At HISD, Where Teachers Are Worth Their Weight in Buses

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At the same time as the Houston ISD administration has proposed consolidating its bus routes to save an anticipated $1.2 million in transportation costs, it also wants to enter into a contract with KIPP and Yes Prep to transport their charter school students.

This left some of the trustees asking "huh?" at Monday's agenda workshop, the last group review before Thursday night's board meeting in which both matters will be voted upon. "I just want to make sure that we're utilizing our assets for our students in HISD before we go out and start generating revenue elsewhere," trustee Manuel Rodriguez said.

Nathan Graf, HISD general manager of transportation, said the district has more than enough extra buses to handle the 25 charter school runs and Superintendent Terry Grier said the district stands to make $1 million from its contract with the two charter concerns, an amount of profit that he equated to "20 teaching positions." Of course it's unclear whether that money would be used to save a teacher or for something else in the district's budget shortfall.

But just in case the money would actually be used to hire some teachers back, here's our word problem for today: If 20 teachers equals a million dollars and X number of running buses equals a million dollars then how many buses equals one teacher?

Consolidating bus routes also means that school will start at different times -- something not all parents have embraced. HISD has 19 different school start times now; the administration proposes it move to four: Elementary schools from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. or 8:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.; middle schools from 8:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. and high schools from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.

Schools would be allowed a waiver if they can pay for the increased costs themselves by deviating from the schedule.

While Chief Operating Officer Leo Bobadilla continued to insist that parents had been told of the possible changes in school start times and bus routes, several trustees continued to complain that was not the case. Anna Eastman said many parents are confused about what stage the process is in, saying many believe it has already been voted on and passed by the board.

Trustee Harvin Moore said "I feel like part of this communication is happening pretty late. When we first had this discussion as a board... I remember saying this is the sort of thing that I want the community to know about and the community to be engaged about and parents and schools be able to talk about."

"School after school we're hearing about schools that did not tell the parents that it was being discussed. And yeah then there have been conversations. There's a difference between your hearing back from the principals that we don't have any problem and our hearing from parents," Moore said. . Trustee Mike Lunceford said he communications had obviously broken down "because I'm still getting e-mails from people who are unaware of it." He called for better communication with parents the next time the district considers such a significant change.

Trustee Larry Marshall, who's in favor of the scheduling changes, agreed that community meetings like the ones used to gather input on proposed (and now put off) changes in the magnet school program, should have been used to better inform parents and ask them what they thought about changes in the school day.

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