In what had to be something of a surprise to the Houston ISD administration, school board trustees in a 4-3 vote Thursday night turned down a plan that would have standardized and changed start and stop times at the district's schools two months from now.
Superintendent Terry Grier had presented a plan estimating that it would mean a savings of at least $1.2 million for the district facing a severe budget shortfall courtesy of the state in fall 2011.
But trustees Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Juliet Stipeche and Harvin Moore voted against the change, arguing that parents had not been well enough informed about it, didn't have a chance to give their input and that it might do more harm than good. Board President Paula Harris voted for the change, along with Greg Meyers and Larry Marshall. Absent for the vote were Carol Mims Galloway and Manuel Rodriguez.
(Trustees did approve 7-2 to provide bus transportation to Yes Prep and KIPP charter schools, with Rodriquez and Galloway voting against the measure. The contract will provide $1 million in revenue to the district, Grier said earlier in the week.)
In a followup conversation with Hair Balls today, Lunceford pointed to the addresses by two principals -- Dr. Bertie Simmons of Furr High School and Robin Lowe from Pershing Middle School -- who both said the proposed new times would be better for their kids. High schools would have started at 7:45 a.m. and middle schools at 8:45 a.m.
To Lunceford what this proves is that each school, each community should be able to decide what works best for it. "I'm not against a standardized time. But communities are different."
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Lunceford said he believed the district should have done a survey of parents and educators, presenting them with four times to choose from and then determine how many people wanted to do what.
"I think we rushed," he said. "I know it was put out earlier (to principals and PTO presidents). but I don't think everybody really had a chance to look and ponder what was happening."
Lunceford said he was particularly concerned that the start times for elementary were moving up an hour to 7:30 a.m. (although there was also an 8:30 start option). Part of his district takes in the Gulfton area. "There's a huge Latino population there. I don't know if the information was really disseminated to those parents to understand what was going to happen."
Even people who are "typically in the know" were sending him e-mails asking about what was going on with the school schedules, Lunceford said. "I'm an engineer. I know how to optimize things. I know what we're trying to do. But we're not optimizing widgets, we're optimizing people."