Friday, September 23, 2011

Obsolete Bureaucracy - Waste In Harris County DOE - Pt 1

The Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) Building

This is the first of a 5 part series on the terrible waste Harris County residents endure paying for TWO school systems.  As you will see in these articles, not only is there enormous waste within the Harris County Department of Education, there aren't any students!

Taxpayers in Harris County Should Shut Down HCDE

When you look for “government waste” you don’t have to go all the way to Washington, D.C. Harris County has the mother lode of waste right here in Texas. It is called the “Harris County Department of Education”(HCDE).

I found 5 reasons it should be shut down:
  1. it is obsolete, 
  2. it duplicates services
  3. it is unconstitutional
  4. it operates “for-profit” programs, and, 
  5. it performs poorly.

#1. Obsolete

It all started in 1866 with the Texas Constitution.  Article 7, Section 1 reads, “…it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”

At first the Legislature gave county boards authority to operate local public schools, so in 1889 HCDE was formed and served about 900 students in Harris County. Over time, the Legislature allowed “independent school districts” to form if they had 500 students and a tax base. Houston ISD formed in the 1920’s. Across the state, as students moved to independent school districts, the county education boards shut themselves down and handed over their authority, assets and tax base to the new independent districts.

But not HCDE. Even after all their students moved to public schools operated by independent school districts, HCDE’s board did not shut itself down. Their board members were not willing to give up their power and authority to tax. Instead, all these years Harris County taxpayers have had to pay county education taxes as well as their independent school district taxes. They pay for the election of two school boards as well as the salaries and infrastructure of two separate school districts. Even though the HCDE Board knows they are obsolete, they continue to tax and invent reasons why they should still exist. Their employees lobby to keep their cushy jobs and the taxpayers even support an entire “marketing department” to spread the word all over the country about the “great job” HCDE does.

I have always been told…”follow the money”…and that certainly rings true here. HCDE’s own website reads:

“The passage of the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1964 created many federal projects. Programs such as Adult Education, Manpower and Neighborhood Youth Corps became available to districts through HCDE. During this time, HCDE also added a department to serve special education students.…The role of HCDE as an agent of education equalization today is far beyond anything foreseen by the founders in 1889.” 

When HCDE no longer had schools to operate, they attached to federal programs to justify their existence because that is where the big education money flows deep- “Head Start”, “Safe Schools”, “Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA)”, etc. Ever wonder how the liberal programs the Feds want to push into conservative places like Texas get in the door? Through organizations like HCDE that use taxpayer money to support liberal programs and organizations. 

The two largest grants (pdf) awarded to HCDE in 09-10 were both from the Feds: Head Start for $12,786,762 and 21st Century CLC (after school programs) for $7,331,250. As a matter of fact, HCDE is so attached to the Feds that President Obama’s Education Czar, Arne Duncan, even visited in person. You just have to read their board meeting minutes to see that HCDE is all about money – contracts, grants, travel and purchases take up most of the agenda. You’ll also notice the lack of discussion about student achievement and curriculum. Awards and commendation are mentioned about employees, but nothing about students. LULAC shows it gratitude for use of HCDE meeting space and the League of Women Voters is commended for its work with HCDE, but there is no mention of student organizations. Discussions are even held on how to spread federal programs and “outreach” to state officials (a nice way to say tax dollars spent to lobby for more liberal programs)


12/14/2010
#4 Edward Ybarra with LULAC Council 402 extended his gratitude to the Board and Administration for allowing LULAC the use of HCDE meeting rooms for their meetings throughout the year.
#5FAngie Chesnut reported on Carl Schwartz’s recent hospitalization and welcomed him back..Carl Schwartz reportedon his recent emergency visit to the hospital and reported that he is feeling better.

11/16/2010
#5DDebra Kerner reported on her attendance to a governance session of the Head Start Policy Council. Louis Evans reported on his attendance to the October 21, 2010 Lights on Afterschool breakfast and congratulated Doug Kleiner and Lisa Caruthersand other staff for a job well done.
Debra Kerner reported on the staff appreciation luncheon held before the November 16, 2010 Board Meeting and thanked all the staff for their hard work during the gubernatorial debate October 31, 2010.Jim Henley thanked staff for bringing HCDE to the forefront of the community with the gubernatorial debate and the visit from Arne Duncan earlier in the year

10/19/2010
#4 Howard Sims, Head Start Policy Council Chairperson, addressed the Board regarding the Head Start Program and spoke on the importance of the program. Mr. Sims thanked the Board for the support it provides to the program.
#5H Debra Kerner thanked HCDE staff for working the gubernatorial debate.
Debra Kerner announced the Civic Leadership Breakfast taking place October 21, 2010.

