Saturday, June 27, 2015

School Districts' Needs vs Wants

Later this year, the Texas Supreme Court will hear arguments from attorneys representing over 600 Texas school districts who claim they cannot properly educate Texas school children because the State does not provide enough money.

As a retired teacher who taught in 4 Texas public school districts over 30 years, I know first-hand that “money” does not equal “learning.” 

Yet, Texas School Boards and Superintendents seem to always be screaming that the answer to low performing schools is more tax dollars.

Some offer complex explanations of how items from testing requirements to unfunded mandates drain the districts’ budgets – so much so - that hiring classroom teachers only occurs if funds are left over. 

But could there be a much simpler explanation?

Something as basic as “needs vs wants”?

Did Lt Governor Patrick  hit the nail on the head when he was quoted as saying:
I am proud of the Texas Senate for uniting to produce a conservative, responsible, state budget that will sufficiently fund our state’s needs over the next biennium, while providing $3.8 billion in necessary tax relief to the businesses and property owners of Texas.” 
The Texas Senate figured a way to fund the “needs” of Texans and cut taxes. Why can't 600+ Texas school districts figure it out?

Look closer at Patrick’s statement. Notice the two words: conservative and needs.

The Texas Senate budgeted for the “needs” of Texans, NOT for the “wants” of every Legislator or school superintendent.

That is the true fiscal difference between liberals and conservatives. 

Conservatives believe taxpayer  money should only be collected for “needs” that only government can provide, (roads, schools, military, etc.) while liberals believe they are ENTITLED to taxpayers supplying their “wants” (day care, health care, cell phones, etc.)

But so many education leaders are “liberals” these days,  that often student “needs” and district “wants” are  purposely mingled. 

To prove the point, I tried a little experiment: comparing the spending habits of two public officials – a conservative who believes taxpayers should only fund the “needs” of government vs a liberal who believes taxpayers should be paying more to provide for “wants.”

I selected two public officials from my area who were both new to their offices –

                    Dan Patrick 

      Texas Lt Governor
Took office  1/13/2015 


School Superintendent 
Harris County
Took Office 12/1/14 

I filed public information requests to find out how each official had spent public funds on "wants" vs "needs" from 1/1/15 thru 6/1/15.

Was there a significant difference? I will let you decide.

First – Office Needs

Both men were provided the same fully furnished office space their predecessors had used.

Liberal (Colbert) – Hired a decorator and went shopping with the taxpayers’ money. Chose the new, modern style furnishings complete with a custom refrigerator. Gave the previous furnishingsto his newly hired assistant, Jimmy Wynn, for use in his new office.

Lt Governor
School Superintendent

Desk                                        2,998.21
Serving Cart                           2,548.08
Custom Refrigerator             1,971.74
Conference Table                 4,267.82
End Tables(3)                       4,509.31
Executive Chair                       966.46
Conference Chairs (6)        3,002.16
Guest Chairs (2)                   1,837.29
Sofa                                         1,857.02
Board Room Seating(10)   3,823.50
Board Room Buffet             1,697.06
Board Room Cart                2,423.01
Shutters                                 6,375.00
Picture(1)/Plants(3)           1,500.00
Chrome Coat Rack                 315.00
Freight                                   1,175.95
Installation                          2,732.00
Design Fee                              850.00
New Wall Paper                  2,475.00
New Lighting                       3,193.00
   Total   $   0.00  

 Total    $  50,517.61

Second – Salary

Conservative (Patrick) – 2nd most powerful person
                                                    in the State.

Liberal (Colbert) – Oversees approximately
                                         1,000 employees


Lt Governor
School Superintendent

$  600 per month

$  16,250 per month

Third – Cell Phone

Conservative (Patrick) – The Senate does not 
                                                     provide cell phones.

Liberal (Colbert) – New equipment plus 
                                         monthly allowance.

Lt Governor
School Superintendent


Equipment                    540.91
Monthly Allowance       75.00

Fourth – Gov't Issued Credit Card

Conservative (Patrick) – The Senate does not 
                                                     issue credit cards.

Liberal (Colbert) – School district credit card.
 Charged for travel; taking board members, district employees, consultants and vendors out for meals; technology supplies.

