Sunday, February 10, 2019

Who's on First at HCDE?


Tomorrow (2/11/19) at a special HCDE Board Meeting, we’ll learn whether the new Board has the backbone to clean up the mess at HCDE or if the only solution is to shut down this dinosaur.

The following seems like an Abbot & Costello routine. But it’s a summary of what’s actually happened. There are three organizations tangled up in this sequence: 

1) the elected Board of HCDE
2) the appointed Board of the Public Facilities Corporation (PFC) and 
3) the outside law firm paid by both Boards.

Try to follow this:

By law HCDE cannot issue bonds.


PFC sells bonds for HCDE WITHOUT any taxpayer vote or taxpayer notice.

The Board of the PFC has historically included the superintendent, two HCDE employees, and three elected HCDE Board members.

Not much attention is paid to PFC, except by the outside law firm, paid to keep things in order.

Last month the new HCDE Board asked the law firm which handles both organizations for a report on the status of the PFC, including an explanation of how the PFC Board is elected/appointed.

It appears that in preparing the report, the law firm found some embarrassing problems in PFC governance.

The PFC Board has not been following its bylaws.

Therefore contracts related to the $8.9 million to build a new ABS Campus have not been properly approved.

Payments have been made to these vendors without approved contracts.

PFC Board member(s) at the time(s) the contracts were engaged were apparently NO LONGER on the PFC Board and no longer even employed by HCDE. 

           OOPS!

The HCDE superintendent called a meeting of the PFC Board, inviting FORMER members from different years to attend and vote at the meeting.

It appears the superintendent wanted this patched-together “Board” to retroactively remedy the governance issues that had been discovered by the law firm - the SAME law firm that was paid to PREVENT these kinds of problems.

The ELECTED President of the HCDE Board tried to call an EMERGENCY meeting of the HCDE Board to address the superintendent’s unusual actions. The law firm involved ruled that the HCDE Board President’s call for an emergency meeting was “illegal.”

The law firm, however, was present at the hastily called meeting of the PFC Board, including a patchwork of former members because, apparently, the law firm saw no problems with that meeting.

The ELECTED President of the HCDE Board drafted a detailed letter to everyone attending the PFC Board meeting, pointing out the serious problems with that meeting. You can see his letter below:



Despite the objections and warnings from the ELECTED HCDE Board President, the unusual meeting of the patchwork PFC Board was called to order at noon on Friday, 2/8/19.

The 2 CURRENTLY ELECTED HCDE Board members serving on the PFC Board made a motion to table all matters on the PFC Board meeting agenda until the ELECTED HCDE Board could meet to remedy the credibility of all PFC Board appointments.

The superintendent, another current HCDE employee, and two former PFC Board members shuttled in for this meeting (including a retired HCDE employee and a FORMER elected HCDE Board Member) voted down that motion from the CURRENTLY ELECTED HCDE/PFC Board members.

You can view the meeting:



The unapproved contracts and disbursements, dating back at least 2 years, were approved retroactively by the patchwork  PFC Board.

The outside law firm said everything about this meeting was legal and proper.

WHO’S ON FIRST AT HCDE?  Does anybody really know?

Tomorrow (2/11/19) the ELECTED Board of HCDE will meet to attempt to clean up this mess.

Agenda item #5 is approval of a new law firm.

Well, that's a NO-BRAINER !!!!

I will be asking the HCDE Board to insist on a refund of all tax dollars paid to the original law firm for time billed related to PFC, especially time billed to compile the report about their OWN errors.



NOTE: In reviewing video I have taken of PFC meetings, I found another major error by the law firm. You can view the attorney stating that the PFC Board does not have to follow the Open Meetings Act and told me I had to leave the PFC meeting because a quorum of the HCDE Board was not present:  Here

But, Section 303.044 of the statute covering PFCs states that a PFC "and its board of directors are considered to be governmental bodies under Chapters 551 and 552, Government Code." In other words they have to follow both the Open Meetings Act and the Public Information Act. 

A quorum of the PFC Board WAS present, therefore The Open Meetings Act applied.

Another OOPS !!! 



Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com


Saturday, January 19, 2019

HCDE Takes a RIGHT Turn




While most of Harris County turned “left” in the 2018 November election, one countywide board actually took a sharp turn to the “right.” 

HCDE, the only school board in Texas elected by political party, replaced its two Democrat board members with two more Democrats as expected. 


But one of the RINOs, Louis Evans, was replaced by the STRONG conservative Republican, Josh Flynn. That seemingly minor change made a HUGE difference during their first board meeting on 1/16/19.

First, Josh Flynn was elected Board President, the first pleasant surprise at HCDE for Harris County conservatives in decades. 

