This is the final post of 5 parts on the incredible waste that is the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, Texas. Each part discussed one aspect of it's waste and inefficiency including OBSOLENCE, DUPLICATION, UNCONSTITUTIONAL, and FOR PROFIT BUSINESS.
#5 Poor Performance
HCDE’s performance review (pdf here) lists items like financial transparency that HCDE is doing well. It also boasts a high job satisfaction rating among HCDE employees. State Comptroller, Susan Combs, has given HCDE “gold status” for financial transparency in the “Independent School District” category for a ”self-scoring checklist that evaluates how local governments provide online access to their expenses and revenue. “
But the report also lists items where improvement is recommended. Some examples below show that while HCDE boasts about being a leader in education, it can’t run its administration building or schools properly. HCDE does NOT make long range plans for students or facilities. Their curriculum is NOT aligned with TEA standards. Even though they offer Special Education training to other school districts, in surveys their special schools received the LOWEST ratings. They provide “Safe Schools” training to other districts but their own Emergency Response Plan is lacking. Other areas they are lacking include salary schedules, employee reference checks, job descriptions, etc.
They also do not have controls in place for employee use of the Internet. An internal HCDE report (PDF) shows that over a 2 month period “thirty four (34%) percent of network activity was for social networking site visits. This was the highest percentage of any sites and there were over 3.6 million page views recorded. The report clearly indicates that there is substantial volume related to HCDE employees using social networking sites.“
That is an average of 2400 page views per employee - 40 per day!
Some highlights of the report (pdf):
- “HCDE lacks a comprehensive, long-range plan …” (pg 1-11)
- “Consider the elimination of the HCDE Alternative Certification Program…The Alternative Certification Program for Teachers has certified 15 teachers since its inception and program expenditures exceed revenues by over $19,000 annually. By contrast, Region 4 has had an effective alternative certification program for nearly 20 years. Region 4 certified 1,000 program completers for the 2009-10 school year and 1,100 the prior year.…”(pg 2-38)
- “HCDE has not evaluated the fidelity of the Highpoint discipline program implementation at the
Highpoint School to determine its effectiveness, consistency with national research findings, or improved student outcomes.MGT consultants did not find evidence of key indicators for measuring student outcomes or program effectiveness during onsite visits or interviews. While the Boys Town Education Model is recognized nationwide as an effective program, HCDE has no fidelity or student outcome measures in place to determine its effectiveness in the alternative environment of the Academic and Behavior Center model.”(pg 2-55)
- “While the Academic and Behavior Centers provided services for 100 percent of the students that were referred by the client school districts, the 2008-09 Division of Research and Evaluation Report documented that only 64.7 percent of the client school districts were satisfied with the Academic and Behavior Center services. Survey results showed a decrease in the overall program quality from 2007-08 (92.9% quality satisfaction) to 2008-09 (64.7 percent quality satisfaction)”.(pg 2/57)
- “The Academic and Behavior Center Campus Improvement Plan are not comprehensive and do not adequately address the need for improvement.” (pg 2-57)
- “The curriculum and instruction at the Academic and Behavior Center are not adequately aligned with the Texas Department of Education general education curriculum content standards or alternative or modified assessments.”(pg 2-59)
- “Student transitions from Academic and Behavior Center to the home campus are in need of improvement…Client satisfaction surveys (2008-09) indicate that of all Academic and Behavior Center services, the participating school districts are least satisfied with the transition program from Academic and Behavior Center back to the home campus. Further, the surveys indicate that the transition program does not provide adequate assistance the home campus when students from Academic and Behavior Center return to their home school”(pg 2-63)
- “Based on client district surveys, Highpoint Schools received the lowest rating (3.04 on a 4.0 scale) of all services provided by the HCDE…the Highpoint School does not have suitable, written campus improvement plans. Further, the Highpoint School does not adequately address targeted, research-based strategies for students who are high-risk for dropping out of school.”(pg 2-66)
- ““The Highpoint School does not follow curriculum pacing guides that are aligned with the Texas Education Agency core content standards and there is no… curriculum committee or organized unit established to review the current curriculum scope and sequence or write curriculum pacing guides . “ (pg 2-67)
- “The Highpoint School does not provide adequate staff development to regarding, differentiated instruction, accommodations, and research-based instructional strategies.”(pg2-70)
- “The Department should establish a transition process for students entering and exiting the Highpoint School. (2-72)
- “HCDE lacks a comprehensive system for annually reviewing job descriptions to ensure alignment of current job performance responsibilities with previous job performance responsibilities”(4-6)
