Home Schooling, Nature’s Way

During the long, brutal school board campaign, I had no time to partake in one of favorite pastimes – photographing birds in action. Each year for the last 15 years, I have tried to visit the Audubon Society’s Smith Oaks Sanctuary at High Island at least once a week from mid-March to mid-June. Yesterday, I went there for the first time this year and spent three glorious hours in the afternoon with my Nikon and thousands of waterfowl at various stages of life.

In the rookery, you can see what is easily the most spectacular display of nature in the Houston area. Thousands of herons, egrets, spoonbills, cormorants and other waterbirds gather each year to pair, mate, and raise their young. Within three months, they are usually ready to venture off on their own and repeat this cycle of life again the next year.

Beginning in March, birds congregate there and begin their courtship displays. The male does his part by building the foundation of a nest with giant sticks. Once a male and female pair up, the male gathers smaller sticks that the female weaves into a nest. By early April, the mating has started and the females are laying eggs. The male and female then take turns guarding the nest while the other forages for food. By mid-April, chicks are hatching out. The parents then need to step up their fishing to feed the hungry young. Back at the nest, the adults regurgitate their fish straight into the mouths of the young. The young grow quickly.

By early to mid-May, they are fighting for food and climbing to high limbs to strengthen their wings. By late May, they are taking short flights near their nests from limb to limb. In June, they attain the size and strength to fend for themselves. One day, they fly off and leave the nest, not to return again until the following year. Then, as adolescents, they watch and learn from the adults in the rookery. It’s home schooling at it’s finest. All without vouchers or school choice.

But woe be to any bird that fails a test. Nature shows little mercy.

Types of Decisions School Boards May Make in Closed Sessions

Texas law allows governmental bodies to debate certain types of issues in closed session. For example, legal matters, real estate purchases, and personnel issues may all be discussed in closed or executive sessions. I found this Handbook on the Open Meetings Act that spells out in greater detail what may and may not be discussed outside of public view.

Chapter Eight details guidelines for Open Sessions and begins on Page 40 (or page 45 within the PDF).

Chapter Nine details guidelines for Closed Sessions and begins on Page 45 (or page 50 within PDF).

Download the Texas Attorney General’s OMA_handbook_2016 for future reference.

It appears to me that business items involving the expenditure of money should be discussed in open session. Even when a business item, such as a construction contract, is discussed in a closed session, a Board may not even take a straw vote. See line 1 on page 44, “…a governmental body should not take a “straw vote” or otherwise attempt to count votes in an executive session.”

Read the handbook and form your own opinions.

The Non-Discussion Discussion of Election Results on 5.22.17

So … the Humble ISD school board called a special meeting this stormy Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. Purpose: to “discuss” the results of the recent school board election.

The timing of the meeting (during the morning rush hour on the busiest day of the week) raised my antenna. I figured this meeting would be a formality to certify the election results; but it appeared that somebody really didn’t want an audience there. Therefore, I figured I should attend. Here’s what happened.

Three members of the public braved a blinding thunderstorm and showed up with some questions (Mia Hoyt, Patti Pinkley and I). We actually outnumbered the school board members there (Nancy Morrison and Keith Lapeze), which they say constituted a quorum for purposes of this meeting “by state law,” although they didn’t cite which law. Not one of the other board members recently up for election or re-election was present.

The meeting notice posted last Thursday evening said, “The subjects to be discussed [emphasis added] or considered or upon which any formal action might be taken are as follows: CANVASS RESULTS OF THE REGULAR BOARD OF TRUSTEE ELECTION HELD ON MAY 6, 2017. This Notice is given pursuant to Section 551.001 et. seq. of the Government Code.” Note: that law refers to open meetings, not certification of elections.

At about 7:40 a.m., Mr. Lapeze walked in, sat down, and started talking in a voice that was barely audible from where the audience sat. There was some chit chat with the legal counsel present which I could not make out. Then Mr. Lapeze proceeded to read the results of the election, although, again, it was difficult to hear the numbers.

There was:

  • No microphone.
  • No video.
  • No formal call to order.
  • No welcome to the public.
  • No acknowledgement of anyone present.
  • No eye contact with the audience.
  • No Q or A.
  • No discussion by the board.
  • No discussion with the public.
  • No formal adjournment.

After reading the results, Mr. Lapeze appeared to sign something,
and simply said, “Are we done?”
Without another word, everyone just got up and left the room
 without voting (as far as I could tell) and
without even a “thank you” to the audience for coming.

No one in the audience was invited to speak or allowed to say a word.

This morning’s meeting was a perfect example of why I campaigned for better communication and transparency during the last election. It’s also why I will continue to campaign.

