HISD Says Get the Facts and We Did -- From HISD!

Hair Balls has obtained copies of a power point presentation given to principals of the Houston Independent School District in June that appears to bear out earlier reports that principals were being asked to cover a shortage of $19 million in federal funds.

In a slide entitled "Title 1, Part A;" it says, in part: "Funds reduced from $119,552,500 including carry-forward in 2009-2010 to $101,046,045 with no carry-forward in 2010-2011." That is closer to $18 million than $19 million, we admit.

This is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the district has leveled scorn at the reporter who initially raised this issue, Steve Mark of the Examiner Group of newspapers, even going so far as to start up a new feature on its website called "Myth Busters" (identified on the homepage as: "Page Helps Clarify Misinformation or Rumors.").

Except what's been reported isn't exactly a "myth" at least in the common understanding of something being just wrong.

The HISD rejoinder says that a newly redesigned summer school model will cut costs -- which is what Hair Balls reported last week in its update.

But then it goes on to say: "While principals may have to pay for some summer-school costs out of their budgets, it will not be anywhere near the $19 million being reported in the media." So the principals are going to have to cover it.

Ah, but supposedly we got the amount wrong.

So where did the media get its information from? Well some from talking with principals and others from HISD's own power point presentation. (Also interestingly enough and also from HISD's own records, on May 20, the total budget for Title I allocations was listed at $108,296,723. How the district dropped another $7 million in just a month is what, bad juju, poor planning?)

The district also said it was a myth that federal funds were being redirected toward the Apollo 20 program and that any pre-kindergarten funds were being cut. More than one Friend of Hair Balls is not so sure of that, afraid that money is being moved around in such a way as to well, cover a multitude of changes. But we'll take the district's word for it at face value.

Then on Sunday, the district put up another myth-and-facts clarification, this time about a report that the district was cutting its special ed teachers, first relayed by Fox 26 news on Friday. Isiah Carey's Insite blog then carried a number of questions from Houston Federation of Teachers leader Gayle Fallon.

The district isn't cutting special ed teachers; it's "right-sizing" (don't you love that term?) the department. And all of the teachers will have a chance to apply for other positions. "In recent years the number of children receiving Special Education services has decreased by approximately 4,500. During this same time, the number of Special Education teachers in HISD has not decreased and has grown slightly to over 1,000 teachers," HISD says. The district can cut some positions and still stay well within the guidelines set by the Board of Education.

The "myth" as laid out on the HISD website is that "The quality and level of services for Special Education students will be reduced because the district is cutting over 100 Special Education teacher positions."

The power point was more specific.

About 400 people will lose their jobs, 200 teacher and 200 teacher assistant positions, by the end of the 2010-2011 school year. According to the slide their positions "have been targeted for elimination."

But the power point doesn't stop there. The next page says: "All other special education staff (central office and field offices) will be evaluated and 'right-sized' during 2010-2011."

Principals are then advised to: "Plan for early notification of personnel in eliminated positions by December 2010."

Great end of the year news for all those extraneous special ed personnel.

And hey, HISD, way to go on your Myth Busters approach. You used to pick up a phone or send an e-mail if you wanted to go over something that you thought was wrong or grouse about some coverage you didn't like. As one commenter put it: "The Empire Strikes Back." Nice image.

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