The Harris County School Board of Trustees— An education bureaucracy “zombie” that refuses to die!

Harris County taxpayers should consider a trip to the beautiful Texas “pink granite” capitol Tuesday to testify at the House education committee in favor of Rep. Debbie Riddle’s HB945 that would save Harris County taxpayers at least $18,000,000 annually in reduced property taxes. (Details here.)

Numerous fiscal and education conservatives have weighed in on the Harris County School Board of Trustees (HCSBT) presently doing business as the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE). (Note this is a DBA only…it is NOT a department of Harris County government). Attempts have been made in the past decade to dismantle or defund this entity that should have naturally gone out of existence in the 1960s with the complete conversion of schools from county-run to independent school districts (ISDs).

In the 1960s, all schools in Texas became entities under the Independent School District (ISD) system. Harris County actually completed this sooner than many counties in the state. Inexplicably, the HCDE Board was grandfathered-in under a tortured definition they thought was a loophole and used an obsolete law that was originally passed in the 1930s and is no longer in effect and until recently, they could not even locate. Lobbyists come to mind.

Interestingly, the HCDE Board has no zoned students of its own. It contracts with ISDs inside and outside of Harris County to operate alternative schooling for approximately 400 students per year yet continues to annually collect a staggering ~$18 million dollars from Harris County property taxpayers. Even more bizarre, the HCDE entity largely caters to out-of county and even out-of-state projects. Texas taxpayer monies should be used in Texas schools to support Texas students only. Local taxpayer monies should only support local projects.

Supporters (lobbyists, former board members with contracts, etc.) almost always justify HCDE by saying it is “for the children”. Though the HCDE does provide some contracted services to Harris County, most are or could be redundant. The very same services may be accessed within Harris County ISDs and the Texas Education Agency’s Regional Service Centers without incurring the same inflated price tag. It is telling that only one other county in the entire state has such a group still in existence!

Most Harris County Commissioners and other county officials agree that the Harris County School Board of Trustees should be disbanded. Sheila Jackson-Lee supports the HCSBT as her daughter is on the Board. Is Sheila Jackson-Lee’s daughter really worth $18,000,000 to Harris County taxpayers?

Adding insult to financial injury, at last count the HCSBT superintendent has hired at least six lobbyists, (without Board approval), including a convicted felon, to lobby legislators to stay alive and collecting their Harris County taxpayer subsidy. They are using taxpayer money to lobby against taxpayers—never a good sign for the organization integrity nor government transparency—and at least one former board member now enjoys a lucrative contract with the entity.

Though not identical, the HCSBT is reminiscent of the disastrous CSCOPE entity and capable of much harm to Harris County taxpayers.

As previously mentioned, the designation of public schools placed under the ISDs should be complete. Over fifty years of transition should be sufficient to complete the phase out of this obsolete entity—at the least to wean it off of the taxpayer dime $18,000,000.00.

In the scheme of reducing the size, redundancy, cost, and burden of big government, this is “low hanging fruit” that richly deserves to be lopped off.

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Comments

It is this type of twisted rhetoric that will destroy the GOP. It is false that over the last ten years that attempts have been made to dismantle HCDE. You forgot to mention that HCDE leverages $18 m but receives more than over $45 m in grants. This keeps your property taxes down. Go check out Big Jolly. Here's one of my biggest concerns. The RPT and RNC are about to spend millions of dollars to reach out to Hispanic voters. In the mean time some radical Republicans want to suppot a bill that will deny special education and health wellness programs to over 15,000 Hispanic students! Republicans must be smarter if they want the Hispanic vote. My vote is for the children not H.B. 945. BTW my property taxes are about $4  a year. About the cost of a cup of Starbucks coffee.
Roy MoralesLt Col, USAF (Ret)

Mr. Morales,
In the interest of full disclosure, please let people know that you are a "Business Development Consultant - Independent Contractor/Commissionable" for both a health network provider and a technology provider who both have contracts with HCDE.
 The conflict of interest statements the companies filed with their HCDE contracts may be viewed at: https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bwjw40FXbTIMTV9IdFBMakJkZ28.
https://docs.google.com/open?id=0Bwjw40FXbTIMaTllcjA5NTFJNWs

When you have a business interest in HCDE remaining open, especially in their "for profit" programs, I feel it is in the best interest of the public for you to disclose that before making a comment.
Colleen Vera
 

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