HCDE Reduces Taxes and Increases Services
For the sixth consecutive year, the Harris County Department of Education
board of trustees voted unanimously to lower the tax rate.
“During these unprecedented times, I think it is important for residents
of Harris County to know that we are in this together,” said HCDE
Board President Eric Dick in a press release. “Many businesses are
struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Harris County Department of
Education is going to tighten its belt and lead fellow school districts
Board member Mike Wolfe was not present for the first in-person meeting
held on Sept. 17.
The county-wide education agency launched a “Because We Care”
initiative distributing hand sanitizer, masks, and food supplies to residents.
Dick also said they reinvested in teachers and their staff by increasing
the minimum wage to $13.50. They plan to raise that to $15 in 2021. “We’re
also using record-low bond rates to reinvest approximately $50 million
in adult education,” Dick said, “including music therapy and
Some of those services may feel the pinch of local districts budget cuts
next year when the fallout from the coronavirus expenditures are realized.
No school districts have announced any reductions for the next school
year, but HCDE staff is prepared to meet the challenge should it occur.
“I’m a little bit worried about school districts budgets next
year,” said Carie Crabb, senior director of school-based therapy
services for HCDE.
“We’ve lived through budget crunches and crises before. It
happens pretty regularly in education. We’ll figure it out,” she said.
That meant picking up additional tasks and hours to meet the needs, which
lasted for a couple of years until things were back on track. “We’re
pretty lean as we are, but if we have to reduce the number of therapists,
we look at our processes and how we can make things more efficient to
get the same amount of work done with fewer people,” she said.
While HCDE subsidizes those services, they come at a rate much cheaper
than what districts would pay for it in the market. Currently, Cypress
Fairbanks ISD is the largest district with the most HCDE therapists at
work for the community.
Crabb said they’ve been serving CFISD continuously with no break
in service since 1978. “Our business model is pretty efficient.
I serve as the director, and I have nine managers, and we oversee more
than 150 therapists who serve 33 school districts,” she said.
The management team stays on top of the best practices for their profession
and any law changes, which occur almost annually.
“If districts were left to do it on their own, it would take considerably
more personnel. Our districts count on us to do this,” Crabb said.
Therapists are trained in the medical environment to work in hospitals
and clinics. In a school district, the difference is enormous between
an educational and medical model. Therapists became necessary with the
passage of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act.
“With the passage of the law, children with disabilities came into
public school for education. Before that, they didn’t come into
school classrooms,” Crabb said of their being separated from the
With the law came a need for occupational and physical therapists. To fill
that gap, HCDE created the School-Based Therapy Services, and CFISD and
HISD were the first to implement the programs. In addition to occupational
and physical therapy, the agency also offers music therapy to Cypress
Children with disabilities who, as a part of the federal Individuals with
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), are entitled to related services that
they need to benefit from their special education program.
“If they have mobility issues, like climbing the bus steps, or moving
around the campus, they might need physical therapy to help them fully
participate in their education program. Autistic children who may have
unique sensory challenges or children with ADHD with attention challenges
may need an occupational therapist to help with those sensory interventions
we can put into the classroom to help meet their needs,” she said.
IDEA students have a list of benefits, including an Individual Education
Plan, to keep them on track for success. Crabb said their therapists could
also act as advisors on playground equipment. “Sometimes they are
created with the best intentions, but mulch and even the plastic that
keeps it in around the playground can also keep students with disabilities
out,” she said.
The physical therapist will work with the school and architects to reduce
those barriers on the playground and throughout the campus that might
be prohibitive. Among the most popular and successful programs is the
music therapy program. “With some kids, their learning increases
with the modality of music added to their therapy,” she said.
Crabb recalled a group of older students, middle and high school age, who
struggled with written expressions and so the music therapist challenged
them to write songs instead. “That pulled the music into their writing,
and they created a songbook,” she said.
The group also performed the music and words for parents and friends.
“It was a different modality to help them with their learning,”
she said. “Sometimes, you get better outcomes with that kind of
tool that nothing else will work.” Written expressions are exercises
taking their thoughts from their head and putting them to words on paper.
Turning $1 into $5
Board president Eric Dick said they would do all that is necessary to retain
those programs. “We’re there to support the districts. It’s
usually at a net loss to us because the services are supplemented by the
private enterprises we own and the tax rate,” the board president said.
Should districts encounter financial challenges next year, he said they
would adjust accordingly.
“What’s most important to us is that we’re helping the
community and helping special needs children, and we pledge to continue
with low bond rates,” he said. HCDE uses private businesses they
own to produce additional income through their Choice Partners program.
“I would invite the public to use Choice Partners because the money
goes to help local school districts directly,” he said. “You
can’t keep your money more local than that,” he said. He explained
they use the tax rate funds and use it as seed money for different businesses
they own to generate a profit. “We take $1 and turn it into $5,”
he said. They also are the recipients of grants to help provide the numerous
services they provide for districts.
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