefully as many people as possible will be properly informed about that.

Over in the HCC races, the Chron stays with one incumbent, Adriana Tamez in District 3.

Adriana Tamez

In 2013, when the editorial board endorsed Dr. Adriana Tamez for an unexpired term on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, she represented a breath of fresh air on a board mired with longstanding issues of cronyism and dereliction.

Two years later, when we endorsed her again — for a full term this time — it was because she impressed us with her stalwart commitment to workforce development and unabashed calls for financial accountability in her first term. Today, she’s campaigning on the same platform.

Despite some clear blemishes on her record these past six years, her steady demeanor, deep well of educational, financial and managerial knowledge and focused grasp of the remaining gaps in HCC’s system leads us to recommend District III voters give Adriana Tamez, 57, another term representing southeast Houston.

Tamez can point to concrete achievements she’s helped usher in for HCC. From cementing partnerships with Apple and the PepsiCo Foundation to help students access career opportunities, to expanding dual-credit programs in high schools and working on investing COVID funds in resilient online infrastructure, she has put her nearly three decades of educational experience — as a bilingual teacher, principal, HISD central region superintendent, president and CEO of a charter school — to good use.

My interview with Adriana Tamez is here; I did not interview her opponent. I personally think she’s one of the better board members, and we’re going to need all the help we can get with sigh Dave Wilson coming back.

Over in HCC District 8, it’s another challenger as the Chron goes with Jharrett Bryantt.

Jharrett Bryantt

Since 2009, Eva Loredo has been a stalwart on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, a former board chair who has provided stability and leadership through a storm of scandals.

There comes a time, though, when a bold challenger with fresh ideas can bring new vision to an entity sorely in need of it.

As such, we recommend Jharett Bryantt to represent this diverse district that stretches from southwest Houston to the Port of Houston.

Bryantt, 32, an assistant superintendent for HISD, is considered something of a rising star in education circles. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for superintendent for a mid-sized Utah school district.

His ambitions may go far beyond the borders of District VIII. Yet one of his areas of expertise — college readiness — dovetails nicely with HCC’s mission, and Bryantt impressed the editorial board with his ideas for improving HCC’s subpar 30 percent graduation rate. His proposal to tie graduation rates to the evaluation of HCC’s chancellor would bring much-needed accountability.

This kind of problem-solving was missing from Loredo’s pitch. Loredo, 69, talks about how she puts students first, but didn’t present a single idea on how to improve HCC’s declining enrollment — a 17 percent drop from 2019 to 2020. Loredo waved it off as part of a nationwide trend, which is true, but trustees should still act urgently to address it.

My interview with Jharrett Bryantt is here and with Eva Loredo is here. This is a legitimately tough choice – I have a lot of respect for Loredo, but Bryantt is an impressive and well-qualified candidate. Listen to the interviews and make up your own mind.

Endorsement watch: Garza Lindner and Vilaseca

The Chron goes against an incumbent in HISD District I.

Janette Garza Lindner

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, 39, is asking voters to keep her on the board representing Houston ISD District I. They shouldn’t.

Santos’ connection to the district is deep. She grew up attending its schools and taught English there. Her dedication to students shines through when she speaks. As a board member, she helped get raises for teachers and staff as a vocal champion for better pay in the district, whose teachers remain among the region’s lowest paid.

That record speaks in her favor, but it does not overcome her weaknesses as a board member.

An early strike against Santos came in late 2018, when she joined four other trustees to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in a surprise vote that came after the five had met with a former superintendent whom they then named to replace Lathan. The Texas Education Agency cited that apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law as partial grounds for replacing the whole board.

Santos defends her actions, and claimed in our meeting with her she hadn’t known in advance that Lathan would be fired. But the episode was deeply disruptive and showed poor judgment.

That was an early mistake, but unfortunately Santos has not provided the steady influence and smooth leadership that the school board, with all its recent acrimony, so badly needs. In interviews with us and other outlets recently, she has also struggled to share a cogent vision for how she’ll use a second term to steer the district to further success.

On the other hand, Janette Garza Lindner, 45, is a strong candidate. The mother of two HISD students, she grew up in Brownsville, bilingual in Spanish and English, as an adopted daughter of a widow who left school in the second grade and never learned to read. She graduated from the University of Texas and is an energy industry consultant and project manager. In 2019, she received training as a board fellow of Latinos for Education and serves on the leadership committee of Arts Connect Houston.

My interview with Elizabeth Santos is here, with Janette Garza Lindner is here, and with Matias Kopinsky is here. I noted the issue about the Lathan/Saavedra mess when the Chron endorsed Sue Deigaard, noting that she was not involved in the non-compliant meeting, but I totally forgot to mention that Santos was one of the trustees they might have opposed as a result. I don’t know how much this hurts Santos – she was not the Chron-endorsed candidate in 2017, either – but in a low-turnout affair it may boost Garza Lindner a bit. I figure this is going to a runoff anyway, so we’ll see then if Santos may be in some trouble.

Over in District VI, the Chron did endorse incumbent Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca despite her involvement in that meeting.

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Overseeing the nation’s seventh-largest public school system does not accommodate learning curves. After Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January 2017, the editorial board endorsed her for a full term , reasoning that nine months is hardly enough time to garner a first impression, let alone demonstrate the breadth of knowledge.

Through five years, three superintendents, an attempted state takeover of the district, Flynn Vilaseca has acquitted herself well on the board as a steady voice and an open mind with a deep fluency on education policy. We recommend District VI voters give her another term representing West Houston.

Flynn Vilaseca, 40, a bilingual former early childhood teacher, wants to bolster the district’s investments in special education and better train campus principals on managing finances to avoid wasteful spending. Her support for wraparound services for special education students is admirable and desperately needed in a district still routinely failing students with learning differences.

Flynn Vilaseca’s role in one of the more shameful chapters in the district’s history is a vulnerability. She was among five trustees who allegedly met in secret with former HISD superintendent Aberlardo Saavedra to coordinate replacing the interim superintendent with him. TEA officials alleged the “walking quorum” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led the agency to recommend replacing the entire board.

Flynn Vilaseca claims Saavedra was a long-time mentor and that she arranged the meeting so trustees could discuss “concerns on the board,” but never talked about hiring him. Why, then, did she hand Saavedra a copy of another former superintendent’s contract? According to her 2019 affidavit: “Because he had previously asked for it.”

Even if true, it doesn’t excuse how she was willing to vote days later, ostensibly with only a few minutes notice, without public input, to hire Saavedra.

That said, Flynn Vilaseca seemed sincere in her apology, and pledged to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency. We’re taking another chance on her because her collaborative, moderate voice is needed and because her challengers came up short.

My interview with Flynn Vilaseca is here and with Greg Degeyter is here. Maybe the difference in the Chron’s eyes between Santos and Flynn Vilaseca was the quality of the apology. We’ll see how Anne Sung fares when it’s her turn.