10/19/2010
#2 A detailed recap of the gubernatorial debate hosted by HCDE and the League of Women Voters on October 3, 2010 at HCDE followed and the Board discussed ways to thank the staff who participated in holding the event;
#3. … It was requested that Jimmy Wynn attend the next committee meeting to discuss outreach to state officials…Mr. Evans suggested that in 2011 we plan town hall meetings in each of the Congressional districts to brief the public on the reauthorization of ESEA. Ms.Chesnut suggested that we reach out to the ISD Trustees to develop relationships with them and said she was currently discussing this possibility with Dr. Griffin…


The Texas Legislature has not had the backbone to force HCDE to shut down. In the 1990’s when the Legislature reformed the education code, they left a loophole allowing the two remaining county school boards in Texas to continue collection of a second school district tax and continue operation of their obsolete county districts. So, for over 60 years, Harris and Dallas County residents have carried an extra tax burden that no other counties in the state have had to bear because of the greed and lack of leadership of elected officials.

Continued in Part 2: Duplication.


In Part 5 you can sign the petition to stop this waste.

Duplicate Waste In Harris County DOE - Pt 2


In Part 1 of exposing the waste taxpayers bear in paying for the Harris County Department of Education we focused on the fact it is OBSOLETE.  This is the 2nd of 5 parts.


#2 – Duplication
If you live in Harris County you already know about your local independent school district but it is time to learn about HCDE, the second district you are forced to support with your hard earned tax dollars. The Board consists of seven members whose elections, training, travel, meals, etc. are all paid with tax dollars. 

     Organizational Chart which consists of:
  • Board of Trustees
  • HCDE Attorney
  • Superintendent of Schools
  • Consultant for School Governance
  • 4 x Assistant Superintendents
  • 27 x Various Director/Management Positions

These 41 positions are needed to manage the 1,293 employees and extra contract labor. We don’t know the exact dollar amounts because HCDE salaries are not reported in the same fashion as every other public school district in the state if Texas.(PDFPage 1-4

So how many faculty and staff is that per student?  Great question!!!
According to reports from Texas Education Agency (TEA) – the organization that the Texas Legislature puts in charge of collecting information and data on schools in Texas- HCDE operates 7 schools with a grand total of “0” students. That is right. TEA reports “ZERO” students educated by HCDE.

  District
  HARRIS COUNTY DEPT OF ED (101-000)

  District Type                 County                                  Region
INDEPENDENT        HARRIS COUNTY (101)    04

  Mailing Address                         Web Address
  6300 IRVINGTON BLVD        www.hcde-texas.org
  HOUSTON, TX 77022-5618

  Phone                     Fax                        District Email
  (713) 694-6300   (713) 696-0730    jsawyer@hcde-texas.org 

  Superintendent                   Enrollment as of Oct 2010
  DR JOHN SAWYER            0



#Enrolled  Campus#   Campus name           Type of instruction
0
'101000001
HIGHPOINT NORTH CAMPUS
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000002
HIGHPOINT EAST CAMPUS
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000003
ACADEMIC BEHAVIOR CTR EAST
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000004
ACADEMIC BEHAVIOR CTR WEST
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000005
ACADEMIC BEHAVIOR CTR NE
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000006
ZENITH PROJECT
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL
0
'101000007
NEW H S
ALTERNATIVE INSTRUCTIONAL

All 7 schools in HCDE are reported by TEA as having “0” students enrolled. (You can search your own results here.)



TEA school report – Line # 3950-3956 shows all HCDE schools active with “0” students enrolled
Not only does HCDE report “0” students enrolled in their schools, HCDE is not reported by TEA Pupil Projection Reports.  But the TEA Payment Ledger show HCDE’s share of the Foundation Allotment from the state in 10-11 alone:
2010-2011 Foundation
District: HARRIS COUNTY DEPT OF ED, 101000
Payment Class: 1

TTTHCDESreadsheet


Now how can that be?  No students listed but all that money? It could be because HCDE operates “alternative schools”. Their own description is:
Students served on the ABC campuses have needs that are not met in their home districts for varied reasons. Two Highpoint Schools serve expelled and adjudicated youth in grades six through twelve. All students served in the Academic and Behavior Centers and Highpoint Schools are referred/placed directly from their home districts that have contract agreements with HCDE for these services. The ultimate goal for students served in all our programs is successful reintegration back into their home districts.” 

