State Senator Mario Gallegos has continued to dictate letters since calling for Houston ISD superintendent Terry Grier to leave in an earlier letter, saying Grier was going to ruin the lives of students here.
In his latest set of letters -- a May 10 one to HISD Board President Greg Meyers and a May 12 one to "Fellow Houstonians," Gallegos asserts that while Grier and HISD are saying there's going to be a district shortfall of between $7 million and $35 million for the next school year, actually HISD has been passing up millions of dollars available to it through the state.
In all, Gallegos says HISD has not claimed $322,099,979 in federal dollars allotted for the district.
While Grier has declined to comment publicly on Gallegos' assertions, Norm Uhl, spokesman for HISD, did respond today on Gallegos latest letters.
Uhl tells Hair Balls Gallegos is basing his claims on something the local union put out several weeks ago and that it is not accurate. Those federal funds are dedicated to specific uses and programs, Uhl explained, and can't just be used for anything.
"Melinda Garrett [HISD's chief financial officer] already factored those numbers into the budget" and there was still a deficit, said Uhl, adding that he believes Garrett has figured out a way to cover the deficit completely -- something she'll be discussing at this week's board workshop on Thursday.
Also, Uhl said, some of the money hasn't been spent because it's for the next school year (often money is set aside in two-year-award cycles). And the district is going to start using some more of the special-ed money but not all of it because the operation of that department is being audited now, Uhl said.
In his letter to Meyers, Gallegos asks the board president to respond to specific financial questions, including where $18 million in reserve money was spent, the sources of funding and costs of the new HISD Food Service Support Facility, where has the money gone that was to be used to pay regional superintendents in the next year's budget (Grier has done away with those positions in a staff reorganization), a list of all the monies due HISD from the state, a list of all outside vendors, and a list of where the $805 million from the 2007 bond election went.
Not everyone is printing Gallegos' writings. In his May 12 letter Gallegos says "the local newspaper [the Houston Chronicle] recently refused to publish my letter as a stand-alone letter without a competing editorial alongside."
And Gallegos alleges that "It is my understanding that Board Members are being solicited and pressured by ... Superintendent Grier to sign on to a letter of support for him personally and his policies to be published as an OpEd in our local newspaper."
Uhl denied that any school board member was being pressured to do anything and said the board has been thinking for a while of putting out an OpEd to the Chron to better explain all the enterprises that HISD is undertaking.
At last week's night school board meeting on May 13, Gallegos was in the audience and was warmly welcomed by Meyers who pointed the state senator out publicly to the crowd. Grier sat blank-faced at Meyers' side. To date, Grier has not commented publicly on Gallegos' assertions.
Gallegos' staff has put together what he says is a list of unused federal dollars by HISD, taken from the Texas Education Agency website. They include, but are not limited to:
Unused stimulus money of:
-- Title I, Part A: $89,003,172 allotted, $10,908,121 drawn by HISD from TEA, leaving an unused balance of $78,095,051
-- Special Education Funds: $42,407,819 allotted, $0 drawn, leaving an unused balance of $42,407,819
Unused federal money based on enrollment:
-- Title I Part A: $119,552,500 allotted, $33,797,422 drawn, leaving an unused balance of $85,755,078
-- IDEA-B for Special Education: $64,417,674 allotted, $14,618,210 drawn, leaving an unused balance of $49,799,464
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