Harris County Department of Education tried to raise our taxes and FAILED - thanks to patriot citizens who took the time to show up and speak out at the board meeting Oct. 18, 2011. The next election we will remember the:
Board members who voted to RAISE our taxes:
President, Angie Chesnut
And the Board members who voted NO:
View vote (44:45)
I can't even count the number of school board meetings I attended over my thirty year teaching career. Some got really long and boring. But, at least they were all professionally run.
Attending this HCDE "Tax Rate Workshop" and the following board meeting was a totally different story. It was more like watching a three ring circus.
The HCDE board must not be used to any citizens showing up to offer comments the board might not like. Even though board policy reads:
"Time is specifically set aside at regular Board meetings for patrons to address the Board. A citizen who wishes to speak may do so by completing a Participation Request Card at least 30 minutes prior to a regular Board meeting. Participation Request Cards will be available at the Board meeting. Citizens may address the Board on either agenda or nonagenda items.Public participation is limited to the designated open forum portion of a meeting. Presentations by individuals or by groups speaking on one item shall not exceed five minutes. At all other times during Board meetings, the audience shall not enter into discussion or debate on matters being considered by the Board.Groups of more than three persons wishing to speak on one item shall appoint one person to represent the group’s views to the Board. The speaker shall identify his or her affiliation, make a presentation, not to exceed five minutes and identify the remedy sought, if any"
the board president took it upon herself to conclude that all citizens who wrote similar reasons to speak on their Participation Request Cards were from the same "group" and needed to elect a spokesperson. (0:29) She even grouped the person speaking in favor of a tax rate increase with those opposed. She told all persons completing a card to go out in the hall and select one person who would speak for all. So six of us were in the hall introducing ourselves to one another when other citizens told us to come back to the meeting.
The board then decided to debate if all citizens should be able to speak. They finally decided we all could speak but limited us to 3 minutes each instead of the 5 minutes listed in their own policy.(0:30-17:00) They said it was to save time, but they wasted 17 minutes debating if 6 citizens should be able to speak and it only took 19 minutes for all 8 who showed up to address the board.
Then they allowed only 3 minutes for the Harris County Tax Assessor. I am still shocked that the Superintendent admitted that he had never even met the man in charge of collecting the HCDE property taxes. In a truly professional setting, he would have been consulted by the administration long before the final vote on a tax rate increase.(36:22)
20. Consider approval of a proposed tax rate of $0.006804, the Effective Tax Rate for FY2011- 12
*Our current rate is $0.00658
The Superintendent insisted that property values were down in the county so HCDE needed to raise the Tax Rate to collect the same amount of revenue from local tax payers as they did the previous year. In his words, RAISING THE TAX RATE was NOT A TAX INCREASE because HCDE would be collecting the same total amount as the previous year.(34:40-35:17) He argued that some taxpayers would be paying more, but some would be paying less, so we could not call it a TAX INCREASE. I know it sounds like I must have misunderstood, but watch the video yourself. It is incredible that we have been paying this man over $220,000 a year in salary and benefits and this is the garbage he is feeding the tax payers. What is truly remarkable, is that members of the board act like he makes sense. Either we have elected some really stupid people to this board, or they attended the Huey Long School of Ethics.
Even after our own Harris County Tax Assessor, Don Sumners (who took the initiative to show up at the meeting because he read about it in the Houston Chronicle) spoke on the fact that HCDE was NOT projected to collect less revenue than the previous year (36:22), the Superintendent just dismissed him like Mr. Sumners had no idea what he was talking about saying, "I don't think Mr. Sumners assumptions are good. I think ours are good." (23:05) The Board President, Angie Chesnut, questioned why Mr. Sumners even showed up (31:30-33:11), and Board Member Debra Kerner treated him with total disrespect.(24:30-25:20)
But I thought the funniest part occurred after the meeting. While the Superintendent and the board argued to the citizens that the TAX RATE INCREASE was NOT a TAX INCREASE, the HCDE Communications Department must have not been paying attention. They issued a press release after the meeting that said :
Harris County Department of Education board says no to 2011 tax hike
Trustees cite need to support citizens during troubled economy
Harris County Department of Education board of trustees voted against a tax hike for the 2011-2012 school year budget at its October 18 Board meeting, citing the need to support Harris County citizens living with a troubled economy.
The current tax rate charges the average homeowner about $6.25 yearly for HCDE taxes based on a $100,000 home valuation.
“We respect the fact that citizens are hurting this year,” said HCDE board of trustees president Angie Chesnut. “We will find the means to make this budget work for our students and for the Harris County school districts we serve on a daily basis.”
“In these challenging financial times which have put such a huge burden on schools, our services allow school districts to deliver student needs at lower costs,” said Chesnut. “For example, school districts contract with HCDE for special education therapy services. HCDE hires a special education therapist who serves several districts. The districts don’t each have to hire a therapist to serve what may be only a few students. We call that leveraging dollars for the districts—and it saves local school districts money.”
