I have a running joke whenever something occurs at Houston ISD.
“Don’t look at me, I live in Alief ISD.”
But Houston ISD’s possible move to place 10 of its schools under a charter corporation whose record is iffy at best is concerning since all of us will be affected in one way or another.
The abrupt end to the meeting when the school board decided to have enough public comment on the issue was ugly in that leadership was lacking. Watching (on TV) constituents dragged by HISD police was scary in that you have black and brown and white families being thrown out of a building for which they pay taxes. But much of this could have been avoided at different times.
For last night, perhaps HISD’s tactics and rules were a bit much. Fewer seats for the public at meetings; no standing in the room, but there’s an overflow room elsewhere; limited public speaking time; no applause; etc. I remember reading that the gringo school boards did this to Chicanos in my hometown of Crystal City when families were showing up to school board meetings to demand justice from those they elected. The more they showed up, the more rules would trickle out with the hopes of stifling progress and activism.
Well, I don’t expect these tactics to work, as they didn’t work then.
The bigger problem is a Republican-led Texas Legislature which has failed to fix school finance. Decades of a system designed to ensure poor districts were adequately funded has been met by an economic system that has made the wealthy wealthier, the poor poorer, and the middle class stagnant. And while Houston’s wealthy seem to have provided us with a lot of property wealth that makes Houston ISD seem like a wealthy school district, the bottom line is that the district is 85% black/brown and 75% economically disadvantaged. The wealth hasn’t trickled down. Thus, the current school finance system penalizes a wealthy-looking district like Houston with mostly poor kids in attendance and sends much needed tax dollars elsewhere to districts who are indeed property poor. And no one in charge in Austin seems to want to change this, or even want to achieve any kind of fairness for all.
The rules the TEA has imposed on schools–forcing the creation of charter arrangements, threatening to take over school boards-has placed an even bigger burden on the people we elect to create and oversee school policies. To the point where they’ll do just about anything to keep their elected positions, or the access that comes with it. School boards should be siding with the people–in the board room and not just outside after the meeting is ended.
This is a great formula which has the least among these three groups fighting for scraps. And a power base that can blame the other two groups (and the groups among them) for all the troubles. Obviously, all of this came to a head at the HISD board meeting last night. And the school board was met with a united front.
As much as it seems that last night’s meeting was about someone over-applauding or being loud, the problem is a systemic one that has been avoided by those in power, and, yes, those who fail to vote.
Still, one should expect better from elected officials than rules designed to stifle activism and discussion.
UPDATE: HISD Nixes Partnership Plans (Chron)