Senate Modifies School Finance Reform Bill to Include Charter Schools and Voucher-Like Program

HB 21, currently working its way through the Texas Legislature, would have finally modified school finance in Texas. The bill budgeted an extra $1.5 billion for public schools. But, according to an article this morning by the Texas Tribune, the Senate just stripped the bill of several House provisions intended to simplify funding. The Senate also cut the $1.5 billion to $530 million and put a voucher-like program in the bill favored by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

If the House doesn’t approve HB 21 as amended by the Senate, it appears that public schools won’t even get the extra $530 million. But the Senate packed HB 21 with provisions from other bills including $100 million in funding for charter schools. Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has also promised the House he would support the $530 million increase for public schools if his education savings account (aka voucher) program becomes law. According to the Tribune, Patrick has been “unsuccessfully advocating for similar voucher-like programs for the last decade.”

Ann Beeson, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said, “In the middle of the night, the Texas Senate voted for a voucher scheme that will rob taxpayer money from public schools and give it to private schools. What started as a good school finance bill in the Texas House turned into a voucher bill that does not help remodel our state’s school finance system.”

Follow this one closely. Austin is playing hardball with 5.2 million public school students. And it looks like a 95 mph fast ball is headed for the strike zone.

Next up for the bill? It will go to a reconciliation committee. If Patrick doesn’t get what he wants, there will likely be a special session, which no one wants.

This also follows fast on the heels of massive cuts to federal funding for the Department of Education reported in the Washington Post.

This all comes just two weeks after school board elections. Plus, the next school board meeting won’t happen until after school lets out, when parents and students head off for summer vacations. But I’m sure the timing is accidental.

How Humble ISD Awards Construction Bids

At the April meeting of the Humble ISD Board, I asked how the District determined “best value” on a $2 million construction bid to renovate the roof of Kingwood Park High School. My question went unanswered and the Board voted to approve the contract unanimously.

After the meeting, I told the District’s CFO that the Board’s lack of openness deepened the level of distrust that exists within the community. I asked the CFO to send me the bid breakdown and, to his credit, he did the next day. After playing phone tag for a couple days, he explained it to me. He says the Texas Education Agency sets the evaluation criteria that all school districts in the state use, including the Humble ISD.

Seven Bids Received

Here are the bids they received on the project and the criteria against which they were evaluated.

(Download KPHS Roof Bid.)

How Best Value is Determined

Column 1 shows bidders.

Column 2 shows each bidder’s price for the basic contract.

Column 3 shows the bidder’s price for the basic package plus desired add-ons (if affordable). In this case, the add-ons were deemed affordable and the District decided to compare costs for Column 3 instead of 2. Had the bids been compared only on price, CS Advantage USAA would have been chosen. However, the evaluation factored in additional criteria. What were they and how was the final decision made?

Four people within the District’s purchasing and construction departments independently rate each potential vendor on seven factors. Each person has 100 total points and each factor has a different weight.

Column 4 shows the first factor: price; it receives 40% of the weight. Notice how the weights given vary inversely to the prices. For instance, the highest price receives the lowest score and the lowest price receives the highest score.

Column 5 factors in the reputation of the vendor. For instance, do they have good references that are current? This accounts for 15% of the total. It and the following factors receive more subjective ratings than the price by the District’s four member panel.

Column 6 factors in the quality of the vendors goods and services. For instance, “Do they always perform the job as outlined in the bid specifications?” This counts for 10% of the total.

Column 7 factors in the extent to which the goods and services recommended meet the District’s needs. This counts for 10% of the total.

Column 8 factors in the District’s past experience with the vendor. Said another way, “Did they deliver a good job on time and on budget?” This counts for 5% of the total.

Column 9 factors in the total long-term cost to the District. For instance, “Does the vendor warranty its work?” This counts for 10% of the total.

Column 10 factors in any other relevant factors. For instance, “Can the vendor install the roof before students return to school in the fall?” This counts for 5% of the total.

Columns 5-10 each have two sub-columns. The first shows the maximum points possible. The second shows the actual points awarded by the four-judge panel.

The last column shows the total points awarded to each vendor. When the District considered the additional factors, Sea-Breeze Inc. received 58.3 more points than the low bidder (371.3 vs 313), making Sea-Breeze the “best value” even though they were $156,000 more expensive. The low bidder came out in the middle of the pack; three bidders received more points and three received less.

Additional Questions

Now that we know how the bid process works, new questions arise:

  • Are these additional factors good to consider? Yes
  • Do they automatically guarantee fairness? No.
  • Could the process be manipulated? Yes. (See next two questions.)
  • Can bid specs be written to favor a particular vendor? Yes.
  • Is the process open to outside influence? Yes. (We all want to please friends and bosses. I say this as an observation on human nature; I’m not saying it happened in this case.)
  • Does this process guarantee best value to taxpayers? It helps.

“Trust But Verify”

For all of these questions, we must rely on the integrity and fairness of the people managing and overseeing the bid process.

That is why financial transparency, openness, and
a willingness to communicate about bids are so important.

The motto that most CPAs use is “Trust but verify.” That’s why the District reviews the work of those rating the bidders to make sure no one tries to swing the vote. That is also why the Board should provide the public with the ability to see how it spends our tax money.

Letting the public “see” the process means increasing financial transparency in accordance with the recommendations of the Texas State Comptroller. See contracts-checklist.

