Friday, February 10, 2012

HCDE #11 – Puppet Show?

HCDEblowupSandboxAre the HCDE Board meetings simply taxpayer funded puppet shows? Well, if you define puppet as: “A person who is controlled by others,” then they just may be. How else could you explain 7 adults, elected to oversee the management of county school funds, who never question anything?

What are Trustees elected to do? Just eat a nice lunch once a month while rubber stamping every proposal the Superintendent puts on the agenda?  Because it sure seems like that is all the HCDE Board does.

Before we look at some examples, you may need a quick review of HCDE and the laws governing it.

HCDE opened in 1889 when county boards ran all public schools. When we moved to independent school districts, the state shut down county boards. But they left a loophole for two county boards (Dallas and Harris) to remain open and continue to collect a local education property tax, called an “Equalization Tax.”  But, the state said those boards still had to operate under the laws originally governing that tax.

What do those laws say about the use
 of the “Equalization Tax” revenue?

 The highpoints of TEC 17 & 18 are:
  • Purpose of the Equalization Fund is the maintenance of public free schools in the county 
  • NEVER be collected for any other purpose  
  • Equalization tax “funds shall be distributed to … the independent school districts of the county on the basis of the average daily attendance for the prior year.”
  • Spent  for the equalization of the educational opportunities in county and for the payment of administrative expense – as long as it is NOT spent in any school district that does not levy a tax for school purposes of at least $.75/$100
  • County school property is for public free school purposes
  • Trustees are responsible for the management and control of county funds
  • Spent to equalize educational opportunities, advancement and administration of public free schools in county
  • Trustees are paid $6/day for service, up to $72 yearly
  • Superintendent’s salary and all expenses for maintaining his office are paid out of these funds
  • No state funds can be used to support the county board or county superintendent
  • All future administrative procedures, elections and tax levies related to an equalization fund shall be controlled by these provisions.
** You can read the text summary of the laws at the bottom of this article or the complete text here.


What I CANNOT FIND are laws that say the Equalization Fund can be used to support the Trustees and Administration in order to:
  • approve the support or education of students outside Harris County
  • approve the collection of monies from independent school districts
  • approve the operation of a any business, construction or otherwise
  • approve the operation of a statewide program
  • approve governmental services contracts for entities outside the county/state

Neither can I find any law that allows HCDE to WITHHOLD ALL EQUALIZATION FUNDS from the county ISDs.
(If anyone knows where I can find laws that do, I sure would appreciate the help.)


Shocking to me was reading through a few HCDE board meeting minutes, and finding the following items that were passed WITHOUT even ONE TRUSTEE VOTING AGAINST. Not even one.


As you read  the following HCDE agenda proposals  ask yourself, “If I were a Trustee elected to oversee proper use of taxpayer funds for the exclusive benefit of Harris County public schools, and if I knew all the laws governing the Equalization Fund, would I vote to approve these programs?” 


A few examples of HCDE agenda items approved in 2010-11 without one “nay” vote:


  •  Contracts for the HCDE Special Schools Division: ( to allow students from these districts attend HCDE/ABC schools)
               … Interlocal contract for ABC East… with…Dickinson ISD   8/16/11
               ….for ABC East … with…Dickenson ISD    6/21/11
               … ABC West with…Fort Bend ISD   10/19/10


  •  Agreements for the HCDE Cooperative for Afterschool Enrichment (CASE) Division (as worded in the actual Board meeting minutes): (Grant program)
                   …YES Preparatory Charter …   8/16/11
                   …George I Sanchez High School (charter) …  8/16/11
                   …YES Prep Public Schools …   8/16/11
                   …$2.858.151 to implement after-school activities
                       in Harris County and surrounding areas  4/19/11
                   … George I. Sanchez Charter School …    11/16/10
                   …Zoe Learning Academy … 11/16/10
                   …Fort Bend ISD …   10/19/10
                   …KIPP Houston …  10/19/10
                   …YES Prep Southwest School …   10/19/10