But, if you watch the video, you know that the quote in the press release from the Board President, who voted FOR a tax rate increase is bogus. If we had not been there, they would have voted to increase the tax rate.
What really happened was the citizens spoke out and scared the living daylights out of HCDE. They knew if they passed a TAX HIKE, citizens who are now awake and paying attention to their government, would start insisting that HCDE lose its taxing authority and be shut down once and for all.
Then the highly paid administrators would have to find real jobs and actually work for a living and the board members would have to find another elected board to launch their political careers - and it might be one that required some real effort.
In Ring #3
Those in the audience were introduced to the HCDE method of school board budgeting. I am calling it “Effective Budgeting.” It goes something like this:
- The employees list their salaries, benefits, expenses and everything they want to buy
- The Superintendent adds it all up and gets a grand total he calls his "budget"
- Then Business Services figures out how much to tax the citizens to collect enough money to cover the "budget".(0:25) (5:53) They call that the "Effective Tax Rate"(9:40-11:00)
- Then the board approves the rate and the citizens are forced to pay up.
- Anyone who questions the method is told they either hate children, are obsessed with greed, are misinformed or just plain ignorant.
The Superintendent and some board members kept arguing that HCDE would suffer great hardships without a tax rate increase even though HCDE's own budget reports show a steady annual increase in revenue collected from local tax payers for the past ten years.
|Fiscal Year||Tax Amount Collected |
Some even spoke negatively about those citizens who questioned the need for a tax rate increase. About those evil people who just don’t understand that HCDE uses their money so wisely that they should all be lining up to give them more money. And they should be thanking HCDE for all the work they do that no one else will do. Because they are the ONLY people in Harris County that help handicapped kids! (Well, that will be my next article.)
Some of their comments made during the meeting are below. You can view all three meetings:
Or select the link for each comment and scroll to the minute listed to hear the exact quote.
I have never met Don Sumners.(Harris County Tax Assessor) (22:45)
Our Texas foundation school money is only about $200,000 a year
and just offsets our certified teachers' insurance. (13:30)
Our students are too young or too old for public schools.Public schools don't want them(15:05
We have not discussed what HCDE does. Several of you who are here today may not have looked into the services we provide to save your school districts money…We leverage dollars… who will do the job if we don’t?(10:30)
We are taking a huge risk here. Even at the Effective tax rate. It is NOT an increase in property taxes… SHAME ON the people who say that… (7:15)
We are losing sight of THAT CHILD THAT HAS SPECIAL NEEDS. A CHILD WITH DOWN SYNDROME or other defectiveness that we are here to help. I hear people complaining about zero increase in their property taxes … or help that child get back into the mainstream. We are losing sight of those kids who really need help. (9:50)
If we get hit by a hurricane, we are in trouble. (23:59)
What does the average tax payer pay? $10 per year. We are talking about VERY, VERY, VERY little amount of money. Less than $10 a year…So for $11 a year everyone is assuming we are costing them an arm and a leg.(9:05)
If not for our Highpoint Schools, expelled students would be out on the street in a revolving door. Judges came up with the idea of Highpoint Schools so we could help them become productive members of society. (9:40)
We don’t have a budget cushion. (25:30)
We have already cut; laid people off; cut birth to 3 years program; effective services for children. WE ARE HERE FOR THE CHILDREN! We have cut Head Start programs. (40:30)
Comments by: Board Member, Jim Henley
We have listened to a lot misinformation today. People who do not have the facts or who skew the facts on this organization… Bottom line is the average house MIGHT pay $0.36 more this year. The reaction by what we have seen this morning, is not really meant for this department, it is meant to strike fear in the heart of every person who is elected… even if only $0.36 a year is on the line, you had better well know that you are going to stand for RETRIBUTION FROM THIS GROUP OF PEOPLE. Someone has said here that we are going against the grain … I want to go against the grain. I want to rehire teachers, I want to reduce class sizes and give a quality education to our students and I want to go against the grain of all that has been happening the tune of $0.36.(29.42)
Taking a spanking from people who really don’t have information...(34:30)
You too can have the pleasure of attending an entertaining HCDE Board Meeting. You can see for yourself exactly what is going on with your tax dollars and just how your money has been spent. Remember, you paid for the building, parking garage, security, utilities, technology, salaries of everyone in the building, food and beverages served to the administration and board members, etc. I personally feel the flat screen TV monitor over the elevator is such a nice touch. Such an excellent way to save tax payer money. All the ipads you see the employees playing on when the meeting gets dull, well, you paid for those, too – and all their software downloads.
So come join me the third Tuesday of each month. Don’t forget, according to their board policy,you have the right to address the board - unless, of course, they change their minds again.
HCDE Board Room 1:00pm
6300 Irvington 77022