Either TEA has overlooked HCDE and not made HCDE report their students’ attendance, test scores, drop-out rates, etc. or TEA allows HCDE’s students to be included in their home school’s reports. But if that is the case, how can any district be expected to report a student it had to expel? Something does not add up.

So, if HCDE is a school district whose focus is NOT educating the children inside its district boundaries, just what do they do with the nearly $16,000,000 of local tax dollars they collect each year?

According to HCDE, they provide:
  “…educational resources to school districts and the general public throughout Harris County and beyond.  Services include adult education, programs to promote safe schools, after-school programs, therapy servicesprofessional development for educators, special schools, alternative certification for principals and teachers, and Head Start programs.  We offer purchasing procurement, grant development, program research and evaluation, school finance support and records management.  Since 1889, our services continue to evolve to meet the needs of our education public.  HCDE is dedicated to the equalization of educational opportunity and to the advancement of public schools.  We impact the educational community through visionary leadership, shared resources and innovative programs. “  

That sounds good but just why does Harris County need a separate school district to do this? How do all the other counties in Texas (except Dallas) get by without needing to pay for a separate county department of education?

Simple, they use the Texas Regional Educational Service Center system as well as other organizations that specialize in educational support. TEA has Harris County assigned to the Region 4 Service Center which provides many duplicate services (pdf): Purchasing Cooperatives, Adult Education, Art Staff Development, Central Office Administrators Academy, Bilingual Staff Development, Choice Facilities Partners, Digital LearningEducator Certification, ESL-ISOL, Virtual Instructor’s Academy (VIATx), etc. Around the state other service centers also provide duplicate services to HCDE. Region 10 provides not only Purchasing Cooperatives, but also Fiscal Management Services, School Finance Council Training and Financial Consulting. Region 20 provides Grant Evaluation and SBDM Training.

In a comparison of HCDE to some of its peers, MGT of America found that 26 of the 43 services offered by HCDE were also offered by Region 4 which is also located inside Harris County – a whopping 10.97 miles away from HCDE!

According to MGT of America’s report, others providing duplicate or similar services as HCDE are:
TX Entities SAME As HCDE
Page 3-9;viii;page 3-10;page 2-18 

TEA posts a list of 74 Alternative Schools in Harris County.  If you remove the 7 that are run by HCDE, and you still have 67 alternative schools in Harris County alone. (Pages #118-142)

ECI posts 7 locations besides HCDE in Harris County where their services are provided.

The biggest argument always used to keep HCDE open is the fact that a section of Head Start operates out of the HCDE building. We all know that Head Start is a federal program that operates nationwide. Different groups contract with the Feds to operate the program all around the country. Every normal person can reason that when HCDE shuts its doors, Head Start will still operate the same centers as it does now. All that will change for Head Start in Harris County is the location of this particular office and some of its procedures. Shutting down HCDE will NOT shut down Head Start in Harris County. The director of this Head Start program would be given a time window to update the contract with the Feds and then time to find a new office space. If they can’t figure out how to run it without HCDE, then they can travel all around the state to learn from all those who operate Head Start programs without the benefit of a local taxpayer supported county department of education building.

To quote the Fed’s: “Head Start programs have an indefinite project period. Therefore, once the grant is awarded, the organization will continue as the grantee agency unless they decide they no longer want the grant (relinquishment) or are terminated for cause. In these cases, the funds are still available for the service area and will be awarded through competition.”

Continued in Part 3: It’s Unconstitutional

In Part 5 you can sign the petition to stop this waste.

Unconstitutional - Waste In Harris County (TX) DOE - Pt 3


In Part 1 of this series we lay the case that the Harris County Department of Education is OBSOLETE. In Part 2 we discussed the DUPLICATION of services by the Harris County Department of Education.  In this part we discuss whether the HCDE is constitutional.