  •   Contracts for HCDE governmental services with:(HCDE Provide's Service)
          8/16/11         Brownsville Public Utilities Board (TX)             
                              Cenikor Foundation (TX)
                              City of Georgetown (TX) 
                              County of Goliad (TX)
                              Walipp Preparatory Academy (TX)
                              City of Live Oak (TX)
                              Summit Christian Academy (TX) 
                              University of Texas at Brownsville (TX)
                              Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County (OK)

           6/21/11        Christian Schools International (CO) 
                              Athens ISD (TX)
                              Brunswick City School District (OH)
                               County of Burnet (TX)
                              Centerville ISD (TX) 
                              UPLIFT Education (TX)
                              City of Glenn Heights (TX) 
                              Hamshire-Fannett ISD (TX)
                              Madisonville CISD (TX)
                              City of North Richland Hills (TX)
                              City of Weymouth (MA)
                              Westerly Public Schools ISD (RI)

            4/19/11       Texas Council of Governments (TX) 
                              Corrigan-Camden ISD (TX)
                              Diboll ISD  
                              City of El Lago (TX)
                              Gateway Academy Charter (TX)
                              Mid Valley Academy Charter (TX)
                              Neighborhood Centers Inc (TX)
                              City of O’Fallon (MO)
                              Paso Del Norte Academy Charter (TX) 
                              Raindrop Foundation (TX)   
                              St. Mark’s Episcopal School (TX)
                              United Way  (Houston,TX)
             12/14/10    Montgomery County Housing Authority 
                              St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School
 

  •  Therapy Services   - (HCDE Provide's Service) 
          …with Barbers Hill ISD …     5/17/11
          …Greater Gulf Coast Cooperative (Damon ISD, Danbury ISD,
                                                         Hitchcock ISD, Needville ISD) 6/21/11
          … with KIPP Houston …    7/19/11
          … Royal ISD …    7/19/11
          … KIPP Houston…    11/16/10
          … Raul Yzaguirre Charter School…    11/16/10



  • Texas LEARNS (Statewide Program)
      … funds from Texas Education Agency for Texas LEARNS …  5/17/11
      … Professional Services Contract with Texas Trade & Consulting for
           curriculum development consulting services to Texas LEARNS…  6/21/11
      … One Year Term Contracts:…State Director, Texas LEARNS…   6/21/11
      … authorizing the superintendent to negotiate and to execute a contract
         with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) that would allow HCDE/Texas
         Learns to provide management services for the  Texas GED Project
         currently housed at theTexas Education Agency  1/18/11



  • Texas Virtual School Network (Statewide Program)
      … One Year Term Contracts…Director,Texas Virtual School Network
                                                                                                 6/21/11
      … Professional Services contract with hallmark Office Products for the
         Purchase, ...delivery and  installation of furniture …to accommodate
           Texas Virtual Schools…  in a designated renovatio  area at 6005
           Westview…   2/22/11



  • Center for Safe and Secure Schools(HCDE Provide's Service)  
       … Contracts with… Vidor ISD ...for  Safe and Secure Schools    5/17/11
       … with Judson ISD  …. to conduct Safety and Security Audit 2/22/11
       … with College Station ISD … Safety and Security Audits   12/14/10



  • Records Management Services (HCDE Provide's Service)
         … with Fort Bend County for records Management Services    7/19/11
         … with Richard Milburn Academy …     11/16/10



  • Misc (HCDE Provide's Service)
           … Contract with the City of Fort Worth, Texas to participate in the
              JP Morgan Chase Procurement  Card program     2/22/11


            …  Agreement with Clear Creek ISD and Dickenson ISD (for the
                purpose of providing educational services) to Galveston County
                school districts under a 2006-2007 WADA agreement between
                Laredo and Texas City ISDs.      1/18/11



            … allowing LLUAC the use of HCDE meeting rooms for their meetings
               throughout the  year      12/14/10


 Our Equalization Fund is supposed to be distributed to benefit public schools in Harris County—period. But it’s obvious that our tax money is being used to provide the land, buildings, office space, highly compensated administrative personnel, technology and support for programs which benefit organizations not specified in the law and far outside Harris County. Shouldn’t somebody be questioning these programs?