Then, in total surprise for Harris County taxpayers, the Board voted to cancel their $220,000 a year lobbying contract with HillCo.

The discussion on the lobbying contract went as expected.

The Superintendent argued that the lobbying contract was necessary because he is too busy with his job at HCDE to pay attention to the Legislature.

Maybe he should stop playing golf on school time with $1,500 of taxpayer money ...or stop taking other HCDE administrators out to Perry’s Steakhouse with $741.92 of taxpayer money.

The Superintendent also argued that HCDE needs the “armor” provided by lobbyists to protect HCDE from the Legislature.

Is he afraid the Legislature will find out that HCDE opened and operated a high school last year with a FULL STAFF and ZERO students?

Or is he afraid the Legislature will find out that NONE of the four alternative schools HCDE operates are ACCREDITED by the State of Texas?

The best quote from the Superintendent came when asked by Trustee Danny Norris – one of the new Democrat Trustees - exactly what HillCo does for HCDE. The Superintendent answered,
 “I don’t like to share the playbook with the public because it defeats the purpose of the lobbyists.”
At least the Superintendent  admitted in an open meeting that he has been using HillCo to fight AGAINST the “public” – in other words – to fight against the taxpayers who pay his salary and all his expensive travel and credit card charges.

The lobbying contract discussion ended with a rant against Republicans and even Senator Ted Cruz by the biggest phony Republican in Harris County – Trustee Eric Dick. He made it clear that he does not understand the difference between hiring lobbyists with private funds and hiring lobbyists with taxpayer dollars.  Guess they didn’t teach that in law school.

If the first meeting of the new HCDE Board is any indication of what is to come, buckle your seat belts. This could be a great ride for Harris County taxpayers.

You can view the lobbying contact discussion:  here  
or view the full meeting:  here 


Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Cy-Fair Taxpayer Alert – Proposed Property Tax Increase by ESD#9



Emergency Services District #9 (ESD9) collects taxes to fund fire and ambulance service provided by Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department (CFVFD.)

See the map to know if you pay taxes to ESD9.

When ESD9 was established, the voters approved a maximum Property Tax rate of $.06. For years ESD9 and CFVFD were doing great, providing quality services staying within the $.06 tax cap.

In 2013 ESD9 asked voters to approve an ADDITIONAL $.01 SALES TAX in order to prevent the City of Houston from getting it. Commissioners who spoke to conservative groups at the time gave the clear impression that passing the sales tax would reduce our property tax burden.

The additional sales tax was approved by voters…but…it didn’t reduce anything. Instead ESD9 contracted

"Excessive Spending Disorder #9"

The chart below shows ESD9’s tax collection since 2012 along with the proposed increase.


In 2012, ESD9’s total tax collection was $15.4 million. By 2017 their total tax collection had increased to $47.3 million.


ESD9 TRIPLED their tax collection in just 5 years.

That’s a tax increase of over 200% in those 5 years.

A Standard benchmark for public service budgets is population + inflation.  

ESD9’s own records show the population of their service area to be 464,808 in 2017.
That’s an increase of 43,238 since 2013. An increase of approximately 10%.
The Consumer Price Index since 2012 shows the total inflation rate to be about 8%.

So, a generous expected increase of total tax collection by ESD9 could be 18 - 20%. Instead...

ESD9 has increased its total tax collection by 10X that amount!!!

Ronald Reagan said it best,
“Government does not tax to get the money it needs; government always finds a need for the money it gets.”
The chart below shows ESD9’s budgets since 2014 when the sales tax kicked in - plus the proposed 2019 budget with the currently proposed tax increase.



ESD9’s budget increased from $26 million in 2014 to a proposed $82 million in 2019.

That’s a spending increase of $55 million in just 5 years !!!!

ESD9 is proving Reagan’s point.

If you agree that 200% increases in 5 years is totally insane government growth...let ESD9 know you oppose their proposed property tax increase.

  • You can voice your opinion in person at the public hearing set for 1:00 pm on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018 at 9630 Telge Road  Houston, TX 77095 (map)

  • You can contact the five ESD9 Commissioners by email:

    • Commissioner Tommy Balez:  tommy.balez@hcesd9.org
    • Commissioner Bob Janusaitis:  bob.janusaitis@hcesd9.org 
    • Commissioner Jessica Rivas:  jessica.rivas@hcesd9.org
    • Commissioner David Langenberg:  david.langenberg@hcesd9.org
    • Commissioner Scott DeBoer:  Scott.Deboer@hcesd9.org

  • You can leave a message for the ESD Commissioners by   phone: 281-550-9649


The ESD9 proposed tax increase vote is set for 6:00pm on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018.


Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

HCDE Breaks Texas Open Meetings Act... Again!

