Month: <span>June 2023</span>

As state leaders bicker over tax relief, teachers dig more deeply into their pockets for classroom supplies

While top state officials are arguing during a summer legislative session about the best way to spend billions of dollars on property tax relief instead of additional school funding, teachers and school districts are preparing for the next school year, and it isn’t an easy task.

One thing the small but growing Terrell ISD, which has about 5,000 students east of Dallas, is doing is raising charitable contributions for classroom supplies for all nine of its campuses. This “Adopt a Classroom” program isn’t new. The district apparently does this every year. But the fundraising is particularly critical now, following the Legislature’s failure during its regular session to increase the basic allotment that determines how much state funding districts receive based on the number of students the district educates.

Remember, the Legislature began the regular session in January with a $33 billion budget surplus, but Gov. Greg Abbott and legislative leaders immediately decided to dedicate about half of it to pay for property tax relief. The Legislature then passed a new state budget that set aside $5.3 billion to pay for property tax cuts lawmakers approved two years ago and another $12.3 billion to pay for new cuts.

Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick also tried to spend as much as a half billion dollars on private school vouchers, but that effort died in the House. Additional funding for public schools and pay raises also died after Patrick and the Senate held a school finance bill hostage to vouchers.

Now, a special session is in limbo because Patrick, on one side, and Abbott and Speaker Dade Phelan, on the other, disagree about the best way to provide the new tax cuts. Whatever they eventually may decide, none of the tax relief money will increase overall funding for school districts or school supplies or give educators pay raises.

Meanwhile, Terrell ISD is trying to raise $60,000 from parents and other people who, unlike some state leaders, value public education. The district wants to reach its goal by July 21 to leave time to distribute the proceeds in the form of gift cards to teachers before the tax-exempt August weekend for purchasing school supplies.

Other districts – but not all of them — may be doing the same thing because teachers across Texas often must dig into their own pockets to purchase supplies their under-funded districts can’t afford. According to a survey TSTA conducted of its members last year, the average Texas teacher was spending $846 a year on these teaching necessities, $108 more than just a few years earlier.

With about 320,000 teachers in Texas, these out-of-pocket expenses represent a $270 million subsidy that underpaid teachers essentially are giving to the state government, with the size of the subsidy continuing to increase as inflation continues to erode educators’ paychecks.

What are Abbott, Patrick, et al doing about it? Fiddling over tax relief and pretending to be concerned about the teacher shortage.

Clay Robison

Self-described King Arthur takes over superintendent’s job at Houston ISD

I hope Supt. Mike Miles and the new board of managers that Education Commissioner Mike Morath has chosen to lead the state’s largest school district can continue – and improve upon — the progress that already was being made by HISD educators before Morath pushed aside the district’s locally elected school board and superintendent.

The futures of HISD’s students depend on it.

But the last time Miles took over a big Texas school district – Dallas ISD – his three-year tenure from 2012 to 2015 was mainly marked by controversy and turbulence that ended in him resigning in the middle of his contract. Some school board members were happy to see him go. That group, however, must not have included Morath, who was on the board at the time.

Miles had big ideas for Dallas, but he often seemed as interested in playing dictator and amassing his own power structure as he did in improving outcomes for students.

In the name of “reform,” he assembled a highly paid management team that helped him create a toxic working environment for many teachers and other employees and a hostile learning environment for students. One of his chiefs of staff resigned shortly before he was indicted on federal bribery charges – unrelated to DISD — that resulted in a conviction and prison sentence.

Miles also employed a human resources manager for the district, who according to an internal investigation reported by The Dallas Morning News, lied, bullied staffers and falsified records.

Teachers were saddled with excessive paperwork and excessive meetings, and some were chastised by administrators in front of their students during surprise classroom visits. He also imposed an evaluation system that did not truly measure the work that educators were doing.

On some occasions, Miles ignored the will of school board members who had been elected by district parents and other local taxpayers. He won’t have to worry about elected board members in his Houston job, but how well will he work with the appointed board whose members Morath also has made responsible for student success in the district?

Miles once fired three principals in Dallas who had the support of a board majority. One of the fired principals had been praised by the then-board president for her work and strong engagement with parents.

At another time, he ordered Dallas ISD police to physically remove one school board member from a school campus in the district she was elected to represent.

NEA-Dallas, TSTA’s local affiliate, had long demanded Miles’ removal before he finally quit.

The state took over Houston ISD because of failing STAAR scores. According to The Dallas Morning News, STAAR scores stayed flat or dropped in Dallas ISD during Miles’ tenure.

The Morning News also reported that, as Miles was departing, he compared the Dallas school district to Camelot and himself to King Arthur.

Dallas ISD is not Camelot. Houston ISD isn’t Camelot either, and it doesn’t need King Arthur. It needs a superintendent who will respect and listen to HISD teachers, not bully them. HISD teachers already had done a lot to improve the district’s performance before Morath intervened and Miles arrived. They will do more, if the new superintendent doesn’t drive them away.

Clay Robison