Sunday, August 18, 2013

Early to Rise for More HCDE Hide and Seek

Have you heard about Early to Rise?


It is the Harris County ballot initiative set for November in which HCDE will:

  • more than double its tax rate to collect an EXTRA $30 million per year and
  • GIVE IT to a PRIVATE (Start-up) NON-PROFIT
  • to spend as they deem fit to improve pre-k programs in Harris County even though they have
  • no previous experience,
  • no business plan, and
  • will not even allow one HCDE Board Member to sit on their board.

On Tuesday, August 20, the Harris County Department of Education Board will be holding a Board Workshop at 9:00am to “discuss the Early to Rise Initiative.”  It is a publicly posted meeting and the public has the right to attend. Members of the public also have the right to record the proceedings.


There is no public comment allowed during the workshop so there is no need to arrive early to sign up. But, from experience I can tell you that sometimes HCDE board members allow questions or  comments from the public during workshops, but usually they don’t. Also, if you want a copy of the handouts, you will usually have to ask.


Anyone who wants up-to-date information on the agreement between HCDE and the non-profit that stands to gain $30 million per year of our tax dollars from Early to Rise will need to attend. It is HCDE’s regular M.O. to make sure little-to-no discussion occurs at their regular board meetings (where facts might be recorded in meeting minutes), so this is the only place where the public might actually hear what is being planned with our  money.


Immediately following the board workshop the HCDE Government Relations Committee will meet in the same room. It is also a publicly posted meeting so all may attend and record if desired.


The board pays $82,000 per year for the services of  lobbyist   “consultant” Pat Strong, including her assistance to this committee. They have not met in over a year. Between the Legislative Session and the ballot initiative to more than double the HCDE tax rate, this should be a very interesting meeting.


Again, HCDE’s M.O. is to discuss controversial topics in committee meetings where meeting minutes are never posted, so if you want to know anything in detail, you must attend these sideline meetings.


Their August Board Meeting is scheduled for 1:00pm.  If you’d like to speak during the public forum section of the meeting, The policy is below:
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 10 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. Individual presentations shall not exceed five minutes. The total open forum period shall not exceed one hour. At all other times during Board meetings, the audience shall not enter into discussion or debate on matters being considered by 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.
Should there be more than 12 speakers, the Board President may at his/her discretion shorten the time limit of each individual speaker. Each speaker shall be allocated an equal amount of time not to exceed 5 minutes. Should there be fewer than 12 speakers, the Board President may, at his/her discretion, lengthen the time limit of each individual speaker.
Specific factual information or recitation of existing policy may be furnished in response to inquiries, but the Board shall not deliberate or decide regarding any subject that is not included on the agenda posted with notice of the meeting, other than refer it to a future agenda.
Even though the Early to Rise Initiative is the topic the public wants to discuss, HCDE wants to keep it quiet so you will not find much on the monthly meeting agenda.


The short form only mentions the initiative under Item #8(a) Executive Session – where the board will meet behind closed doors to have a “private consultation with Board attorney(s)to obtain legal advice concerning early childhood education tax initiative.


But well hidden inside  ACTION ITEMS 7. “Possible action on the appointment of bond counsel services for HCDE” inside the Full Public Agenda on page 453 is the Engagement Letter for Negotiation of Early Childhood Services Agreement” which reads:

“This letter confirms that Fulbright & Jaworski LLP…will represent Harris County Department of Education …in connection with the negotiation of an early Childhood Services Agreement between the Department and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation…”
Pretty deceptive way to hide the item from the public, wouldn't you say? So much for transparency!!

NOTE:
  • HCDE is notorious for cancelling meetings at the last minute so always double check their website before you leave for the meeting.

  • Bring your own bottled water and snacks. Meals and refreshments  are only available for the paid employees, paid consultants and elected board members. The public’s role is to  pay the bills.

Meeting location :

HCDE Administration
Ronald W. Reagan Building
6300 Irvington Blvd.
Houston, TX 77022
Link to map.

Free Parking


Colleen Vera

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