Today, the HCDE Board held a Special Board Meeting to discuss one agenda item in closed session:
A. Discuss and obtain legal advice regarding incident between student and teacher
But 2 minutes into the meeting, AFTER the Board President has already read all the required statements and adjourned to closed session, the Board’s attorney said they didn’t have a quorum, because only three of the seven members were present in person. The fourth, attending via video conference, could not be counted for the quorum because Texas statute reads:
Sec. 551.127. VIDEOCONFERENCE CALL. (b) A meeting may be held by video conference call only if a quorum of the governmental body is physically present at one location of the meeting,…
So six minutes in, the meeting was adjourned for lack of quorum.


BUT ... just 2 weeks ago, on June 27, 2018, the HCDE Board held another Special Board Meeting for one agenda item.
A. Employment
     Principal, AB School East
Just like the meeting today, only three of the seven board members were physically present. A fourth, Erica Lee-Carter, was present via video conference. So legally, they did not have the quorum required by law.

But that didn’t stop them. Not only did they hold the meeting, they went into closed session, and later voted to approve a Principal at AB School East.
                                       

OOPS … There are at least three conflicts with the Texas Open Meetings Act:

1. First, HCDE did not have a quorum physically present, so no board meeting could take place.

2. Second, HCDE could not hold a closed session for private discussion among four board members without first convening in a legal open session.

3. Third, they approved an employment position in an illegal meeting, so the vote is voidable.



Colleen Vera
colleenmvera@yahoo.com

Monday, July 9, 2018

HCDE Caught in a Lie

Fox 26 has been reporting on abuse allegations from one of HCDE’s alternative schools for special needs students. Mainly, a specific incident in the Fall of 2017 involving the alleged physical abuse of a special needs student from Cy-Fair ISD.

View Video: Here

Further, a former teacher was interviewed claiming HCDE does not have a behavior management specialist on campus, leading to the repeated use of physical force to restrain students.
                                                              View Video: Here

HCDE's comment to the report reads:

                                                      View Full Report:  Here

Oops…HCDE should have never put that in writing because their own records show that statement to be FALSE.

Last year I filed the following request for public information with HCDE:


HCDE sent me the following reply:

HCDE’s own records show the behavior management position HCDE claims has been serving HCDE's Special Schools for the past 9 years has:

  • NO Job Description
  • NO contract for a person holding that position 
  • NO work schedule documents, and  
  • HCDE made NO payments to a person holding that position from 12/1/16 through 2/1/17

Senator Bettencourt even showed HCDE's claim to be FALSE at a Texas Senate Education Committee hearing on  April 11 of last year.
 Forward to  3:19:48  -  Here

Emails I obtained through open records show that the former teacher interviewed by FOX 26, Ron Angeletti, asked the HCDE administration for the name and contact information of HCDE's behavior management specialist so he could get help for his students.

You can read for yourself the run around the teacher received when he asked the Principal for the name and contact information of HCDE's campus behavior management specialist …. 

Principal: Mr. Angeletti we have the same Behavior Specialist  as the ABS-East campus. 
Teacher: Who are you referring to... It is my understanding that ABS East does not have a Behavior Specialist. Would you please specifically state the name and contact information of your campus (ABS West) Behavior Specialist. 
Principal: We do not have a campus behavior Specialist at this time. We share a BCBA. 
Teacher to Superintendent: Are you aware that your Behavior Centers (ABS East, ABS West) do not have Behavior Specialist on staff? If so, how do you suppose that the needs of the students are being meet as it pertains to behavior?
          View full email chain: Here

The HCDE teacher never did get the name of any behavior management specialist available for his students.

Instead, two weeks after sending his email to the Superintendent, HCDE not only suspended the teacher without pay, they did not renew his contract.
                                           Read Full Board Meeting Minutes 2/28/17: Here

Even the list of positions recently approved for HCDE’s Special Schools at the May 16, 2018 HCDE board meeting shows no position related to behavior management.
View Full Agenda :  Here

So, HCDE’s administration has been caught in a BIG LIE that is hurting the special needs students whom the ISDs have placed in HCDE's care. 

This time the Board can’t claim “they didn’t know” that HCDE doesn't have a behavior management specialist on staff in their special schools because…


  • Senator Bettencourt read it into the Legislative record on April 11, 2017 with Board members  present and
  • Former HCDE teacher Ron Angeletti gave copies of his emails to the entire Board when he spoke passionately about his concerns  at the Board meeting on April 18, 2018. (8:00-12:45)
Who is going to stop HCDE's lies?

Well, here’s the problem:

  • HCDE is a stand-alone Political Subdivision of the State of Texas.  It answers to no one but the Texas Legislature because
  • HCDE is the only remaining County School Board in Texas, left over from the early 1900s and
  • The laws governing HCDE were so antiquated that the Legislature repealed them in the 1990s.
That means there is no one for the people to call to force HCDE to tell the truth.