30 day campaign finance reports: HISD

HISD and HCC elections are the main event this November, and as we approach the start of early voting, we can now look at the 30-day campaign finance reports for the candidates. Here’s what things look like in HISD.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,383      7,319        0      18,733
I     Lindner       60,385     12,809        0      44,500
I     Kopinsky       3,492      2,905        0       1,619
V     Deigaard      31,565     15,662        0      42,728
V     Benzon         6,297      2,555        0       3,741
V     Walter        14,792      8,535        0       8,977
VI    Vilaseca      42,632     12,792        0      52,853
VI    Baker          8,370      6,604        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,703      2,887    2,900       1,703
VII   Sung          64,506     18,888        0      61,419
VII   Wade          78,655     58,612    7,000     142,906
VII   Jefferson        712     16,008   17,000           0
VII   Walker        64,776      4,263        0      58,412
IX    Guidry        10,000     11,864    7,500       5,636
IX    Monroe        25,500     15,429   10,000         120
IX    Rosales        1,702      1,818    1,786       1,669

The July reports are here. Incumbents not up for election do not have to file 30 day or 8 day reports, so we’ll next hear from them in January. Not everyone listed here had a July report, so for some people this is all we have.

This is one of those non-city election years, and with all that’s going on nationally and in Austin I don’t know how much people are even aware of these races, let along how much they’re paying attention to them. I live in District I and I do see a fair number of yard signs, for all three candidates. With the pandemic and work from home I’m not out and about much, and as such I have no idea what things might look like in other districts. Are you seeing any signs of activity where you live, if you have an HISD race on your ballot? Please leave a comment and let me know.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t more money in the District V race. Sue Deigaard raised almost the exact same amount as she did last period – I actually went and double checked to make sure I wasn’t looking at the wrong report. I might have expected Maria Benzon, who is being supported by the teachers’ union, to have raised more. I know they’re going to spend some money on her behalf (and on behalf of their other candidates), but I still expected to see some of that in her report. As for Caroline Walter, one of the anti-mask candidates on the ballot, I will note that she got $2,500 from Cal and Hannah McNair. Those of you that haven’t given up on the Texans yet, make of that what you will.

District VII is the race with the most money in it. Bridget Wade had a nice followup to her huge July haul, Anne Sung stepped it up from July, and Mac Walker did well. Dwight Jefferson is the odd one out, but there’s always someone who doesn’t raise much. I’m told that Wade is advertising on TV, and indeed her report shows $30K for “cable/OTT media buy”. Anyone out there seen one of her ads?

In District VI, perennial candidate/loser Kendall Baker got most of his money from himself (he listed a $5000 self-contribution), plus $2000 from Hannah McNair. She sure can pick ’em. Gerry Monroe got $10K from the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, and $10K from Steven Hotze. I sure hope Democrats are paying attention in District IX, because this is Myrna Guidry’s first time on the ballot, and we sure don’t need someone like Gerry Monroe on the Board. He also reported a $50K in kind donation from Aubrey Taylor Communications for “political newspaper advertisements”, which is hilarious and ridiculous on multiple levels. Oh, and a $500 contribution from Hannah McNair.

So that’s the basic landscape at this time. I’ll do a post on the 30 day HCC reports, and will look at the 8 day reports when they come out. As always, let me know what you think.

Interview with Elizabeth Santos

Elizabeth Santos

This week we will meet the three candidates in HISD District I, which happens to be my district. Elizabeth Santos is the incumbent, having been elected in 2017 after Anna Eastman decided to not run again. Santos is a lifelong resident in the district, and spent ten years teaching in HISD, at Sam Houston and Northside, while getting a BA in English Literature from UH-Downtown. You can listen to the interview I did with her in 2017 here – it was one of the first I did following Hurricane Harvey, which as you can imagine had an effect on the questions I was asking. A lot has happened since then, and you can hear about some of those things in this interview:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII

July 2021 campaign finance reports: HISD

PREVIOUSLY: Congress, Harris County, Houston

Elizabeth Santos – Dist I
Kathy Bluefod-Daniels – Dist II
Dani Hernandez – Dist III
Patricia Allen – Dist IV
Sue Deigaard – Dist V
Holly Flynn Vilaseca – Dist VI
Anne Sung – Dist VII
Judith Cruz – Dist VIII
Myrna Guidry (CTA) – Dist IX

Bridget Wade – Dist VII
Gerry Monroe – Dist IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos             0        200        0       2,885
V     Deigaard      31,635        717        0      34,785
VI    Vilaseca      16,150      2,838        0      13,914
VII   Sung          13,307      2,761        0      15,419
VII   Wade         141,236     19,378    7,000     123,517
IX    Guidry
IX    Monroe         5,778      1,267        0

II    B-Daniels          0          9    2,000         191
III   Hernandez          0          0        0       2,192
IV    Allen              0          0        0           0
VIII  Cruz               0          0        0       1,175

I have sorted the table to put the trustees who are on the ballot this year on the top. Myrna Guidry was appointed to replace Wanda Adams after Adams was elected JP last November, though as noted she has filed her designation of treasurer report, so presumably she will have started raising money by now. Her opponent, Gerry Monroe, had run for this position in 2017 as well, though he raised little money. His report did not include a cash on hand total.

That cannot be said for Bridget Wade, whose total for District VII is what I would call eye-popping. She has a long list of donors, some big money – three members of the Butler family, two of whom list their occupation as “Builder” and their employer as “Butler Brothers”, combined to donate $12,500 – and some small. I don’t see any obvious red flags on her website, but I do see a couple of familiar Republican names among her donors – former CD07 candidate from the old days Peter Wareing is among them – so draw your own conclusions. Districts V, VI, and VII all used to be held by Republicans, so such a challenge is hardly a surprise. Incumbent Anne Sung has her work cut out for her.

There are two other declared opponents out there, though so far all they have done is file the designation of treasurer report:

Janette Lindner – Dist I
Kendall Baker – Dist VI

I don’t know Janette Lindner, who is running against my Trustee Elizabeth Santos, but if you’ve read this site before you’ll recognize the name Kendall Baker. He’s more of a troll than anything else, but these off-off-year elections can be weird, and this used to be a Republican district. Don’t take anything for granted.

As for Lindner, her name pops up in this story from 2019, likely taken straight from a press release:

Latinos for Education announced ten leaders were selected to join its Latino Board Fellowship in Houston, an innovative initiative that helps diversify the city’s educational leadership.

Created by Latinos for Education, the Latino Board Fellowship identifies, trains and places exceptional Latino leaders from across sectors onto governing boards of education nonprofit organizations across the region.

Lindner is one of those ten leaders. She is of course running against a Latina incumbent, so make of that what you will. Here’s her bio from her company website and her LinkedIn page; I did not see a campaign website at this time.

Of the remaining incumbents who have to run for re-election, three have been busy fundraising, with Sue Deigaard leading the way. She is the one among those in former Republican districts who does not as of yet have an opponent. Indeed, if you look at her finance report, you’ll see that the previous Trustee in District V, Mike Lunceford, is her campaign treasurer. Not a guarantee of anything, but a nice show of support.

So there you have it. Two potentially interesting races shaping up, and two others that are there. I would expect Trustees Santos and Guidry to start raising money soon, and we’ll see how they’re doing in early October when the 30 day reports are out. If you know anything else about these candidates or others that may be lurking out there, leave a comment. I was going to include the HCC trustees in this post as well, but their reports were not as readily available. I’ll check back on them later.

Magnet school change proposals put off again

Not a surprise.

Houston ISD’s administration has dropped plans to revamp the district’s prized magnet program before the next school year, a response to multiple concerns raised in recent weeks by school board members, district leaders confirmed [last] week.

The announcement means that several magnet recommendations issued by a district-led committee in early 2019 will remain unaddressed for another year. The suggested changes included adding magnet programs at all neighborhood middle and high schools currently lacking one, installing the same type of program at all schools in a given feeder pattern and eliminating magnet funding for elementary schools.