- HR does not have a process for the development, implementation, and evaluation of a long-range divisional plan. HR typically conducts a one-day planning retreat in the summer of each year. During that retreat, Division staff review their annual goals for the previous year and set goals for the coming fiscal year. Interviews with staff reveal that this activity did not occur during the summer of 2009; however, the HR Director did develop goals/projects for 2009-10 without stakeholder or staff input. A review of the ―Human Resources Long- Term Goals and Projects‖ provided by the Human Resource Director (Exhibit 4-4) did not have evidence of specific planning activities/tasks, time lines, budget information, or evaluation criteria, nor did these goals align with other departmental goals and objectives.” (4-10)
- “HCDE does not have a formal process for the classification/reclassification of positions and the assignment of pay grades.”(4-14)
- “HR does not have a comprehensive process for conducting employee reference checks, which could result in important employment information being overlooked.”(4-16)
- “HCDE does not have a system for automating and storing regularly used HR forms, resulting in an inefficient use of staff. With the exception of benefit services, which is provided through a contract by Education Service Center Region 4, other processes require staff to provide employees paper forms or to e-mail the forms upon the request of an employee. When the forms are completed and returned, the HR staff is required to manually process the forms and file as appropriate.”(4-20)
- “HR does not have a single, comprehensive salary schedule that reflects all salaries for the organization.” (4-22)
- “It was not clear who provided supervision or evaluation of staff in CFP, although they described themselves as a “well-working” team” (5-6)
- “HCDE does not have a comprehensive facilities master plan, although it owns and operates four special schools, owns 13 other facilities, and leases space in another 20 buildings” (5-15)
- “A report provided by the technology network staff shows that between February 19, 2010 and April 5, 2010, 34 percent of network activity was for social networking site visits. This was the highest percentage of any sites and there were over 3.6 million page views recorded. The report clearly indicates that there is substantial volume related to HCDE employees using social networking sites. While some of this activity may be used as marketing strategy, the Department does not have an updated Board policy relating to the specific use of these sites. Therefore, staff may be accessing the sites for reasons other than marketing HCDE services.”(6-15)
- “The review team was unable to identify a position assigned to coordinate all of HCDE’s internal safety and security activities. Because of this lack of coordination, personnel in human resources report that they do not know where to obtain updated copies of the Emergency Response Plan for new employees, and personnel interviewed in other divisions were unsure of how to obtain safety training.” (7-5)
Comments by persons receiving services by HCDE posted by MGT of America (PDF):
- “It seems that some of the programs are duplications of the Region Service Center. Many times we have registered staff for workshops/sessions only to have the workshop cancelled. This happened with Spanish Six Plus One Writing Traits more than once. One other session was also cancelled due to lack of participants. We now look to Region 4 ESC first for out of district staff development. HCDE does not do the best job in promoting its workshops and services.” (8-9)
- Remove any costs that are supported by tax-based subsidy and convert to a private, non-profit that exists through fees and grants to support the education community. (8-9)
- Developing instructional materials, having mini-conferences, especially in mathematics to be aligned with ESTAR and MSTAR like Region 4 does. (8-10)
HCDE played a very important role in establishing Harris County schools in the early 1900’s but we now live in 2011. HCDE outlived its purpose decades ago but personal agendas and greed have kept it open, sitting quietly in the background sucking up taxpayer dollars and introducing federal programs into our local community.
It is time for HCDE to close its doors, end its taxing authority, divide its assets among the 26 independent school districts of Harris County, and send its successful programs to Texas Regional Education Service Centers or private, non-profit organization like the Education Foundation of Harris County.
The elected HCDE Board won’t relinquish their power on their own and we don’t have any Texas politicians with enough backbone to even bring up the subject.
WE THE PEOPLE need to use our voice and vote to get the job done.
WE THE PEOPLE need to use our voice and vote to get the job done.
As Harris County taxpayers you can:
- Contact your elected HCDE Board members:
- Educate your neighbors
- Vote in a new HCDE Board Members and Legislators in 2012 that will make the changes needed
As Texas voters you can:
- Educate your neighbors
- Voice your opinions to your Legislators
- Vote in new Legislators in 2012 that will make the changes needed
Our nation is in a financial mess. We have to start by looking in our own backyard, find the waste ourselves, educate our neighbors and then force our legislators to make the changes needed. If we sit back and wait for the politicians to do it, there will be nothing left to leave our grandchildren but debt.
Retired Texas Teacher
Retired Texas Teacher