Well, Thursday night's Houston ISD school board meeting was one for the record books. Trustee Mike Lunceford said he was resigning — even though his side won. Trustee Jolanda Jones accused the district of pimping its children, talked about "lies" and said she was "ashamed" of the board.
One speaker warned that if HISD was going to sell the names of its schools, what would stop Playboy from coming in, plunking down $7.5 million and replacing the name of Milby High with its own? And Board President Manuel Rodriguez could have been a moderator at a Trump-Clinton debate; he was totally ineffective in trying to slow down the train of invective and accusations delivered by Jones in a lengthy harangue.
At issue: the proposal negotiated by HSPVA Friends and the Kinder Foundation that in exchange for $7.5 million, the High School For the Performing and Visual Arts would be renamed the Kinder HSPVA .
In a cash-strapped district, many saw this as winning the lottery for the school that draws its students from throughout HISD. But other speakers saw a slippery slope and even worse, that HISD was going all fire-sale in desperate times and hadn't squeezed all the pennies it could out of the deal.
In the end, in a 7-2 vote (gal pals Jones and Diana Davila voted against), HISD trustees voted to accept the money that will allow HSPVA to complete its school the way it was originally designed without the cutbacks caused by inflation and what most critics say was mismanagement, which skyrocketed building costs, forcing the district to trim back.
A parade of speakers, including HSPVA parents, students and teachers, addressed the board and most, but not all of them, said they were in favor of taking the money, that it was a wonderful opportunity and that if it was turned down, it might end any philanthropists' interest in HISD for years to come.
Those who opposed the renaming deal pleaded for more time to study the 14-page contract and the ramifications of the policy the board passed just last October, or said that it simply shouldn't be done. More than one speaker said when they called in Thursday to be put on the speaker's list, they were told the item had been pulled from the agenda for the meeting, only to find out later it had been restored.
Jones has charged "inequity" at several board meetings since she began her term in January, and Thursday night was no different. She said the district was just helping out one of the "special" schools (she also mentioned Carnegie Vanguard High School) and that district personnel and the board didn't care about HISD's other children. She characterized the restoration of the original plan for HSPVA's construction as extras or wants rather than needs.
"I hadn’t seen any of these rich people supporting any of the poor schools," she said. "It seems like HISD is like a pimp and the schools are what they sell."
Michael Lunceford, clearly tired and exasperated by the past week — he'd carried the proposal forward to the board and been under fire from Jones for it — said he just got back from Austin and no one in Houston should expect any money coming this way in the next year.
Enumerating the long hours he spends on board duties and adding that for the past year and a half his job has had him commuting to Midland every week, in announcing his resignation, Lunceford said it was time for someone else to take his spot on the board, that apparently he wasn't a good communicator.
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Other trustees pointed out that by accepting this renaming agreement — the first of its kind for HISD — the district was not tapping into any of its own funds (not that it has many at this point), which would mean more district funds left for other students.
Trustee Anna Eastman was the last to comment before the vote, saying she was not conflicted at all. "I think it is a continuation of a great relationship," she said in reference to the fact that Rich and Nancy Kinder are known for their philanthropy. "They support the arts. They support the city."
Rich Kinder did not attend the school board meeting (probably wise unless he enjoys being drilled in public by a school board member), but issued this press release right after the vote:
“We are delighted with the Board decision and want to thank the HISD Board of Trustees and HSPVA Friends. We hope these joint and cooperative efforts preserve the long-term future of one of Houston’s most acclaimed and diverse schools and forge a new path through public/private partnership to support future HISD schools.”