The city of Houston is supposed to pick up the tab for Houston ISD's school crossing guards. The state decided this a few years back; in fact, for a while the city operated the program itself, but in a spirit of cooperation (and common sense) it ceded that duty to the school district and then reimburses it.
Thursday morning, Melinda Garrett, HISD's chief financial officer, had the sad duty of having to tell school board trustees that when the city of Houston last sent the Houston school district its quarterly reimbursement check for HISD crossing guards, it came up short.
She pledged to talk with the city some more, saying they'd been told initially last year that the reimbursement funds which come from traffic fines were somewhat limited by the number of tickets handed out. Also that with more charter schools in the area, more schools were vying for funds.
"For the first time last year, the city did not fully fund us," she said. Superintendent Terry Grier asked for a full report to all the board members soon.
HISD Chief Business Officer Dick Lindsay vowed that either the city reimburse the district or it could take back the whole crossing guard program again.
So Hair Balls called the City Controller's office, with its brand new, just elected controller Ronald C. Green. Actually, most of our questions were handled by Chris Brown, chief deputy city controller.
Faced with a how-long-have-you-been-beating-your-wife type question, namely: Why was the city of Houston stiffing school crossing guards; Brown pointed out there's been a change in regime since the recent elections and he was going to have to come up to speed on this. Which he did and pretty quickly too.
The relief in a follow-up phone call was palpable.
Brown got his info from Houston Police Department division manager, Byron Clegget, who works with the child safety fund division manager. They administer payments for the crossing guards. The contract with the school district had expired last year right prior to when they were planning to pay for the third and fourth quarter.
So they held up the payment, but evenually got it resolved and renewed the contract, Brown said he was told.
Then an end-of-year audit came up and Deloitte Touche put on the brakes when it had questions about how the payments were being recorded. That was resolved in due time also., Brown said.
So here's what Hair Balls can tell HISD: The city's going to pay you. They're planning on paying the third and fourth quarter payments next week and then "in the near future" they will pay the first and second quarter of this year.
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"There were no reductions," Brown said. They probably thought they were shortchanged, but in essence they didn't get all of the payments."
"We were not reducing; we did withhold the payment," Brown said. "The crossing guards will go on."
Green also commented on the situation, saying:
"We're currently working to resolve the final payment for the HISD crossing guards. Our office will work to ensure timely payments are made in the future. We support measures to improve public safety for children and we'll keep an eye on this situation as a result. .