The recommendations resurfaced earlier this month, when district administrators proposed to make those changes by August. However, several trustees expressed skepticism about the timing of the overhaul, particularly given Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s imminent departure and the relatively short time window for building out new programs.

“Based on input from principals, the Board of Education, and various stakeholders, HISD has decided to change our timeline on implementing the magnet program proposal,” the administration said in a statement. “The 2021-2022 school year will be utilized as a planning year in preparation for phased changes that would take place during the 2022-2023 school year, if approved.”

[…]

A committee of roughly 30 HISD employees, parents and community leaders gathered in 2018 and early 2019 to consider tweaks to the magnet program, aiming to create a more equitable system. HISD administrators implemented several of the committee’s smaller proposals, such as eliminating entrance requirements at many middle schools and tweaking the entrance scoring matrix to widen magnet access.

The larger and more politically charged recommendations went unaddressed for two years, with administrators and board members showing little interest in taking them up. Lathan and HISD Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Rick Cruz reintroduced the proposals two weeks ago as part of the district’s budget planning for the 2021-22 school year — but trustees recoiled at the move.

HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said administrators were moving too hastily to add magnets, failing to gather input from the students and families that would see new programs. The administration’s proposal called for installing magnets at two campuses in Santos’ board district, Fonville Middle School and Sam Houston Math, Science and Technology Center.

“If you don’t survey, get to know the community and engage the community, then the community doesn’t have a product they can buy into,” Santos said.

HISD Trustee Judith Cruz similarly questioned the speed of the proposal, saying she worried the district lacked enough time to install strong new programs that would drive student academic success.

HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard also argued that the district should not undertake major overhauls ahead of a change in leadership. Lathan is expected to leave in June after accepting the superintendent position at Springfield Public Schools in Missouri. HISD trustees are conducting a nationwide superintendent search, with a lone finalist set to be named in late May.

See here for some background. The reasons for waiting given by the Trustees are sensible. The bigger question is why the 2019 recommendations had been shelved for as long as they had been. Maybe when we hire the next Superintendent we’ll see some movement on this. Don’t hold your breath.

HISD Board declines to hire Lathan permanently

A national search will be conducted, with still-interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan encouraged to apply.

Houston ISD trustees voted Thursday against committing to Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan as the district’s long-term leader, opting instead to launch a national search before filling the position.

In a 6-3 vote, trustees generally complimented Lathan’s lengthy tenure as interim, but ultimately concluded the district needs a deeper search for a permanent chief. Some trustees encouraged Lathan to apply for the job during the search, though it is not immediately clear whether she will.

“As the largest school district in Texas and the seventh-largest in the United States, it is of the utmost importance that we think about candidates for the permanent superintendent position by going through a transparent and thorough search process,” HISD Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said.

“We owe it to our students, our community, our constituents and the taxpayers to do our due diligence.”

HISD trustees Judith Cruz, Sue Deigaard, Dani Hernandez, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung joined Flynn Vilaseca in voting to start the search. Lathan did not address the outcome during Thursday’s meeting or immediately respond to a request for comment through the district.

[…]

Lathan enjoyed strong backing from many other HISD administrators, with about 45 of them lauding her leadership amid district instability and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This period now has been, by far, one of the most difficult I have seen during my tenure,” said Moreno Elementary School Principal Adriana Abarca-Castro, who has led the campus for 31 years. “I have witnessed how our superintendent, Dr. Lathan, has led us courageously, positively and (been) supportive in every way.”

Many of the city’s Black civic leaders also rallied to support Lathan, with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Reps. Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson endorsing her Thursday. Lathan would have become the district’s first Black woman to lead the district if chosen.

However, Lathan’s tenure coincided with scathing state reports documenting extensive operational and special education issues in the district. One of HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, Wheatley High School, also received its seventh straight failing grade in 2019, triggering a state law that resulted in Education Commissioner Mike Morath moving to replace the district’s elected school board.

Some trustees argued HISD should not lock in a superintendent while they continue to fight in court to stop their ouster. The board’s lawsuit against the state is pending before the Texas Supreme Court.

“The TEA lawsuit has huge implications for our choice,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said.

HISD trustees did not outline a plan Thursday for conducting their search, though questions remain about whether they can legally engage in the process.

See here for the background. This whole thing is a mess. The best argument for doing the national search is that this is the way we have always searched for Superintendents. Under normal circumstances, the HISD Super job is a plum – we’re a big district, we’re in good fiscal shape, we’ve got a lot of good schools, and yet there are some real challenges on which someone with vision can make a difference. We get good applicants, and just the process of reviewing and interviewing them can provide some new perspective on HISD and its mission.

Of course, these are not normal circumstances. Putting aside the current disfunction with the Board, the looming state takeover would be a pretty serious drawback for any potential applicant, and that’s before you take into account the fact that the eventual appointed board of managers might move to vacate your contract. Plus, the fact that you’d be competing against a now-multi-year interim Super for the job might be an impediment. I don’t even know how to factor in the whole Abe Saavedra fiasco, other than as another example of what a circus it has been around here. The clear downside risk of not making Grenita Lathan permanent, even on a shorter-than-usual contract, is that she might just decide that she’s had it with this bullshit and leave, and now we don’t have any Superintendent at a time when that would be really bad. I don’t feel strongly one way or the other about Lathan, but it is fair to say she has not been treated well by the Board, even with two of the instigators of the Saavedra mess being defeated in the 2019 election. I don’t know where we go from here.

HISD passes its budget

And had their own debate about police funding.

Houston ISD trustees Thursday approved a $2 billion spending plan for the 2020-21 school year that includes small raises and bonuses for nearly all employees, a compromise between board members and the district’s administration amid a back-and-forth over staff compensation.

Trustees smoothly shepherded through the budget in a 7-2 vote, ending a run of three consecutive years with last-minute changes, drawn-out debate and occasional bitterness before the approval of spending proposals. While the budget contains few major overhauls to HISD operations, it lays the groundwork for an unprecedented school year amid the novel coronavirus pandemic and difficult financial decisions looming in 2021.

“This has been a challenging year with all of the unknowns,” HISD Board President Sue Deigaard said. “We’re also going into a challenging time economically, and we’ve got some really hard work ahead of us.”

[…]

Under the new budget, HISD also plans to restructure police officers’ pay and increase their salaries by about $3.5 million — a significant boost for a department with combined annual salaries totaling about $11 million. Lathan said the raises would reduce turnover, which fuels high overtime costs, by bringing officer salaries closer in line with neighboring departments.

The increase drew added scrutiny in recent days after the death of former Houston resident George Floyd, which sparked calls nationwide from some advocates seeking to reduce or eliminate spending on police. About 15 members of the public urged trustees to reject the increase or disband the district’s police department ahead of the budget vote.

“I just don’t know about spending an additional $4 million on police officers when we can spend it on kids,” said Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who joined Trustee Dani Hernandez in voting against the budget.

See here for the background. The Press adds some details.

A number of speakers including several HISD students — fighting continued technical and human error problems with the new call-in, social distancing system — called for the district to pull its police force from schools and instead direct the money to counseling, mental health assistance and libraries. Several said black students are particularly targeted by campus police out of all proportion to their share of the student body.

Ironically enough, the new budget approved an additional $3.5 million for an increase in HISD police officers’ pay, which Lathan said was lower than other police departments in the area.

Lekha Sunder, a student who said she represents a coalition of more than 950 members of the Lamar High School community who signed a letter urging HISD and Lamar to remove police officers from campuses, spoke to the board saying “When schools place police officers on their grounds, they’re agreeing to send some of their students to juvenile court for behavior they would never otherwise be prosecuted for.

