HISD's Terry Abbott: The Top Five Moments

The Houston Chronicle's education blog mentioned that the HISD board bid a fond farewell yesterday to longtime spokesman Terry Abbott, who is leaving at the end of the month to become a consultant.

"[A]s board member Natasha Kamrani put it: 'Terry Abbott is a junk-yard dog. He will stand in front of people who are shooting bullets at you,'" the Chron wrote.

HISD superintendent Abe Saavedra also praised Abbott: "You pretty much have been the shield for the district, specifically the superintendent," he said.

We always thought a public-information officer was supposed to help information get out, not act as a shield from annoying questions, but what do we know? After all, Abbott's the guy who somehow managed to spin a non-entity like Rod Paige into the U.S. Secretary of Education. He's the guy who mastered the art of never answering questions unless they were submitted in writing.

We would never, ever sink so low as to make a snarky comment, like the Chron did, about how Abbott gets $160,000 a year despite not having a college degree.

But we will offer up our list of Top Five Terry Abbott Moments:

5. While earning that $160,000 a year from an educational institution despite not having a college degree (Goddammit, we didn't keep that promise long, did we?), Abbott also managed to rake in untold bucks working for the Broad Center, an educational group founded by billionaire Eli Broad. Abbott would visit school districts around the country, offering his anti-media philosophy and getting paid to do it. And yes, if you're wondering, that's the same Broad Center that gave HISD the allegedly lusted-for award as a top urban school district, a win that was touted on ubiquitous banners district-wide forever.

4. When The New York Times dared to question the details of the so-called "Houston Miracle," Abbott showed them what we Texans think of pointy-headed Yankees poking into our bidness. In a story headlined "For Houston Schools, College Claims Exceed Reality," the Times wrote this: "In a written statement, Terry Abbott, a spokesman for the Houston school district, refused to explain the high numbers of students reported to be planning to go to college and said only that the figures came from 'surveys of students.' Requests for interviews with principals and with Kaye Stripling, the current superintendent, were refused. Dr. Paige also declined to answer questions." Why the hell don't you and your so-called "facts" just get the hell back to New York City and leave us miracle-workers alone, y'hear me?

3. We here at the Press, of course, could sympathize with the Times. Abbott has long had us on his shit-list because we have not been sufficiently euphoric about HISD. He instituted a policy intended to keep anyone HISD employee from talking to us without his approval.As we wrote five years ago:

"We just can't get any kind of fair shake out of the Houston Press," [Abbott] said. (At first, Abbott's assistant said that the policy was in place because Abbott said the Press "got stories wrong," but in direct conversation Abbott made no claims about errors and instead talked of getting "a fair shake." He cited no specific stories.) "It is going to be my recommendation to everyone else that works for the school district that they decline to be interviewed by the Houston Press," he said.

Thanks! Don't let the doorknob hit you in the ass, dude!

2. When HISD was trying to find a place to put its new bus barn, they alarmed residents and City Councilwoman Toni Lawrence by basically trying to sneak it into a location without telling residents. Abbott told the Press no decision had been made, and the district would never take such actions without consulting residents.

But then residents of another area found out that HISD had purchased property for the barn without, ummm, telling them. "I was just kind of in shock again," Lawrence said. "They said when we met about [the first site] they'd never do this again...It blows my mind that they'd do something like this without the neighborhood knowing about it."

1. When the Press reported that HISD and Aramark, its food-services contractor, were cooking the books to hype their free-breakfast program, Abbott came down hard. "If you listen closely, you can almost hear it: parents all around Houston laughing at the Houston Press," he wrote in a letter published in the Press. "This article is inaccurate and unfair and, most of all, downright silly."

Shortly afterward, the state began an investigation into the deal and Saavedra suspended the program for widespread bookkeeping irregularities.

-- Richard Connelly

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Richard Connelly
Contact: Richard Connelly