#3- Unconstitutional
Remember Texas Constitution 7.1…” support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools”? Our local school district taxes are collected to support for our free public schools. But HCDE is providing services to organizations all over Texas and the US. Of the 400 “Entities” HCDE reports serving, ONLY 26 are Harris County School Districts. The Texas Constitution says nothing about local tax dollars to support public free schools in Minnesota, Ohio, Missouri, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Arkansas! A quick look at the purchasing cooperative offered by HCDE shows that Harris County tax payers are quite generous. Not only do they supply the beautiful building with state of the art technology supported by an abundance of personnel, they provide services so other organizations around the country can also benefit from HCDE. Organizations like:

APPLY VALLEY, MINNESOTA
BROWNSVILLE HOUSING AUTHRTY
BENBROOK WATER AUTHORITY
BRUNSWICK CITY SCHOOLS OH
CENIKOR FOUNDATION
DENTON COUNTY
DEVEREUX FOUNDATION
DONA ANA COUNTY, NM
EL PASO HOUSING FINANCE CORP
HIDALGO CTY DRAINAGE DIST #1
MINNEAPOLIS, MN
NORTH LITTLE ROCK S. DIST
O’FALLON, MISSOURI
RAINDROP FOUNDATION
PRAIRIE VIEW A&M UNIVERS
SAM HOUSTON STATE UNIV
ST. CECILIA CATHOLIC SCHOOL
ST. FRANCIS DE SALES SCHOOL
 STEPHEN F. AUSTIN UNIVERSITY
TARRANT COUNTY COLLEGE DIST
TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY
 TEXAS STATE TECH. COLLEGE
TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY
TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY
TEXAS WOMAN’S UNIVERSITY
TEXAS A&M CORPUS CHRISTI
TEXAS A&M COMMERCE
 TEXAS A&M UNIVERSITY HSC
REGION I ESC
 UNITED WAY GREATER HOUSTON
UNIV. OF NORTH TEXAS
UNIV. TEXAS SYSTEM
 UNIVERSITY PARK, TEXAS
WESTERLY PUBLIC SCHOOLS (RI)
WEYMOUTH, MA.


A look at the way HCDE spends money shows it is NOT an “efficient system of public free schools”.
They use tax dollars to operate a fully staffed “Marketing” department. Now what school district offering a wonderful educational service to their local community needs a marketing department that travels all over the country promoting itself? What school district allows the purchase of $250 gift cards to be given as awards(door prizes) at conventions? What school district allows its administrators to stay at the Ritz Carlton? The list goes on and on. You can see for yourself by selecting any month at the bottom of the page:


11/03/2010

Target
Awards recognition
Gift card for recruitment booth at TOTA conf

$250.00

10/19/2010
Apogee Publications
Ads,Bids & Notices

Advertising - NAOEP

$1000.00

09/10/10
Global
Goals
Ads,Bids & Notices
TCUF – Conference
       Sponsorship

$2500.00

09/13/2010

NAEP INC
RentalSpace Events

TOAL conf booth

$650.00

09/23/2010

TASBO
RentalSpace Events

1 booth for CFP

$1050.00

12/21/2010
French
Corner

Food/refresh

Staff Luncheon Meeting

$611.50

11/03/2010
Filterfresh
Houston

Food/refresh

Tea & Coffee Service at

$3314.83

10/04/2010
Dave & Busters

Food/refresh
Dinner 4 the End of Yr. Policy Council Banquet

$1449.98

08/18/2010
Panera Bread #4111

Food/refresh
Lunch for mtg
w/League of Women Voters

$97.21
09/24/2010
SAMSCLUB #4712
General Supplies
Fall Festival door prizes
$77.78
09/27/2010
THE RITZ CARLTON PNTGN
Employee Travel-Lodging
Hotel Expence for CHarris
$724.35
09/17/2010
4IMPRINT
General Supplies
Promotional Items
$1,513.14
09/20/2010
APL*ITUNES
Software Purchases
Software for IPAD - L. Pitr
$36.77
09/10/2010
FINGERPRINT SERVICE
Professional Services
Fingerprint Services for Yolanda
$45.45
Link 1 and 2

From August to December of 2010, HCDE employees ate up $72,593 in “Food/Refreshment” purchases. In August alone a sampling of employee expenses totaled $34,257.58. One employee raked up $690.34 in taxi rides between HCDE owned buildings from August 2010 through February 2011.

When the Texas Constitution says…“support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools” it does NOT give a school board the power to tax local citizens and throw the money away on food, travel and pet projects, especially to benefit others outside their district and their state.   

In Part 4 we ask why Harris County Department of Education runs FOR PROFIT BUSINESSES.

In Part 5 you can sign the petition to stop this waste..