“When we criminalize our students, they begin to see themselves as criminals.”

Karina Barbosa, a graduate of HISD schools, said at her high school “We had a cop but no full-time nurse. We had a cop but no on-campus library. We had a cop but no mental health counselors.”

Larsen Tosch a senior from Bellaire High School said the use of police officers in schools instills “paranoia among students, especially students of color.

“I do not see why we need to pay for bullets at a school that routinely runs out of paper.”

Board President Sue Deigaard said she was putting together an ad hoc committee of trustees to discuss the police in schools issue. In addition she said there will be a board meeting on September 1 to discuss the issue with a report from the administration. The call to defund police departments has risen nationally following George Floyd’s death while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers who have been charged in his death.

As with the city of Houston, this is a starting point. The goal is to shift spending away from police and towards other services and resources. HISD’s expenditures on police is a much smaller percentage of their budget than Houston’s is, but the principle that this is not the best use of those dollars is the same. I’m glad to see HISD is discussing this – I hope they will solicit community feedback as well – and I look forward to the report in September.

HISD takes a step towards a bond referendum

Just a step. If there’s to be a bond referendum on the ballot, this year or later, they’ll have to vote again to authorize that.

Houston ISD trustees kept hopes alive for a November bond election during Thursday night’s board meeting, voting to approve spending on a facilities assessment that must be completed before asking residents to provide tax dollars for campus and security upgrades.

Board members voted 6-3 to spend up to $5 million on the assessment, which will document the conditions of HISD’s aging schools, space needs for campuses and demographic trends in the district. District officials said they will use the assessment to guide the creation of any bond proposals, which remain in the early stages of development.

[…]

Trustees and administrators who backed the assessment argued the analysis will provide vital information needed to create an accurate and updated picture of the district’s facilities needs. HISD last commissioned a facilities assessment in 2016, but the work only documented building conditions, with no alignment to academic and space needs.

Three trustees voted against the bond — Judith Cruz, Dani Hernandez and Elizabeth Santos — amid questions about timing of the assessment.

Board members and Lathan have not held extensive discussions about their detailed vision for the district since January, when four new trustees joined the nine-member board.

In addition, public trust in the district has waned over the past two years following extensive in-fighting, as well as the possible ouster of elected trustees due to multiple findings of misconduct by board members and chronically low ratings of Wheatley High School.

“It feels rushed, and I want to make sure we’re doing this the best way possible,” Cruz said.

The vote came after nearly 20 students, parents and educators spoke in favor of rebuilding crumbling schools, describing outdated facilities that disappoint children and scare away prospective families.

See here for some background, and here for a preview story from Thursday, when the vote was taken. The last bond was in 2012, and it’s getting to be time to do some more capital spending. Previous bonds have passed without too much commotion, and even with HISD’s current issues I think they’d be able to get one passed this year, if they do a decent enough job presenting what it would do and get sufficient buy-in from the community. The looming TEA takeover may work in their favor, as I for one have no idea whether a board of managers could or would attempt to authorize a bond, and waiting around for another four or five years seems like a terrible idea. Let’s see what the assessment says and we’ll go from there.

Meanwhile, the HISD Board of Trustees is still a thing

Meet the new Board, not the same as the old Board.

Hours after Houston ISD’s four recently elected trustees took office, enshrining the district’s first all-female school board, the new-look governing team on Thursday made its first big decision.

Trustees voted 8-1 to postpone approving a facilities assessment contract sought by the district’s administration, which would serve as a significant step toward asking residents to approve a multi-billion bond package in November. Board members will return in February to decide on the contract, giving them additional time to consider the ramifications of the deal.

Multiple board members said they wanted more discussion between the administration and trustees before spending up to $5 million on a facilities assessment. HISD likely will face headwinds in gaining support for a bond package, the result of dramatic state intervention looming over the district and a decline in public trust following months of board in-fighting.

“If it were that important, these conversations should have happened months ago,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said. “To spring it on brand new board members and expect a vote is unfair.”

HISD administrators said the facilities assessment would help the district craft a bond proposal, which would involve extensive construction projects at dozens of campuses, major investments in school security and hundreds of millions of dollars in technology upgrades.

Derrick Sanders, HISD’s officer of construction services, said the delay in a facilities assessment “wouldn’t be a fatal blow, but it would be a challenging one” for placing a bond request on the November ballot.

District officials have not placed a price tag on any potential bond packages, but it would likely exceed $2 billion and come with little to no increase in the tax rate. HISD residents last voted on a bond in 2012, approving a $1.9-billion proposal. Nearly all projects financed by the package have been completed.

So the obvious question to ask here, which the story did not address, is whether there could be a bond election called by the Board of Managers. It’s been long enough since the last bond election that there’s surely a need for some capital spending, and waiting four or five years till the elected Board is fully back in place could ensure that the need is too great to be sufficiently addressed. These bonds usually pass without too much trouble – the 2012 bond got 69% of the vote – but it’s not hard to imagine a 2020 issue being controversial. I don’t know what the best course of action is here, but I hope the new Board figures it out quickly. Aren’t y’all glad you signed up for this?

Special election set for HD148

Straight from the source.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00PM on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

Early voting will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

That is the same as the special elections in HD28 and HD100. Already some candidates are circling around this, some of more interest to me than others.

Also on Monday, HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos announced she is exploring a run to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who announced her retirement last week. Santos, whose seat is not up for re-election until 2021, would not be required to vacate her position to run.

All due respect, but no. Not with all that is going on with the Board right now. I mean, I understand the desire to jump ship, but no.

One person says she’s in:

After 2018, several leaders asked if I planned to run again, my reply was- we have great seasoned leaders in my district. The Honorable @RepFarrar has served District 148 since 1994 and has earned the utmost respect for her decades of services, especially for women’s health issues & civil jurisprudence.
Like Jessica, I will also bring my legal background (19-year attorney) to this legislative office.
I ask for your support as I seek to uphold and bring continued progress to the community that I grew up with.
Vote Penny Morales-Shaw for 148.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

Shaw was a fine and hardworking candidate for Commissioners Court last year. She would be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

Also considering the race, in a post that is not public, is John Gorczynski, currently serving as the Chief of Staff to Rep. Sylvia Garcia; he was also her Chief of Staff while she was in the State Senate. He would also be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

I’m sure we’ll hear from others in short order, as September 4 is not far away. As with the specials that happened during the session, this will be a sprint, and it will also carry the need to run for the nomination in March. I feel pretty confident saying that the winner of the special will be the heavy favorite for the nomination (yes, I’m assuming a Dem will win), I’m just saying that this is a more-than-one-race deal. We’ll know soon enough.

Initial reaction to the TEA action on HISD

Lots of wait and see so far.

Houston-area political and community leaders offered muted response Thursday to a state recommendation issued this week to replace Houston ISD’s school board, reserving judgment until more details are known about a Texas Education Agency investigation into allegations of misconduct by multiple trustees.

One day after the state’s recommendation became public via media reports, area officials grappled with questions about the investigation while reinforcing their beliefs about the appropriateness of dramatic intervention in Texas’ largest school district. The recommendation is contained in a Texas Education Agency investigative report that circulated only among HISD officials and state lawmakers until Thursday evening, when the full document became public through a federal court filing.

