Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier went all the way to Austin to testify before the Texas Senate Committee on Education, only to be ripped apart by Sen. Mario Gallegos, who continues to not like much of anything about how Grier does his job.
Proclaiming that it's not true that he doesn't like Grier because after all he doesn't know him, Gallegos told Grier, "I do have problems with the way you run HISD."
Gallegos questioned Grier on why in a budget crisis he was pouring so much money into the Apollo 20 turnaround program for low-performing schools, why he has gone to a School Information Officer administrative approach that Gallegos said "failed" in at least two other districts run by Grier and why the superintendent didn't close his laptop and look speakers in the face at last week's public hearing in Houston on possible changes to the magnet program.
"I would suggest that when those parents come up to that mike that the computer you have in front of you, that you would put that to the side, close it and listen to those parents and what they have to say,"" he said. "They pay you $350,000 a year plus perks, almost more than the president of the United States. I would think that deserves your time...to listen to those people because they pay your salary...You should at least have the respect to turn that computer off."
Gallegos was so relentless in listing what he sees as Grier's failings that at one point a fellow committee member tried to intercede, suggesting the two men should meet together separately to work things out. Gallegos said they did have a later meeting planned, and then went on, saying he wanted "to have my say in public."
Given the "dire financial straits" of the state, Gallegos said he thinks "the Apollo 20 program should be put on hold and spread the money around" to other schools in the district. The senator asked Grier how much General Fund money has been spent on Apollo 20, to which Grier responded: "We have not spent any General Fund money to date on those schools," adding: "I'm not saying that we won't have to before the end of the school year."
District trustees did vote in April to spend $1.3 million in General Fund money on the 11 elementaries that will be added to the Apollo pilot project in the fall, but that is in next year's budget.
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Grier's move to the system of School Information Officers and away from HISD's traditional regional superintendents was a system that failed in two other districts run by Grier, Gallegos asserted. "You have brought a small school district system into a large school district system. That has not worked. That's why San Diego got rid of it."
Gallegos also wanted to know why HISD isn't dipping into the $84 million "rainy day fund" the district is holding in reserve to maintain the district's magnet programs and why it hasn't considered other programs that he said don't work as well. (Although Grier has put off making any changes in the magnets until September.)
The Gallegos-Grier exchange begins at about two hours and 55 minutes into the committee hearing.
Contacted in Houston, HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said Grier would have no further public comment concerning his public conversation with the senator.