Lt Governor
School Superintendent



School District MasterCard                                    
Chilosos’s Taco House                  20.75
Best Buy                                         324.95
Shady Grove                                   38.48
Schlotzsky’s                                     12.19
Reale’s Pizza                                   66.77
Courtyard by Marriott                769.88
Champions Restaurant                 24.65
Shade Houston                               56.25
Laurenzo’s Grille Dello                 44.62
Laurenzo’s Grille Dello                 53.19
Capital Visitor Parking                   8.00
Lola Houston                                 20.52
Maggiano’s Houston                    69.26
Chick-Fil-A Houston                    10.15
Rudy’s Country Store                     8.15
Reale’s Pizza                                   10.97
Green Mesquite BBQ                    16.33
Marriott Austin                             26.82
Marriott Austin                             25.82
Marriott Austin                           553.61
Babin’s Katy                                   42.68
Chick-Fil-A Houston                    13.85
Shady Grove                                   17.56
Schlotzsky’s                                    12.19
Capital Grill                                    11.14
Shade Houston                             44.97
Shade Houston                             37.48
Embassy Suites Austin               20.00
Total              0.00
      Total                    2,361.23
Is there really a difference in the way liberals and conservatives spend public dollars?

This simple experiment seems to show there is.

Do taxpayers work hard to pay their school district taxes because the superintendent “wants”  a custom refrigerator for his office?

Do taxpayers work hard to pay their school district taxes because the superintendent “wants” to use his school district credit card to dine out with his assistants?

Is a school superintendent ENTITLED to plush office furnishings and a tax funded expense account?

That is for you to decide.

But the real  multi-billion dollar question is:

 If the 600+ school districts which are suing the taxpayers for more money would budget as the Texas Senate did – fund “needs” and leave out the “wants” – would they have enough money to educate our kids?

They won't know unless they try.


 If you would like to let Lt Governor Patrick know how much you appreciate his respect for our hard earned tax dollars, you may contact his comment line at 512-463-5342 or  email:  

If you would like to let Superintendent Colbert know what you think of his spending habits with public funds, you may contact him at 713-696-0715 or email: 

Colleen Vera

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Notice to Harris County Republicans

On 3/29/15 I filed a complaint with the  Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Trustees over their USE OF OUR LOCAL TAX DOLLARS TO SUPPORT DEMOCRAT CAMPAIGNS.

The HCDE Board will be deliberating the issue at their board meeting on 4/21/15.
Agenda items (8A/9A)

A brief history

HCDE established a 501(c)(3) called The Education Foundation of Harris County (EFHC)  to “support” HCDE, and uses Harris County property tax funds  to supply  EFHC free:

  • Office space
  • Meeting facilities
  • Six figure salary to their CEO
  • Website support
  • IT services
  • Auditing services
  • Record storage
  • Grant writing services

EFHC Leadership includes:
  • a CEO paid with HCDE tax funds
  • HCDE Superintendent serving as Board Secretary
  • an HCDE  Board Trustee  serving as a liaison member

The Problem?

EFHC’s Board meets six times per year. Their meeting minutes are distributed via HCDE’s tax funded email system and stored by HCDE employees.  At three of those meetings held at HCDE facilities with HCDE Board and Administration participating, the minutes show Douglas Kleiner (EFHC President/CEO) allowed:
  • HCDE Board Member Diane Trautman to report on political campaigns involving HCDE Trustees and
  • Support the Democrat candidates for public office

Quotes from EFHC’s official meeting minutes:
9/26/13: …We need to make sure we have a competitive candidate to fill that slot and most importantly one who supports HCDE and its programs. Also, in 2014, Debbie Kerner is up for re-election, and we need to support her.
3/27/14: The primary elections are over and the two candidates for HCDE Trustee positions I would ask you to endorse and vote for in the upcoming November election are Debbie Kerner, current HCDE board vice president and Melissa Noriega, former Houston city councilwoman and administrator at HISD. The opponents for both of these women support the abolishment of HCDE, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners.
5/22/14: …Trautman also noted that she was elected Board of Trustees Vice President, taking Debra Kerner’s place. She also reminded the Board that elections are this fall. Two candidates will be on the ballot for HCDE Trustee positions that she feels are most supportive of HCDE’s mission: Melissa Noriega and incumbent, Debra Kerner.
 View the documents: here 

Federal Law

EFHC has filed with the IRS as a 501(c)(3). The IRSwebsite reads:
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity.  Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.
Thus, EFHC is not in compliance with the U.S. Internal Revenue Code.

Texas Law

Texas Ethics Commission Opinions read:
Section 255.003 of the Election Code states that an officer or employee of a political subdivision may not knowingly spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising. “Spending” of public funds includes the use of political subdivision employees’ work time, the use of existing political subdivision equipment, and the use of facilities maintained by a political subdivision. Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 443 (2002) (EAO 443).
We also caution that government resources generally may not be used for campaign purposes. See Penal Code § 39.02.