The report documents multiple instances of alleged wrongdoing by trustees, varying in severity. The most serious findings include five trustees violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, multiple board members interfering in district operations and Board President Diana Dávila conspiring to steer a custodial contract to a preferred vendor. HISD officials have until Aug. 15 to formally respond to the allegations, after which Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will decide whether to implement the recommendation made by his staff.

“In order to make an informed opinion, I need to really sink my teeth in the report,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. “I will do that over the next couple days and look to see what HISD’s response is.”

HISD trustees and community members offered few comments about the investigation Thursday during a regularly-scheduled meeting, which passed with only fleeting references to the report. Dávila, who has denied the multiple allegations levied against her in the state’s report, issued a call for retaining local control over the school district.

“The citizens of Houston should not be punished by taking away their democratic right to be able to elect, or un-elect, those that they feel do not support what’s in the best interest of students,” Dávila said.

Several other trustees have declined to comment on the report or not responded to requests for comment. As she left Thursday’s meeting, HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said she is “waiting for due process” before commenting on allegations that she violated open meetings laws.

See here for the background. The report is here, published via the Chron, and since I haven’t read it yet I’ll not have anything further to say just yet. I will note I haven’t seen much posting about it on Facebook, though I can’t say I’ve been comprehensive. Maybe HISD will have a good response to it, I don’t know. For now, I’d say a lot of people are processing. Campos and the Press have more.

It looks like we’re getting a new school board

What a mess.

Texas Education Agency officials have recommended that a state-appointed governing team replace Houston ISD’s locally elected school board after a six-month investigation found several instances of alleged misconduct by some trustees, including violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts and making false statements to investigators.

The recommendation and findings, issued by TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt, will not become final until HISD officials have had an opportunity to respond. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who leads the agency, ultimately will decide whether to oust HISD’s school board. HISD officials have until Aug. 15 to respond, and Morath likely would issue a final decision in the following weeks.

In his recommendation, Hewitt wrote that HISD trustees should be replaced by a state-appointed board due to their “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.”

[…]

In their report, state investigators outline multiple years of failed oversight and improper behavior by HISD’s much-maligned school board, which long has grappled with in-fighting and distrust. Conflict within the board reached a boiling point in the summer and fall of 2018 when trustees clashed over whether to retain Lathan, who took over as interim superintendent following Richard Carranza’s abrupt departure to become chancellor of New York City public schools.

Five board members had grown particularly frustrated with Lathan, believing she had not been responsive to their desires for the district and failed to adequately protect them from a threat posed by a community activist.

Through interviews and a review of text messages, state investigators determined the five trustees — Board President Diana Dávila, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sergio Lira, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung — secretly met with former HISD superintendent Abelardo Saavedra in two separate groups to coordinate ousting Lathan and installing him as interim superintendent. The meetings took place at a Houston restaurant on the same day in October 2018, the report said. Investigators determined that arrangement constituted a “walking quorum,” in violation of state law that requires trustees to conduct district business in public.

Three days later, the five trustees voted to replace Lathan with Saavedra, offering no advance warning to the public or the other four board members about the move. Trustees reinstated Lathan within a week of the vote following intense public backlash. Lathan remains the district’s indefinite leader.

TEA officials interviewed trustees as part of their investigation, ultimately determining that Dávila and Lira falsely claimed in interviews with investigators that they only met one-on-one with Saavedra. In separate interviews, Saavedra and Flynn Vilaseca placed Dávila and Lira at the restaurant meetings, the report states.

In an interview Wednesday, Dávila said she provided her best recollection of meeting Saavedra to TEA investigators, and denied that she attempted to mislead state officials.

“They wanted us to remember things that happened six, seven months prior to us being interviewed,” Dávila said.

So in the end it will be the ethics investigation that brings down the Board. We’ll get the performance results for the schools, including the four that needed to meet standards this year, on August 15, so there may be another cause for the demise, but this one came first. This isn’t final yet – the Board has until the 15th to respond to this report, and then TEA Commissioner Mike Morath gets to make his ruling – but the handwriting on the wall is quite clear. The state is stepping in to take over the HISD Board.

The report isn’t public yet – I presume it will be by the time Morath issues his ruling – but the Chron got to see it. The other misconduct allegations reported in the story apply to Diana Davila, with Sergio Lira also being accused of not being truthful to investigators. I feel like in other circumstances, with a Board that wasn’t already under a conservator, this would be an embarrassment but not the end of the existing Board. In such other circumstances, I might be moved to outrage at the prospect of our democratically elected Board being summarily replaced, even if only for a couple of years, by state-selected trustees. I find it hard to muster any such reaction this time. I find myself resignedly in agreement with this:

Trustee Jolanda Jones, who frequently has criticized colleagues who voted to oust Lathan, said replacement of the school board is “sadly, unfortunately” in the district’s best interests.

“I think it’s tragic, but I think the alternative is worse,” Jones said.

The good news, such as it is, is that the four schools in question, which have been making progress, will probably not be closed. That was a huge point of contention with the parent groups. If that’s truly off the table, then my guess is that reaction to this will be somewhat more muted. Who is going to step up to defend the current board, and demand that the TEA leave them in place?

It should be noted that there will still be elections for HISD trustees this November. These elected trustees, along with the others that are not on the November ballot, will still serve but have much less power in the interim. At least two of the four trustees whose terms are up this year (Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who is running for HCC Board, and Jolanda Jones) have announced they are not running for re-election, with Davila being rumored to not run again as well. If the end result of all this is that in another two or four years we get to elect nine new members, and (hopefully) the sword of Damocles that is the academic standards issue is not looming over us when we do (good luck with that, whoever the TEA picks to run the place), I find it hard to be too upset about that. I’m certainly not more upset than I am about everything that led to this.

HISD back under scrutiny

Let’s hope this turns out to be no big deal.

The Texas Education Agency is investigating possible open meetings violations by some Houston ISD trustees last year when they engaged in private discussions that led to the abrupt ouster of the Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

TEA officials notified the district Tuesday that an investigation would begin following “multiple complaints” made to the agency over the vote to replace Lathan with former district superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, according to a letter sent to Lathan and HISD board President Diana Dávila. The Houston Chronicle reviewed a portion of the letter outlining the allegations.

“Houston ISD Board of Trustees may have violated The Open Meetings Act by deliberating district business prior to a regularly scheduled board meeting regarding the potential removal of the current interim superintendent and the installation of a new interim superintendent,” the notice read.

TEA officials confirmed they opened a special accreditation investigation into HISD, though they declined to specify the nature of the inquiry.

A special accreditation investigation gives TEA officials wide discretion to review potential wrongdoing and issue a range of sanctions. If investigators find repeated or extensive misconduct, the most severe punishment could be a state takeover of the district’s locally elected board. However, state leaders could issue nominal punishment aimed at preventing future missteps by trustees.

[…]

The investigation stems from an October 2018 vote by five trustees — Dávila, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Elizabeth Santos, Sergio Lira and Anne Sung — to replace Lathan.

The vote came with no advance warning to the public, and the board’s four other members have said they were unaware that colleagues planned to seek Lathan’s ouster.

Saavedra backed out of the job three days after the vote, citing “dysfunction” at the school board level. Trustees then voted to reinstate Lathan.

Saavedra told the Chronicle in October that he spoke independently with the five trustees who voted for his appointment prior to the vote. Some of the five trustees have said they communicated one-on-one, but they did not meet as a group.

Under Texas open meetings law, deliberations between school board members about “public business or public policy” subject to a vote must take place at public meetings. State investigators likely will seek any evidence of communications between trustees that could constitute a so-called “walking quorum,” which refers to a deliberative effort by elected officials to communicate as a group in private.

