In the penultimate episode before the upcoming June 19 school board decision on changing the Houston ISD magnet school funding formula, a number of parents and students turned out last night to ask the question: If these programs are working so well, why does HISD want to destroy them?
"I am a single parent and and I'm a taxpayer. And I want public funds to be spent wisely," speaker Susan Goll told the board. "So I am baffled because the current administration and the superintendent are proposing devastating cuts to top schools, schools with a proven record of success at educating children from across our ethnically, economically and racially diverse district. And these cuts are being proposed when there is a budget surplus."
Acknowledging that there were other financial needs in the district such as teacher pay, Goll, the parent of a student going into eighth grade at T.H. Rogers, said: "But these funding needs are not going to be met by undermining schools that have been successful.
"Punishing excellence is not the right decision."
Board President Juliet Stipeche, who had delayed the vote on the funding change by a week, asked the audience not to clap but to raise their hands and wave them silently, so that the long list of public speakers could be got through with a minimum of interruption.
Amazingly enough, like good schoolchildren, they obeyed. Which didn't mean the speakers -- their time held to a minute apiece (more or less; no one was going to interrupt the disabled kids who came up to the podium) -- weren't very pointed in their remarks.
As it was, the audience and speakers had to wait more than two hours after the start of the 5 p.m. meeting to say anything, as trustees first talked about the wonderful graduation ceremonies they'd attended, former Governor Mark White was honored by having an elementary school named after him (deservedly so for all his work on education) and the proposed new teacher assessment policy and its $1.6 million price tag for the next year (What a bargain! Down from $2.2 million last year!) were reviewed once again.
Superintendent Terry Grier and his administration say the magnet school changes they are proposing mean fairness across the district and that some schools like T.H. Rogers are getting too much funding and causing others to have less.
T.H. Rogers was well represented Thursday night by its constituents wearing rainbow-colored T-shirts, but it wasn't the only magnet program represented: Sinclair and Harvard elementaries were there as well. Most of the speakers made a point of saying what school board trustee represented them since magnets draw students from throughout the district. And several said they bought homes in Houston based upon what the HISD magnet programs had to offer their children.
Several Rogers speakers said there was a misconception that the extra funding Rogers gets goes only for its Vanguard program.
Parent Susan Hawes said the information put out on Rogers was wrong, indicating that the school got $1.2 million in magnet school funding when the Vanguard program actually got $497,174. "The rest of the money is special outreach from the district for profoundly disabled and profoundly deaf students," said Hawes. "We have not heard anything from the administration about how those children, how their needs will be accounted for. It's as if 147 people had vanished. But their money is still there ready to be handed out to other programs." She said the magnet proposal was "not a vote for equality. It is a vote to rob our most vulnerable students."
The following memo was sent out to HISD principals yesterday:
As you already know, the Houston Independent School District's administration is proposing changes to the current magnet and specialty program funding structure. These changes will be presented to the HISD Board of Education for their consideration on June 19 during a special budget meeting.
Many principals have inquired about the proposal and expressed concerns about the proposed changes, so we wanted to provide you with the final formula and breakdown being presented to trustees next week.
Please know we are not recommending a reduction in the total amount of money we currently provide to HISD magnet programs. We are, however, recommending a change to the way money is distributed among our more than 100 magnet and specialty programs.
The proposed funding formula is designed to improve equity across our programs and increase transparency in our magnet funding process. Under this plan, magnet programs would receive a set amount of money per student, with that dollar amount pre-determined by magnet theme. Here are the proposed allocations: