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Archive for July 16th, 2018

The ‘Stros have played 99 games. Name the only ‘Stro who has played in all 99 games?

Maybe it has something to do with nine Dems currently occupying all nine trustee seats on the HISD Board of Education. Commentary is talking about attorney Kelly Frels penning an Op-Ed in yesterday’s Chron calling for a reduction in the number of single member HISD trustee districts and the addition of a few at-large seats. Kelly is a nice fella. He knows public education law and policies for sure, but I have issues with what he advocates.

First of all, show me the evidence and facts that single member districts have contributed to failing schools or a failing school district. Where is the proof? Has any group or expert conducted a major study or review that shows this? Has the Chron run a major investigative piece on trustees becoming dangerously or foolishly parochial or territorial at the expense of student performance? Commentary hasn’t seen this. Again, show me the evidence. A trustee saying “my schools” at Board meetings isn’t good enough.

If this Op-Ed is some sort of stalking horse for the H-Town Downtown business community to have greater influence at HISD, I don’t have a problem with this. Commentary knows HISD trustee elections and campaigns as well as anyone in H-Town. The last few election cycles I’ve seen the Downtown business community scale back their involvement in HISD trustee elections.   What is that all about? Get back into the game and get serious about these elections.

If you go to five single member districts, you almost double the area and population that a Trustee will have to represent. That is a tall order for sure and it will certainly increase the likelihood that a Trustee will not be fully familiar with the neighborhoods, people and schools she or he represents. That is not healthy.

Commentary doesn’t believe electing an at-large trustee is going to change the mindset over at HISD because they still have to go through the same process to get elected. More and more, our local city, school board, and community college elections have become more partisan. What political party you belong to is a major factor in your chances for election. That is just a political fact of life in these parts these days.  This process is not going to change anytime soon.

Commentary doesn’t believe all folks are fully engaged these days in the HISD Trustee election process. Specifically, the H-Town Downtown business community. They need to up their game and become fully engaged.   This past election cycle over at HISD we saw a major infusion of campaign dollars from national teacher groups and unions. Commentary doesn’t have a problem with that, but the local business community certainly has the resources to play and they are choosing not to.

Sorry to say this, but At-Large Trustee districts are not the cavalry coming in to the rescue.  It is a bit more complicated.

Here is the headline from the Op-Ed followed by the first part:

How can Houston fix public schools? Add at-large seats. [Opinion]

Quality education in any public school system begins with the leadership of its board of trustees. A pattern of failing schools has compelled Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to focus his attention on HISD, and he has the option of replacing the current board. But a state takeover won’t repair the fundamentally broken nature of HISD. What we need is a long-term fix: Change the system for electing HISD trustees. Replace the nine district seats with a combination of at-large and single-member districts.

Public school governance is admittedly a controversial subject. People have been reluctant to advance possible solutions, probably for fear of offending sitting board members. But with the possibility of a state takeover, the time has come to put the proposal on the table.

It is apparent that HISD’s current system of electing its trustees through all single-member districts is not conducive to effective governance. The results speak for themselves. HISD’s current electoral system can and must be changed so its board members will focus on the entire district rather than individual single member geographic districts.

But first, we have to understand why the board looks the way it does. The story begins in 1975, when the board at the time rightfully sought a legislative change to replace seven at-large positions with single-member seats. Given the demographics at the time, single-member districts were the only way to ensure African-Americans could be elected to serve on the board. At-large elections would dilute the African-American vote, denying this key political entity fair representation.

Change came again in 1981, when the HISD Board asked the Legislature to add two additional single-member district positions so the growing Hispanic population would have the opportunity to be represented, as well.

The demographics of the city of Houston and the HISD have changed substantially since 1981. Today, the adult and student population is majority-minority. African-Americans and Hispanics have been regularly elected to at-large City Council positions and countywide seats. The same could happen at HISD. Single-member districts have served their intended purpose, and it is now time to focus on governance.

Many single-member trustees are elected by a small number of voters. It is natural for these trustees to feel beholden to this group of supporters. Trustees risk focusing on the affairs of their small electoral district at the expense of the school district as a whole. Pay attention to board meetings, and you’ll find it is common for trustees to refer to schools and teachers in their geographic area as “my” schools and “my” teachers rather than “our” schools and “our” teachers. Looking out for all of “our” children gets lost.

Single-member trustees who properly focus on issues of the entire school district end up in a tight spot. By making issues of the entire district a priority, they risknot properly paying enough attention to their supporters — the ones who get them elected. So the blame for a narrowly focused board doesn’t necessarily rest with the trustees themselves — the entire election system contributes to less effective governance.

So how can we change this?

HISD’s controlling law is a narrowly drawn statute, Article 2774b, which is not actually found in the Texas Education Code. Instead, you have to look through what are known as the Education Ancillary Laws. That statute should be amended to provide for at least four at-large positions and five larger single-member districts for the nine-member board. This hybrid system of at-large and single-member districts, already utilized in the city of Houston, would provide a near majority of trustees with districtwide views on issues. The remaining five or fewer single-member district trustees would have a much larger constituency and hopefully broader views. This configuration should lead to more consistent districtwide decisions.

It might be tempting to merely add two or three at-large positions to the current nine-member board. After all, that change would leave today’s board untouched and avoid agitating them into opposition. But simply growing the current board wouldn’t solve the governance problem; it would make it worse.

First, adding positions does nothing to eliminate the inherent problems with small single-member districts.

Here is the entire read: https://www.houstonchronicle.com/opinion/outlook/article/How-can-Houston-fix-public-schools-Add-at-large-13077315.php.

Commentary was at the soft opening this past Saturday of the Saint Arnold Brewery Beer Garden and Restaurant. Nice! It is located right next to the brewery on Lyons Avenue. The beer of course was great. Same for the grub. It has indoor seating in a structure that resembles a church. It has outdoor seating that is mostly covered and with fans. It also has a spectacular view of Downtown H-Town. Check it out, please.

Way to go, Brock Wagner and his crew!

Jose Altuve of course has played in all 99 ‘Stros games this season.

We only have 28 homies left. Against contenders? Seven with the Mariners. Three with the D-Backs. Two with the Rockies.

 

 

 

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