An officer or employee of a political subdivision may not spend or authorize the spending of public funds for political advertising. 
 ”Political advertising” is a communication that advocates a particular outcome  in an election
The prohibition applies to any “officer or employee of a political subdivision.”  In  other  words,  if  a  school  district  employee  makes  a decision to use district resources in violation of the prohibition, the employee could be fined by the Ethics Commission or  held criminally liable.  School board members, as “officers”of a school district, are also subject to the prohibition.
 A  school  district  board  member  or  employee  would  violate  the  prohibition
by “spending or authorizing the spending of public funds” for political advertising.   
Also,  it  is  not  permissible  to  authorize  the  use  of  the paid time of the school district employees to create  or  distribute  political  advertising.  For  example,  school district staff may not copy, staple, or distribute political advertising on work time. 
Another  provision  of  the  Texas  Election  Code prohibits a school board member for employee from using or authorizing the use of an internal mail system to distribute political advertising. An internal mail system is a system operated by a school district to deliver written documents to its board members or employees. A violation of this prohibition could also lead to the imposition of fines by the Ethics Commission or to criminal prosecution. 
View supporting documents: here 

Not a Simple Mistake

A mistake is something happening one time. Someone beginning to speak in support of a candidate in a local election before being stopped by the CEO of a 501(c)(3) reminding the board that by law they can’t discuss candidates or campaigns.

But these minutes show the activity was not only routine, it is so acceptable at EFHC that it was included in their OFFICIAL MEETING MINUTES!  Two out of six meetings in 2014 means 33% of their meetings included political campaign activity. That is no simple mistake.

Action Needed

The political activity by the EFHC is a repeated and blatant violation of both the Internal Revenue Code and Texas Election Code. Because HCDE is supporting this activity with Harris County taxpayer funds I urge HCDE to immediately:

  • sever all ties between HCDE and EFHC including removal of EFHC and all EFHC documents from HCDE property and servers
  • initiate legal action to force EFHC to refund all public funds it received from HCDE since 9/26/2013
  • approve a public censure of HCDE Trustee Diane Trautman for using her position as EFHC liaison for political purposes
  • issue a public apology  to the Republican Party of Harris County for allowing the use of public funds to promote Democrat candidates for County School Trustee

Voice your opinion

You may voice your opinion to the HCDE Board via email:


Angie Chesnut, President
Kay Smith, Vice President
Marvin Morris
Don Sumners
Michael Wolfe

Erica Lee Carter
Diane Trautman

You may voice your opinion to the HCDE Board via phone message: 713-694-6300 

You may also speak in person during the Open Forum at the HCDE Board meeting

Location: HCDE Administration 
                Ronald W. Reagan Building 
                6300 Irvington Blvd. 
                Houston, TX 77022

Colleen Vera

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Parent Alert: "Giving Tuesday" Curriculum Warning

Most parents want their children to grow up to be kind, compassionate, charitable adults. So when schools sponsor activities which foster giving, most parents are supportive.

In the past few years, a new “giving program” has been developed called “Giving Tuesday.” The group’s website states:
We have a day for giving thanks. We have two for getting deals. Now, we have #GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back. On Tuesday, December 2, 2014, charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give.
Sounds good. After all, the Christmas Season has always been known in America as our most charitable time of year.

Giving Tuesday” even provides k-12 school curriculum free on their website to help teachers and schools develop “giving” programs and “encourage” everyone – students, staff, parents and the community – to participate.

Sounds like something most Texas parents could support.

But when President Obama issued a “Giving Tuesday” message and Harris County Department of Education (HCDE -the federal government’s back door into Texas public schools) pushed “Giving Tuesday” and linked to the “Giving Tuesday” website for schools to “get ideas,” I decided to look deeper. After all, it wasn’t just a coincidence that Arne Duncan visited HCDE in person. 

(Note: HCDE is a leftover government entity from 1889 and a past era of Texas education when counties operated our public schools. It still exists only because of a loophole democrats passed back in 1995. HCDE does not answer to the Texas Education Agency, the Commissioner of Education, or the County Commissioners so they have made themselves the federal government’s liaison into Texas public schools. They by-pass TEA and push the federal “cradle to grave” programs across the state.)

HCDE not only posted the link to the “Giving Tuesday” website, they encouraged Texas public schools to participate saying:

  • Giving Tuesday” Get Your Campus Involved
  • Teachers will want to know about #GivingTuesday, a global   day for giving back….
  • As a teacher, you can encourage your students and parents to take action
  • Organize an event on your campus
  • Announce a new fundraising initiative for your school that day
  • Please don’t forget about #Giving Tuesday Dec. 2
  • Share your #Unselfie.

But a closer look shows the “Giving Tuesday” free curriculum teaches “lessons” that would not be acceptable to many parents, and certainly not to any conservative ones. 

What is this curriculum teaching? 

Here are some quotes from the lessons: 

Investigate the idea of Privilege in order to raise awareness about the way that both you and others DO and DO NOT experience Privilege in your communities.