Yet…


NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted“NO” to using our tax dollars to support organizations outside HARRIS COUNTY.

NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted “No” to using our tax dollars to support organizations outside our STATE.

NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted “NO” to using our tax dollars to operate STATEWIDE PROGRAMS.

NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted “NO” to using our tax dollars to support  NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted “NO” to using our tax dollars for districts that do NOT COLLECT LOCAL SCHOOL PROERTY TAXES.

NOT ONE TRUSTEE voted “NO” to using our COUNTY SCHOOL PROPERTY for something other than COUNTY PUBLIC FREE SCHOOL purposes.



HCDEblowupSandbox
Why did none of the  HCDE Trustees vote against any of these?
Do they not know the law?

Do they have information we don’t?
Are there other motivations we don’t see?


Or, do they simply not care that the HCDE Board is perceived as just a very expensive puppet show?






** Notes from the Texas Education Code Sec 17 & 18:
  • The general management and control of public free schools…in each county, unless otherwise provided by law, is vested in a board of county school trustees.(TEC 17.01a)
  • Each county school trustee…shall be paid, for the time spent in attending meetings, $6 per day, not to exceed $72 in any one year…(TEC 17.09)
  • The county school trustees…shall constitute a body corporate and in that name may…be sued… (TEC 17.21a)
  • County school property is vested in the county school trustees for “public free school purposes” (TEC 17.22)
  • The county superintendent shall act as secretary of the county school trustees…He shall keep a well bound book, which shall be open to public inspection, a true and correct record of the proceedings of the county governing board.(TEC 17.55a)
  • No state funds shall be used to support the offices of county school superintendent…or a board of county school trustees…(TEC 17.94)
  • After 12/31/78, if at any time all school districts within a county become independent, the office of county school superintendent….and the county board of school trustees…shall be automatically abolished as of the date the last common or rural high school district becomes independent.(TEC 17.95b)
  • The purpose of a countywide equalization tax  is “for the maintenance of the public schools.” (TEC 18.01)
  • All future administrative procedures, elections and tax levies in those counties which now have an equalization fund….shall be controlled by the provisions of this chapter.(TEC 18.02e)
  • The county board shall distribute the moneys collected from the equalization tax according to the provisions of this section.(TEC 18.14a)
  • Equalization tax “funds shall be distributed to the common and independent school districts of the county on the basis of the average daily attendance for the prior year.”(TEC 18.14b)
  • No money received by a common, independent, or other school district from the county equalization tax fund shall be used to pay any present or future bond issues of the district or interest thereon.(TEC 18.15)
  • Purpose of creating an Equalization Fund is for the public free schools in such counties, to be expended in the equalization of educational opportunities and in the advancement and administration of the public free schools therein.” (TEC 18.21)
  • The county equalization taxshall never be levied, assessed or collected for any purpose other than those herein specified, and for the advancement of public free schools in such county.” (TEC 18.26)
  • Funds shall be expended by the County School Trustees for “the equalization of the educational opportunities in such counties and for the payment of administrative expense…provided, however,no part of such fund shall be expended in any school district which does not levy a tax for school purposes of 75 cents or more on the 100 Dollars value of taxable property in such district.”(TEC 18.28)
  • “The duties, powers and authorities herein given to the County School Trustees shall be cumulative of all other duties, powers and authorities heretofore or hereafter given such trustees.”(TEC 18.29)
  • The County Superintendent’s salary and all expenses for maintaining his office shall be paid out of the funds realized from the collection of the tax. (TEC 18.30a)