The Texas Legislature doesn’t meet again until 2019, so currently the best protection the students have is from the ISDs to which they are zoned.

The ISDs contract with HCDE to place special needs students in HCDE's alternative schools at a cost of $20,000+ per year per slot.

It is the responsibility of the ISDs to step up to protect their own students.

The ISDs must:

  • Insist on documented proof the students are receiving the support and services HCDE has been  contracted to provide and
  • Start sending SURPRISE inspectors on a regular basis to guarantee that their special needs students are receiving  ALL the services the ISDs are paying HCDE to provide. 
If you are a taxpayer in any of the following districts, you should contact your Superintendent’s Office to insist that your ISD: 

  1.  Require documented proof that your student(s) attending HCDE’s Special Schools are receiving ALL the services HCDE is being paid to provide  and 
  2. Send SURPRISE inspection teams to ensure HCDE is delivering the quality service your children deserve:

ISD
Superintendent
Phone
Email
Aldine ISD   
Dr. LaTonya Goffney 
(281) 985-6200

Alief ISD
HD Chambers    
(281) 498-8110 ext 29219   
barbarajessika.leal@aliefisd.net
Alvin ISD
Buck Gilcrease, Ed.D.
(281) 388-1130
bgilcrease@alvinisd.net
Barbers Hill ISD
Dr. Greg Poole
(281) 576-2221
gpoole@bhisd.net
Bellville ISD
Michael Coker
(979) 865-3133    
mcoker@bellvilleisd.org
Channelview ISD   
Greg Ollis     
(281) 452-8008   

Clear Creek ISD   
Dr. Greg Smith  
(281) 284-0002  
grsmith@ccisd.net
Conroe ISD   
Dr Curtis Null   
(936) 709-7702   
lgodfrey@conroeisd.net  
Crosby ISD  
Dr. Scott Davis
(281) 328-9200 ext 1202  
sdavis@crosbyisd.org
Cypress Fairbanks ISD   
Dr. Mark Henry  
(281) 897-4077   
mark.henry@cfisd.net
Deer Park ISD  
Victor White
(832) 668-7080
white@dpisd.org
Dayton ISD
Dr. Jessica Johnson    
(936) 258-2667 
jessica.johnson@daytonisd.net
Dickinson ISD  
Vicki Mims
(281) 229-6000
vmims@dickinsonisd.org
Fort Bend ISD    
Charles E. Dupre, Ed.D
(281) 634-1000    
charles.dupre@fortbendisd.com 
Friendswood ISD 
Thad Roher
(281) 482-1267
troher@fisdk12.net
Galena Park ISD
Dr. Angi Williams
(832) 386-1000
awilliams@galenaparkisd.com
Galveston ISD   
Dr. Kelli Moulton
(409) 766-5121
kellimoulton@gisd.org
Goose Creek CISD 
Randal O'Brien  
(281) 707-3220

Hitchcock ISD 
Carla Vickroy    
(409) 316-6545   
cvickroy@hitchcockisd.org 
Houston ISD
Grenita Lathan
(713) 556-6300
HISDSuperintendent@Houstonisd.org  
Huffman ISD 
Dr. Benny Soileau
(281) 324-7606

Humble ISD
Dr. Elizabeth Fagen
(281) 641-1000
elizabeth.fagen@humbleisd.net
Katy ISD
Dr. Lance Hindt
(281) 396-2304

La Porte ISD
Lloyd Graham
(281) 604)-7000 
supt-secretary@lpisd.org
Magnolia ISD
Dr. Todd Stephens
(281) 356-3571
tstephens@magnoliaisd.org
Pasadena ISD
Dr. DeeAnn Powell
(713) 740-0242 Ext 70244

Pearland ISD
Dr. John Kelly
(281) 485-3203
kellyj@pearlandisd.org
Santa Fe ISD
Dr. Leigh Wall
(409) 925-3526
leigh.wall@sfisd.org
Sheldon ISD
King R. Davis
(281) 727-2006

Spring ISD
Dr. Rodney E. Watson
(281) 891-6025

Spring Branch ISD
Scott R. Muri, Ed.D
(713) 464-1511
superintendent@springbranchisd.com
Stafford MSD
Dr. Robert Bostic
(281) 261-9202
supt@staffordmsd.org
Texas City ISD
Dr. Rodney Cavness
(409) 916-0100
RCavness@tcisd.org
Tomball ISD
Dr. Martha Salazar-Zamora
(281) 357-3100 ext 2005


Colleen Vera
colleen@TexasTrashTalk.com