See here, here, and here for more on the Saavedra saga, which didn’t make much sense then and makes even less now. All I can say is that I hope the TEA finds no evidence of the five Trustees forming a non-sanctioned quorum, which would be dumb at the least and a violation of trust at the worst. The TEA already has the power to take over HISD if they feel the need. I sure hope we haven’t given them another reason to consider it.

HISD’s last stand

They have their work cut out for them.

Houston ISD’s four Hispanic trustees took hold of the school board’s top officer positions Thursday, led by Trustee Diana Dávila winning election as president of the much-maligned governance team.

Dávila, who has spent a decade on the board spread over two separate terms, will take responsibility for setting the leadership tone in HISD following months of governance strife that has often cut across ethnic and racial lines. Elected officers do not have more voting power than other trustees, but the board president presides over board meetings and drives the agenda.

Dávila said her priorities will include ensuring the district’s longest-struggling schools get resources needed to meet state academic standards, fighting for more education funding and restructuring board meetings to foster greater engagement and transparency.

“I’m looking to be bringing back some of those things we used to do before, making sure that we respect each other as colleagues on the board and respect the administration,” said Dávila, who served as board president in 2006.

The best thing the Board can do at this time is minimize dissension within their ranks, speak with one voice as much as possible, and find a permanent Superintendent. Accomplishing those first two should make the third go more smoothly.

This joint op-ed by Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Elizabeth Santos is a good example of what I’m talking about.

This board was divided on some high-profile issues last year. The two of us have been on opposite sides on some of those fights. But we are united in a vision for a school district where neighborhood schools are cornerstones of their communities, equity is a guiding principle of resource allocation and all students receive educations that are tailored to their individual learning needs.

To achieve that vision, all levels of government involved in making education policy must take a long-term approach that addresses the costs of educating students living in poverty, English language learners and students with special needs. Unfortunately, state funding formulas — which have not changed in 30 years — woefully underestimate these costs.

[…]

Despite all of this, HISD has fared well under the flawed STAAR regime. The district earned an 84 percent rating with 91 percent of schools meeting standard. We reduced the number of schools that could trigger automatic state sanctions from 52 to 4, and we have maintained a recognized financial rating of 90 percent and a high bond rating.

It is baffling that HISD taxpayers are required to foot the entire bill for their district and also forfeit $100 million in “recaptured” dollars — and growing — to supplement the state’s obligation to other districts, while at the same time facing the risk of being stripped of their right to elect their own governing board. That hardly seems democratic or just.

Apparently “no taxation without representation” is just something we teach in our history classes.

I agree with pretty much everything they say in this piece. I hope over the next eight months – and, ideally, a lot longer than that – we can focus on those things, and not on whatever is going on with the Board.

HISD rejects partnership idea

The die is cast.

Houston ISD trustees narrowly voted Thursday to not seek proposals from outside organizations to run long-struggling schools, a decision that keeps those campuses under local control but sets the stage for a possible state takeover of the district’s school board.

Barring an unexpected legislative or legal change, four HISD schools now must meet state academic standards in 2019 after missing the mark for four-plus consecutive years to stave off major state sanctions against the district. If any of those four schools fail to meet standard, the Texas Education Agency is legally required to replace HISD’s entire school board and appoint new members, or close still-failing schools.

HISD could have preempted any punishment for two years if the district temporarily surrendered control of the four schools to outside groups. TEA leaders have previously said they do not see closing schools as a strong option for improving student outcomes, though they have not committed to either option.

In a 5-4 vote following about an hour of debate, interrupted several times by community members who vocally opposed seeking partnerships, trustees opted against directing Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan to issue a request for proposals to take control of an undetermined number of campuses. The four campuses that have repeatedly failed to meet state standard — Highland Heights Elementary School, Henry Middle School, and Kashmere and Wheatley high schools — would have been considered for partnerships.

[…]

Trustees Wanda Adams, Diana Dávila, Jolanda Jones, Elizabeth Santos and Rhonda Skillern-Jones opposed seeking proposals. Trustees Sue Deigaard, Sergio Lira, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung supported the option.

Well, now Mayor Turner can quit pursuing the partnership plan he had proposed. At this point, either the four schools meet standards or we will say goodbye to the Board of Trustees for some number of years. I don’t foresee a bill getting passed to change the law that mandates the consequences, though that is a possibility that is worth pursuing because there’s nothing to lose and much to gain. While I expect there will be litigation over a state takeover – if nothing else, a Voting Rights Act lawsuit over the disenfranchisement of HISD voters seems likely – that kind of action can take years and is highly unpredictable. So it’s basically up to the students and parents and teachers and administrators at those four schools now. I wish them all the very best. The Press has more.

(On a side note, Diana Davila’s 2015 victory over Juliet Stipeche sure turned out to be consequential. I haven’t asked either of her opponents from 2017 how they might have voted, but Elizabeth Santos’ election in 2017 also looms large now. I sure hope we get to have HISD Trustee elections again next year.)

HISD still trying to figure out what to do with the four schools that didn’t meet standards

Don’t take too long on this.

After months with little public discussion about whether to temporarily surrender control over four long-struggling schools, Houston ISD officials are expected to start ramping up talks about any such plans as state-mandated deadlines quickly approach.

HISD administrators and trustees said they will meet after the Thanksgiving holiday to consider how they will approach the possibility of giving up control of the four campuses, which would stave off major state sanctions tied to chronically low academic performance at the schools.

The politically fraught option drew backlash from some community members in the spring, when trustees did not vote on Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s recommendation to give control of 10 campuses to a local charter school network, but district leaders say they remain open to employing the option before an early February 2019 deadline.

To date, administrators and trustees have not had extensive public conversations about if and how the district would approach surrendering control of the four campuses — even though the two sides have known since mid-August that HISD potentially faces sanctions if those schools remain under district authority.

If HISD does not hand over control of the four schools to an outside organization, and if any one of the four fails to meet state academic standards in August 2019, the Texas Education Agency must close campuses or replace the district’s school board.

“I wish that we could have started these earlier, but I still think it’s better late than never,” said HISD Trustee Anne Sung, who is helping to coordinate the post-Thanksgiving public meeting. “I think we’re starting to make some progress on having a timeline and plan for these conversations.”

[…]

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who generally has opposed private partnerships, said HISD administrators and board members should have more transparent discussions after remaining relatively quiet over the past few months.

“My biggest concern is that I don’t want a repeat of April 24, and that seems to be what’s happening,” Santos said. “We’re going to be pushed into a corner where we limit our options. This has been staring us in the face since last year.”

See here and here for some background. I agree with Trustee Santos, we need to get this show on the road. There are options, beyond the optimal one of bringing all four schools up to standard, that would satisfy the law and avoid excessive intervention by the state. If the intent, with which I largely agree, is to also avoid partnering with a charter school, then the previously explored possibility of teaming up with a city-run non-profit, or the not-as-far-as-I-know-explored potential for a pair-up with HCC should be on the table. Even more fundamental than that, the parents and teachers and students in the schools that are at risk need to be engaged so HISD isn’t caught flat-footed by the response to their actions. HISD needs to get everyone who has a stake in this involved, listen to what they do and don’t want, and lead the way in finding the best path forward. Sooner rather than later would also be appreciated.

Trustees apologize for Saavedra/Lathan mess

It’s a start.

Houston ISD trustees on Monday offered a public apology to students, parents and teachers for their behavior the past 10 months, particularly the chaotic meeting last week when a faction of the board surprised their colleagues and the audience by replacing the interim superintendent.

Trustees said they hoped the apology and pledge to work better with each other is the first step toward quelling infighting on the board, restoring the public’s trust and showing the Texas Education Agency that HISD is capable of governing itself.

“Our actions have not modeled the behavior we desire to instill in our children that we serve,” said Trustee Diana Dávila at a lectern surrounded by her eight colleagues. “We sincerely apologize to all of you.”

[…]

Trustee Jolanda Jones said the board at a special meeting Thursday morning would set an end date for its search for a permanent superintendent, consider hiring an executive coach for the school board and Lathan, and request a new governance counselor from the Texas Education Agency, which has been monitoring the board for months.

The trustees then left the boardroom, refusing to answer questions about what convinced trustees to change course, whether they had broken the law in secretly recruiting Saavedra and why the public should trust this latest pledge to do better.

[…]

Despite her contrition, questions remain about whether Dávila and four colleagues violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by approaching Saavedra about taking over as superintendent before informing the rest of the board or the public.

Saavedra, who served as HISD’s superintendent from 2005 to 2009, told the Chronicle on Sunday that he spoke separately with five trustees — including the four Latino members — in the days before the vote to appoint him.

Of the five trustees who voted for his appointment, Davila, Sergio Lira and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said they met with Saavedra beforehand. The other two “yes” votes, Elizabeth Santos and Anne Sung, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Joe Larsen, a Houston First Amendment lawyer and expert on Texas’ open meetings and public information laws, said Saavedra’s acknowledgment that he spoke with a majority of trustees privately is evidence that they may have broken the law.

“It certainly would appear to indicate there’s some coordination between those five individuals toward a specific goal, constituting a majority,” Larsen said. “That’s precisely the sort of thing that should have been deliberated in public.”

The district attorney’s office would need to investigate any possible violation of the Open Meetings Act, Larsen said, which is a misdemeanor. A spokesman for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said the office does not comment on investigations that may or may not exist.

See here and here for the background. It’s good to hear the Board speak in this fashion, and to apparently recognize the lack of trust they have earned with the public, but suffice it to say that their actions will speak far louder than any words of contrition. I say this as someone who knows nearly all of them – I’ve never met Diana Davila, and I have only spoken to Sergio Lira over the phone – and who likes and respects them. For a broad range of reasons, I really really want them to work together to solve problems and make HISD the best it can be. This is a start, but there’s a very long way to go, and that’s before we consider the possibility that the Open Meetings Act was violated. One step at a time. The Press has more.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: HISD

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes HISD and HCC, which are the last two groups I’ll be examining. I didn’t get to their January reports, in part because they tend to post them later than other entities, and in part because I was hip deep in primary stuff. But that was then and this is now, and today I have the reports for HISD trustees.

Elizabeth Santos
Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Sergio Lira
Jolanda Jones
Sue Deigaard
Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Anne Sung
Diana Davila
Wanda Adams


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
I     Santos              525    1,048        0     4,806
II    Skillern-Jones        0        0        0     2,395
III   Lira              2,500        0        0     4,072
IV    Jones                 0        0        0    12,259
V     Deigaard              0    1,927        0     7,452
VI    Vilaseca          2,500      969        0     4,506
VII   Sung
VIII  Davila                0    1,500   19,178         0
IX    Adams             4,400    6,369        0     2,814

Anne Sung did not have a July report posted as of when I drafted this. As you can see, there’s not much to see here, as nobody did any fundraising in the past period. Diana Davila did not include a cash on hand total in her report, which I think is an error, but not one to worry about too much at this time. Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Sergio Lira, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are up for election in 2019, so I figure we’ll start to see action from them soon. You will eventually see a 2019 Trustee Elections link on the Board of Trustees General Information page – the 2017 election link is still there – so until then I presume there’s no one who has formally declared an intent to run. I’ll have the HCC reports next, so let me know what you think.

“As the Board turns”

deep sigh

Houston ISD Trustee Jolanda Jones publicly aired personal attacks and allegations against fellow school board members in online posts this week, chipping away at the board’s efforts to present a more collegial front in the face of administrative upheaval and potentially major state sanctions this year.

In three Facebook posts, Jones alleged a newly elected trustee called a longtime board member a “thief” and a “crook” with “no moral character,” and she accused a fellow trustee of misleading her during the process of electing a school board president. Jones also claimed five trustees who rejected HISD’s proposed budget last week will be responsible for employees losing their homes — even though board members are expected to pass the budget next week, with no adverse impact on staff members.

You can click over and read the rest; I don’t care to litigate any of it. I’m just going to say this: For the first time ever, as of last November, the Board is comprised entirely of Democrats, with (I believe) a majority of members elected with the support of the local AFT. Even if the Board were firing on all cylinders, the current partisan makeup would present as a tempting target for the state for takeover, given the issues with the low-performing schools. But at least a high-functioning Board, whose membership is two-thirds new since 2015, would have a compelling argument to make that they deserve a little more time to make progress on the problem. With the way things are now, who’s going to stand in their defense when Mike Morath picks a new Board to replace them?

Santos calls on Skillern-Jones to step down as HISD President

This happened last week. I’ve been waiting to see if there will be anything more to it.

Elizabeth Santos

Houston ISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos on Thursday called for school board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, to “immediately step down” from her position in light of last week’s heated board meeting, which resulted in two arrests and dozens of community members temporarily booted from the district administration building.

In a message shared on Facebook, Santos said Skillern-Jones’s “wholly unjustified” actions at last week’s board meeting have eroded public trust, prompting her call for Skillern-Jones to relinquish her post as board president. Santos did not demand Skillern-Jones resign her position as a trustee. She is the only member of the nine-person board who publicly has called for Skillern-Jones to give up her post, though other trustees have criticized Skillern-Jones’s handling of last week’s meeting.

“Right now, the shame of our actions and inactions at the April 24 board meeting looms over our board,” Santos wrote. “It clouds our decisions and intentions from proper public scrutiny and erodes the trust our community places in us.”

[…]

In a Facebook post the day after last week’s meeting, Skillern-Jones wrote, in part: “I hoped we could calm the tension and return for an orderly meeting. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and subsequently caused many unintended consequences. I’m saddened at this outcome as it was not at all what I wanted. I take responsibility for calling this recess and am regretful it only created more discord.”

Many crowd members who were ordered to leave last week’s meeting have called on Skillern-Jones to step down as board president. Reached by phone Thursday, HISD trustees Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones and Sue Deigaard did not echo those calls.

“Many may not support her actions and the way it was done, but this doesn’t warrant stepping down as board president,” Adams said. She added that she believes it was “not proper” for Santos to publicly call on Skillern-Jones to step down without talking to the entire board of trustees.

Deigaard said she is listening to many different stakeholders — including parents who have not been vocal at community and board meetings — as she contemplates whether to support Skillern-Jones’ continued leadership of trustees. She called last week’s meeting “a powder keg” that could have been better diffused on all sides.

“I’m a very pensive person. I’m not a reactive person,” Deigaard said. “I’m looking at, long-term, what is the healthiest thing for the governance of our district so that we can focus on kids.”

