Update: On March 10, Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos sent Grier asking him for a detailed explanation of where Apollo 20 money is coming from, calling his statements that no money came from the general fund "disingenuous." More at end of this post. Friends of Hair Balls have been besieging us in the last couple of days, insisting that Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier misspoke when he testified before a Senate Committee on Education that the district has never used general funds to finance Apollo 20 (actually, one used the "L" word, but we're taking the high road this afternoon).
They insisted that when the board of trustees voted 6-1 in June 2010 to keep the contract with Community Education Partners but to decrease its amount by $4.5 million, some of that money went to pay for the initial nine middle and high schools in the project for low-performing schools.
And today, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer confirmed by phone that it was "technically" true. Yes, the CEP money which came from the general fund was used for Apollo in 2010. "But no money has been taken away from any school," he said.
Judy Long, a 35-year-volunteer in the district, mother of four HISD graduates and a fixture at most board meetings, said she has discussed this with Grier and that Grier sees it as a board-approved straight transfer of funds from CEP to Apollo.
She agrees that "technically they did not take it out of a particular school," but insists it was still general fund money from the district's pot of money designed to go to every child at every school and could be used to mitigate the district's funding crisis.
She also talked about how money can sometimes get lost in the general fund.
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"Once it's in general fund dollars, following that money trail is not always easy. And stuff gets renamed and repurposed and all of a sudden, projects that didn't have money do have money and you're not quite sure how that happened."
She said she has "a lot of respect for school board members who are trying very hard to protect the per-kid losses... who are trying to insure that that money can get replaced to the schools and will not just forever disappear into the black hole of general fund dollars.
"I am a huge supporter of the Houston Independent School District. My kids had great educations and amazing opportunities. I'm fully aware that not every child has had the opportunity that my kids have, so I don't really represent a school or a child," Long said. "But I think we have to make really, really sound decisions on meeting the needs on every kind of kid in our district. I don't want HISD to become a district where everyone has fled except those that have no options."
Update: In his letter Gallegos writes that in their private meeting that followed the public hearing, Grier repeated his assertion that no general funds had been used. Gallegos cited the June 2010 board action to decrease CEP funds, some of which were then applied to Apollo 20, as well as the board vote in February of this year to move a large potion of another CEP funding decrease to the 11 Apollo elementaries that will start in the fall. (Although, that money is for next year's budget and hasn't been spent yet).