Text: “I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks.” – McIntosh, "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

1. What does McIntosh mean by “white privilege”? Why is it invisible?
2. What might be in that “invisible package”? Create a list.
3. Why does McIntosh state that white privilege is “meant” to be something that one does not recognize?

ANSWER: “Charity is just writing checks and not being engaged. Philanthropy, to me, is being engaged, not only with your resources but getting people involved and doing things that haven’t been done before.” -- Eli Broad

In contrast to 19th century “charity,” which had been destined for the needy (it was a form of social welfare), philanthropy of the 20th century was “for mankind.” The shift from charity to philanthropy occurred when the Rich partnered with progressive elites of the academic world, local governments, and professional associations. They all worked together to generate progress in science, education, human rights and public health…The “foundation” was created at the beginning of the 20th century as a way to channel big money to important social causes designed to promote human progress…Our nation has come to view philanthropy as both a quintessential part of being American and another means of achieving major objectives. American citizens embrace the idea that with rights come duties; we have the duty to work for social justice as members of a larger community.

Do research on the Internet to find out how BIG philanthropy has helped and will continue to help everyone—even those who donate the money. You may want to begin with the following names: Johns Hopkins, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, 
George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet.

Prior to the airing of a BBC documentary in October 1984, Americans had heard very little about the Ethiopian famine. Since the Reagan administration was reluctant to send provisions directly to this socialist regime, it actually cut its food assistance - to zero - in 1984…After it aired, the BBC film shocked the world: 10 to 12 million people were starving or on the verge of starvation in Ethiopia….The LIVE AID rock concerts in London and Philadelphia in July 1985 sought to raise money for the starving of Ethiopia. An estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast. Famous singers such as Elton John, Madonna, and Phil Collins participated…Mass fundraising efforts led to the distribution of 20,000 tons of food to two million people each month…After the concerts, the Reagan administration changed course and approved $45 million for USAID to buy and transport 80,000 metric tons of food…This event led to the passing of the African Relief and Recovery Act (1985), whereby aid for “rehabilitation” was deemed by Congress to be legal – even in socialist countries. Funding for irrigation projects, seeds and tools, and training in health skills became possible…
Using the following historical notes, teach students about the backlash against President Johnson’s approach to eradicating poverty in the United States.

“In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson launched a War on Poverty: his goal was to create better schools, health, homes, and job opportunities. To attain this goal, the federal government created programs like Head Start, Legal Services, the Job Corps, Medicaid and improvements in Social Security. It was the responsibility of the government to lend a helping hand to the poor. Yet ever since this War on Poverty, conservatives have championed the idea that the poor are responsible themselves for their own poverty with bad attitudes and faulty lifestyles.”

How can you persuade others that your ideas are valid, relevant, and infused with a sense of purpose - without coming across as pushy and without offending your audience?

“Giving Tuesday” states that the purpose of teachers using their curriculum is NOT to foster charity in the hearts of school children, it is to use the students to FUND RAISE. 

Quotes from the curriculum guide:

1. The primary goal of this curriculum is to generate a genuine and authentic commitment to service in your school community by energizing students about fundraising for a specific cause in preparation for #Giving Tuesday….

(You can read the entire curriculum here.)

My Observations

Besides being extremely biased, left leaning material, which may be objectionable to many Texas parents, it is questionable if this curriculum is even legal in Texas.

Texas Education Code Sec. 29.906 
outlines character education restrictions for Texas public schools. “Charity” (not philanthropy) is a character trait listed in the statute and requires curriculum be approved by a school district committee before being used in the classroom. This committee must consist of:

  • parents of district students;
  • educators; and
  • other members of the community, including community leaders.

Statute also includes the following statement:

This section does not … authorize proselytizing or indoctrinating concerning any specific … political belief.

Texas Education Agency makes no mention of the  “Giving Tuesday” curriculum.

But “Giving Tuesday” was still encouraged by Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) – with a link to the website offering the free curriculum. 

In a quick search, I found two other Texas School districts which mention “Giving Tuesday”:

Humble ISD
participated through their Education Foundation and offered the link to the “Giving Tuesday” curriculum on their website 

    Austin ISD press release states, "Schools put philanthropy curriculum into action…”

    If your school district participated in “Giving Tuesday,” you can file a request for public information to find out:
    • Which curriculum was used
    • If the curriculum was pre-approved by your school district committee and
    • Who serves on your district's committee
    You can get more involved by volunteering to serve on your district’s Character Education Committee in the future.

    A final note: Texas Representative Debbie Riddle has been trying to close the loophole which allows HCDE to continue to operate. Last Session she authored HB945  (with Fletcher/Miller, Rick/ Elkins/Tothbut the Texas House Public Education Committee blocked her efforts.

    You may contact the Texas House and Senate Education Committees as well as your own representatives and let them know Texas conservatives want the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) closed.

    Colleen Ve