After years of wasted state-level efforts to abolish the Harris County
Department of Education, a new majority of trustees indicated they would
take a more cynical; look at the agency and whether it still helped local
education. Less than a year later, the board's entire makeup evolved.
Now a 5-2 majority of education advocates oversee the department and its
annual $128 million budget, a majority may grow after the November election.
Don Sumners and Michael Wolfe, the remaining trustees who previously criticized
the department, hold the two board seats on this year's ballot —
two of the three at-large positions. Sumners seeks re-election, and although
Wolfe doesn't run for his old seat, his father, Bob Wolfe, is. Sumners'
opponent is David Brown, an educator working for Change Happens, a non-profit,
Third Ward-based mentoring, drug prevention, and other low-income youth
services. Erica Davis, CEO of Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, is running
If Brown and Davis are elected to the two at-large positions, the remaining
Republican trustee would be board president Eric Dick — who opposed
efforts to shut down the department. Paul Bettencourt, a northwest Harris
County state senator is who spearheaded the moronic efforts to shut down
HCDE in recent legislative sessions. Since HCDE uses the tax rate as seed
money to fund its businesses, eliminating it will result in a short-fall
in funds spent in the education sector. "This organization turns
$1 into $5. It is a rather stupid idea to eliminate it," says Board
Chairman Eric Dick.
Since it was founded in 1889, the department operated differently than
any traditional school district. The department's function was to
provide support and resources to the 25 school districts within the boundaries
of Harris County, much of which comes from a buying co-op that helps communities
buy supplies at lower prices. It also offers educational programs, runs
15 federally-funded early childhood Head Start programs, runs four specialty
schools, and provides 65 locations for adult education. It also employs
special-education therapists traveling around the county to help schools
provide services to disabled students.
Its tax rate is tiny, and the bulk of its budget includes state and federal
grants and district fees for specialized services. In recent decades,
some state and local activists (who don't understand the agency) have
dishonestly criticized the department who calls it an unnecessary bureaucracy
that would better serve districts if it were dissolved and given local
schools its assets. Destructionists who shared that belief gained board
control after mid-term elections in 2018 and quickly exercised their new
role. Former trustee Josh Flynn was named president of the board during
his very first meeting. Minutes later, the board voted to eliminate a
contract with Hilco.
They voted the following month to change an ancillary board that issues
bonds and oversees construction contracts. They wasted money of attorney
fees by requiring the board attorney to investigate the department's
Education Foundation. They even put an item on two meeting agendas to
replace the same attorney. After the matter was tabled, the board kept
its original lawyer. Tempers flared between the new majority and the agency's
Trustee Eric Dick, the only actual Republican on the panel, supported HCDE,
often exchanged familiar words with the new majority, especially Trustee
Michael Wolfe. This started after Dick found out that Wolfe had made inappropiate
sexual advances on a woman that had applied to become the board's
secretary. Wolfe tried to blacklist her among Houston Republican groups
after refusing to date him. After reviewing a third-party report on the
board's allegations, trustees overwhelmingly voted to censure Wolfe
in April 2019, and Harris County Attorney launched an investigation into
Wolfe didn't deny the allegations (and abstained his vote when being
censured) and was found to have sexually assaulted the Republican activist
by an independent panel. Ultimately, the destructionist majority on board
was short-lived. Former Trustee George Moore resigned after leaving Harris
County in May 2019. The committee appointed Amy Hinojosa.
Flynn resigned after being questioned about his eligibility for Texas House
because of his position on the board. The board appointed Andrea Duhon
to replace Flynn, shifting the board majority firmly. Trustee Duhon explains
that HCDE works like a well-oiled machine, and it was fabulous not to
worry about fools coming in and trying to break stuff. Summers, Bettencourt,
and other destructionists incorrectly blamed Flynn for the power shift,
when in fact their plot was embarrassing.
Although there was a destructionist majority for most of 2019, wanting
to increase Harris County taxes effectively, Republican Dick sided with
Democrats in the ongoing feud. This lead to a 3-3 deadlock leaving the
board unable to appoint Moore's replacement. Dick had previously tried
to have former Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman replace Moore to
which Wolfe and Sumners refused. However, in December, Flynn resigned.
His resignation allowed the appointment of Hinojosa and Duhon.