If Houston ISD trustees really want to fulfill their promise of transparency, they need to start getting to the point a lot quicker in their meetings -- so that when they have something important to debate, more people are still there to hear it.
Last night's meeting was a perfect imperfect example. For the general HISD community, the most important issue up for discussion was how Diana Davila's just-vacated trustee post will be filled - by appointment or election.
As Houston Chronicle reporter Ericka Mellon demonstrated so well in her rrunning blog last night, that debate got delayed till the end of the evening, more than three and a half hours after the meeting started at 5 p.m. (well actually, 5:12). The vote was even later.
First there was the usual recognition of students and teachers doing boffo jobs in the district. And that's great; all school boards do that. The school groups come in, cheer and then exit once the business part of the meeting starts.
Superintendent Terry Grier gave his report and once again gave a shout-out to State Sen. Mario Gallegos who has publicly said Grier should leave the district, and to Houston Federation of Teachers president Gayle Fallon who is also less than a fan of Grier.
Board President Greg Meyers talked at length and with great enthusiasm for all the "transformation" the district is going through. He focused on all the "excitement" at Key Middle School as it tries to jump start itself after last year's Kashmere High/Key Middle School scandal that saw the ouster of principals and other personnel from both schools. (Hair Balls has to give Grier and HISD credit for highlighting, rather than hiding away, schools like Key and the other troubled Apollo 20 schools. And reports from those in attendance at the meeting at Key that day say it was inspirational, which would explain Meyers' unusual verbiage at the meeting.)
As trustees began taking turns in their board comments section, Larry Marshall asked if it was all right to begin discussion of the vacant trustee situation. Not being told otherwise, he weighed in, ending with a motion, seconded by Carol Mims Galloway that would call for an immediate election this November. Harvin Moore said he'd rather wait and decide after he had a chance to meet some of the people who'd like to be appointed to fill the seat.
Then Meyers, after checking with board attorney David Thompson, announced that they couldn't discuss the item after all. They'd have to wait till it came up on the regular agenda. So Mims Galloway took back her second and a disgruntled Marshall sat back.
The board went on to talk some more about the "excitement" -- it seems every board member needed to go on record about this even though it was echo time pretty early on.
Then Meyers taking a point of personal privilege moved up the item on the agenda talking about the Strategic Plan. And yes, the Strategic Plan, the district's mission statement about its commitment to good schools and good education, is important. But there was nothing much to debate on it. Instead it was like a PTA meeting with pats on the back handed out all round. It was almost 7 by now, more than two hours since the meeting started.
Then the lights went down and we were treated to a film that HISD made about its strategic plan. (Made in-house and at zero cost to taxpayers, we're told). It was a Mother of God, screeching fingernails on the blackboard moment for Hair Balls and we opted out -- as did many other people given their chance to escape in the darkness.
Reporter Mellon -- made of sterner stuff we admit -- held out, furnishing blogging reports about how cold it was in the room (very true) and actually recording the heated comments in the debate that ensued at the end of the meeting. (Steve Mark of the Examiner Group lasted it out as well, but as he didn't have to do a running blog technically he could have slept through some of it although Hair Balls is sure he didn't.) There were allegations of a lack of respect for diversity (Marshall to Meyers) and lack of respect for the voters in that district to be able to choose their own leaders (Mims Galloway and Marshall to all).
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It all ended up around 10 o'clock in a 5-3 vote (only Mims Galloway, Marshall and Manuel Rodriguez were for calling an election this November) when trustees could not come to agreement and will have to take up the matter again next week, supposedly after meeting with some of the District VIII candidates for the job.
Which gives us all a lot to think about and look forward to. Why can Greg Meyers on a point of personal privilege get to move up something he wants to talk about in the agenda, but Larry Marshall can't?
Next week, will the trustees change their approach and be considerate enough to actually discuss something important in front of live, breathing, awake people who have other things to do in their lives?
Hair Balls isn't holding our breath. Although we are thinking of organizing a Free Ericka Mellon campaign.