Thursday, September 22, 2011

HCDE #1 - Obsolete

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 it is obsolete, 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)

#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.
#5F. Angie 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.

#5D. Debra 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

#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.

#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.


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