No New Schools! and Other Declarations From Trustees at Tuesday's HISD Agenda Meeting

Jolanda Jones, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Harvin Moore listen to one of several speakers at Tuesday's agenda meeting.
Jolanda Jones, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Harvin Moore listen to one of several speakers at Tuesday's agenda meeting.
Margaret Downing

A proposal to modify the magnet status at Rusk K-8 school sparked a discussion Tuesday about neighborhood vs. magnet schools and led new Houston ISD board member Jolanda Jones to declare at one point that she would not vote for any new schools in HISD unless kids zoned to the area are guaranteed first chance at the new school.

The agenda workshop, a prelude to this Thursday night's board meeting, was attended by a bare quorum of board members (trustee Wanda Adams came in on Skype and went off screen to periodically change her clothes as she got ready for another engagement).

Jones, to absolutely no one's surprise, led the way with the most aggressive comments and questions, alternately saying she wants to see neighborhood schools, that schools in disadvantaged areas of the district aren't getting the same perks as the schools in the “white neighborhoods” and wants to know why the district goes to the expense of traveling around the country recruiting teachers instead of just hiring people from Houston.

Gloria Cavasos, chief HISD human resource officer, said there's a shortage of teachers in Texas and across the United States and they have to leave the area to look for candidates. Trustees balked, however, at giving the district's recruiters the right to spend more than $50,000 to set up recruiting efforts in another city without getting board approval first.

Diana Davila, who ran the meeting in the absence of board president Manual Rodriguez, who has been out with a broken leg, proposed the Rusk change saying that she is trying to be proactive and that unless the district offers something new there, the school will lose too many students to continue to be viable, especially given the plans by Star of Hope to move its women and families facility out to U.S. 288 and Reed Road in the next couple of years.

The district expects to lose 70 children as a result of that move from its present inner city location, said HISD Student Support Officer Mark Smith.

“I wanted to know where are enrollments declining? Let’s do something before it's too late to go back and fix it and our only plan is to close it,” Davila said. ”Closing is not an option for me. Sometimes we have to do the work and the administration is not paying attention.”

Trustee Anna Eastman wanted to know why Rusk was switching from a STEM to a medical magnet, given that nearby Baylor College of Medicine Academy at Ryan already is a much-respected medical magnet. Davila said there is a waiting list for Ryan and so another medical magnet was justified to serve students of the area. Smith said Baylor may become a partner in the new magnet program at Rusk.

Jones wanted to know why the district was investing so much money in Ryan, “When the kids leave Ryan they don’t even go to the High School for Health Professions. They end up going to private schools, Duchesne, Second Baptist. So why are we investing all this money in kids who come in and gentrify a neighborhood and then they go and use the knowledge and the money we spent on them and HISD doesn't even benefit from it? I’m extremely offended.”

“It's very, very frustrating for the people who live around Ryan that their kids cannot go to Ryan,” Jones said. “I'd like to know how much money we're spending on busing.”

When told of a $34,000 emergency expenditure in the library at Pin Oak Middle School , a room whose walls and carpet had to be replaced when a pipe backed up into it Jones declared: "Why does Pin Oak have a library and Attucks doesn't? What we do for Pin Oak we should do for the other schools. “

“I just want to know. All this money for a library. Attucks ain't had no library,” Jones continued.

“The library flooded,” explained Brian Busby, with the Office of Facilities Services Department for the district.

“That's what I'm saying,” Jones said triumphantly. “They got a library to flood.”


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