See here for some background. Santos’ Facebook post, which had been shared 159 times as of this writing, is here; Skillern-Jones’ statement after the meeting mess is here. There’s no defending what happened at that HISD board meeting, and in fact a couple of trustees – Anne Sung and Jolanda Jones in particular – put out statements following that meeting apologizing for what happened. As far as I can tell from scanning Facebook, however, no other trustees have echoed or supported Santos’ call for Skillern-Jones to cede the role of President to someone else.

I am sure that the bylaws of the HISD Board of Trustees includes a provision for removing someone as Board President. If the goal is to get Rhonda Skillern-Jones to step down from that role, then a trustee could follow that route, or could simply get enough members on board with the idea and then approach her with that information so she could step down voluntarily. It doesn’t appear that anything like that has happened here, so I don’t know what comes next. But if it’s going to involve a change in the officers of the HISD Board, it’s going to need to take more than this.

HISD nixes charter partnership

First there was this.

Houston ISD board members adjourned late Tuesday without voting on a controversial measure to give up control over 10 low-performing schools after the meeting turned physical and police escorted members of the public — nearly all of whom opposed the plan — out of the room.

Chanting “no more sellouts” and shouting at trustees, most of the roughly 100 community members in attendance watched angrily as officers began physically pulling disruptive residents out of the room. The skirmish came after HISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess in the middle of the meeting and ordered the room cleared due to repeated public outbursts.

If trustees choose to meet again, they likely will not return until Saturday at the earliest. Trustees typically provide at least 72 hours advance notice of any public board meeting. The vote had been expected to be narrow, with several trustees already voicing support or opposition for the proposal.

The uproar reflects the heated nature of HISD’s proposal to allow Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to take over operations of the 10 campuses for five years. Without the agreement, HISD would likely face forced campus closures or a state takeover of the district’s locally elected school board due to its failure to improve academics at the schools.

HISD Interim Police Chief Paul Cordova said one person was arrested on a misdemeanor criminal trespass charge, one person was arrested on a charge of interfering with duties of a public servant and one person was detained but not arrested.

[…]

In the district’s first public statement since Energized For STEM Academy was named Friday as the potential partner, Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the organization “will help our students to reach the level of achievement that we know is possible.”

“Data shows Energized for STEM Academy has successfully led students to high levels of academic achievement as well as prepared them for college and careers since first partnering with HISD 10 years ago,” Lathan said in a statement. She has not granted any interview requests in recent days.

The choice, however, faced immediate resistance. Multiple trustees said they lacked enough information to properly evaluate Energized For STEM Academy’s academic and governance history.

Several education advocates and leaders, including the Houston Federation of Teachers, also raised several questions about Energized For STEM Academy’s ethics. They’ve particularly focused on Energized For STEM Academy’s head of schools, Lois Bullock, who serves as both employee and landlord at another in-district HISD charter organization. It’s not immediately clear whether Bullock has improperly profited off the highly unusual arrangement.

All speakers at Tuesday’s school board meeting opposed the district’s plan. Many advocated for suing the state over the 2015 law that imposed sanctions. Several questioned whether Energized For STEM Academy is dedicated to special education students, noting that the organization has a disproportionately low special education population at its current schools. A few students implored trustees to maintain current operations at their schools.

See here for the background. I was going to tell you to go read Stace and Campos before getting into my own thoughts, but then this happened.

Houston ISD leaders will not turn over control of its 10 longest-struggling schools to any outside organizations, the district’s administration announced Wednesday, a decision that puts HISD at risk of forced campus closures or a state takeover of its locally elected school board.

[…]

In a statement Wednesday, HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan said the district is “not bringing another partnership proposal to the board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools.” She said the district will continue to carry out its current plans for improving academic performance at the campuses.

Under a law passed in 2015, known as HB 1842, the Texas Education Agency must close schools or replace HISD’s school board if any of the district’s schools receive a fifth straight “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance this year. The 10 schools all risk triggering the law, and it’s unlikely all 10 will meet state academic standards this year.

With partnerships off the table, attention now will turn to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, who has yet to announce whether any schools or districts will receive accountability rating waivers due to Hurricane Harvey. Agency officials have not said whether HISD still would be subject to sanctions if the 10 schools receive waivers that assure they are not rated “improvement required” this year.

“Any and all decisions by Commissioner Morath regarding accountability exemptions or waivers for campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey will be announced in June,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in a statement.

[…]

In interviews prior to Tuesday’s scheduled vote, trustees Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, Sue Deigaard and Anne Sung said they were uncomfortable with the amount of information and time they had to vet Energized For STEM Academy. Two other board members, [Sergio] Lira and Jolanda Jones, said Wednesday that they would vote against charter partnership agreements. Trustee Elizabeth Santos had earlier said she opposed giving control of schools to charter organizations.

Many of the most vocal community members involved in the partnership debate have advocated litigation over HB 1842. To date, only one HISD trustee, Jones, has voiced support for a lawsuit. Board members have received legal advice surrounding potential litigation, though they’ve been reluctant to divulge details of those conversations because they took place in closed session.

“Suing TEA is more of a longshot at being successful,” Lira said. “From a historical precedent, there have been very few successful cases when the district files against TEA.”

The announcement that HISD would not pursue partnerships came about two hours after Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he supports “HISD simply standing down.” Turner, who hinted at getting involved in partnership plans but ultimately opted against it, said he plans to contact Morath to ask for a one-year waiver.

I’m going to say the same thing I would have said if the Energized for STEM proposal had passed: I sure hope this works. It’s certainly possible that Energized for STEM could have been a successful partner, but it’s equally certain that there was precious little time to consider the idea, and not much community input. The community spoke loudly that they didn’t want that arrangement, and now they have gotten what they wanted. They had ample reason to not like that option, and to not give the HISD leadership the benefit of the doubt. Now we all need to send that same message to the Legislature, because that’s where this mess got started. The Press has more.

Santos, Lira, and Stallworth win runoffs

Congratulations to all, and on to 2018.

Elizabeth Santos

Two current educators, Elizabeth Santos and Sergio Lira, won seats on the Houston ISD school board, according to preliminary results from Saturday’s runoff election.

Voters also chose Pretta VanDible Stallworth, a business consultant and adjunct professor, to fill the final seat on the Houston Community College board, based on the unofficial results.

[…]

Santos, an English literature teacher at Northside High School, appeared to cruise to victory over Gretchen Himsl, a policy analyst for Children at Risk, an education and child-welfare advocacy nonprofit. She would represent District I on Houston’s northwest and north sides.

Santos campaigned on allocating more funding for teachers and classroom instruction, emphasizing the community schools model and offering a diverse voice from the district’s east side, which is largely Latino. The 35-year-old Houston ISD schools graduate had the endorsement and financial backing of the largest national and local teachers unions.

Sergio Lira

“It’s been incredibly special to me, to be able to really anchor myself inside the community,” Santos said. “Not everyone has had their voice heard in this district, and to be able to have that voice, that’s one thing I’m absolutely hopeful and excited about.”

In November’s three-candidate general election for District I, Santos earned 45 percent of the vote, with Himsl receiving 34 percent.

Lira, an assistant principal at Bellaire High School, looked to score a come-from-behind victory Saturday after finishing in second in the general election for District III, which represents the district’s southeast side. Challenger Jesse Rodriguez earned 40 percent of the general election vote to Lira’s 34 percent.

Lira, 56, emphasized his experience as an educator on the campaign trail, contrasting it Rodriguez, a customer care manager and volunteer radio host.

You can see the numbers here. Both boards have their work cut out for them. The stakes are especially high for HISD, as they try to stave off intervention from the TEA. Best of luck to all the winners, now let’s get to work.