It also means responding publicly and thoroughly when members of the community raise reasonable questions about multi-million-dollar contracts.

It would have been so simple to post this information online with the competitive bids. One can only wonder why it isn’t official policy and standard procedure.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the specs for this particular job.

Deep Cuts to Public Education Funding Reported by Washington Post

Trump’s first full education budget: Deep cuts to public school programs in pursuit of school choice.
Documents obtained by The Washington Post show how the president wants to reshape K-12 education and college financial aid.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/trumps-first-full-education-budget-deep-cuts-to-public-school-programs-in-pursuit-of-school-choice/2017/05/17/2a25a2cc-3a41-11e7-8854-21f359183e8c_story.html

Moving Forward!

I would like to congratulate the winners in this campaign. It was a bitter, hard-fought contest, but it’s over now. Healing must begin for the sake of the Humble ISD. Nothing is more important for the vitality of a community than the health of its schools. Therefore, we must now put our differences aside and work together for the sake of everyone: parents, students, teachers and homeowners.

When we have different ideas about how to do that, I sincerely hope we can talk openly with each other and debate ideas respectfully. All of us are smarter than any one of us. We must listen to each other and learn from each other’s points of view. And I intend to do just that.

I campaigned on three things: the need to improve a) reading, b) financial transparency, and c) communication with the community. I hope the Board agrees with these things, because I intend to keep fighting for them. If the board will work with me, I will work with the board.

Until the next election, I intend to support the parents, teachers and students of the district by advocating for improvements we need to help our children succeed. In the meantime, I pledge to remain vigilant, remain engaged and remain positive.

Read more in my next ad, Moving Forward.

 

Running Again

The outcome on May 6 was not what we hoped it would be, owever, I intend to remain engaged and will be running again. I want to thank everyone who contacted me in the days following the election. Your generous words of support encouraged me. It made me realize that thousands of people need someone to help articulate their concerns.

High Turnout

Even though incumbents defeated all challengers, we had a record turnout. The number of votes received by each of the challengers exceeded the winners’ totals in the previous election.

Issues Still There

People listened and got involved. Parents demand to know how we can improve reading scores in the District. People question we don’t have more financial transparency and fully comply with the recommendations of State Comptroller for Contracts and Procurement. Parents still want better communication between the board and community.

Staying Involved

People have asked me to stay involved and help them voice their concerns. So today I am announcing my intention to run for the next available board seat. That will be Heath Rushing’s if the newly elected Board decides to have a special election. If not, the next election will be in a couple years.

Fighting for Better Results

In the meantime, I will watching the current board closely to see if it improves the District’s performance in reading, transparency, communication and the overall ratings. Check in periodically for news. And once again, thank you for all your support. We must remain vigilant, remain engaged and remain positive, fighting for students and their parents.

Proud to be Slimed by Breitbart

Not everyone gets to be slimed by Breitbart. The incumbents and the powerful interests they serve must feel they’re losing this election because  they’re calling in the White House mouthpieces.

A Parody of the Ghostbusters

There’s definitely something strange in the neighborhood. I feel this election has turned into a sequel of Ghostbusters and I’m playing a leading role.

I heard from a friend today. Her daughter called her from London to say that I was making headlines halfway around the world – while I was passing out campaign fliers in Kingwood. Breitbart, a bastion of paranormal political news, had slimed me in a story about the “non-partisan” Humble ISD school board election. And it was going global! Go figure.

Reading: The leftist threat to Trump’s Agenda?

Even though I’ve been a Republican for 50 years, this far-far-right news organization was painting me as a “leftist” out to “thwart Donald Trump’s agenda.”

My platform consists of: 1) teaching students how to read better, especially in the early grades, 2) increasing financial transparency, and 3) improving communication between the board and the community. I seriously had no idea Trump was against those things (except for perhaps the transparency part).

Teaching kids to read, improving financial transparency, and improving communication must be pretty radical notions for Breitbart if they consider them leftist threats. But seriously?

The Threat of Bi-Partisanship

Perhaps they thought ideas that appeal to both sides of the aisle represent a leftist threat; they did spend considerable time detailing the support I received from Democrats. I hear bi-partisanship is now passé in the world of the far-far right.

Perhaps the sliming had to do with my stance on keeping public tax dollars in public schools. But my opponent says he is against vouchers, too. So that can’t be it. Breitbart didn’t call him a leftist.

But there is one other possibility? My opponent could just be pretending to be anti-voucher. After all, that explains why he voted to hire a pro-voucher superintendent, who is still listed as a national spokeswoman for the pro-voucher movement. It explains why he voted against highly qualified, far less controversial candidates for the job. And it explains why the pro-voucher Breitbart News slimed me.

The Real Story: Why Breitbart is Covering a Local Election

One thing is for sure. This election has taken on national significance. That’s the real story. Why are powerful, political elites from Washington and Austin trying so hard to influence this election? Why was the TEA Party attempting to intimidate candidates and voters by photographing their children at early voting? Why are national organizations mailing fliers and making robocalls against another challenger who is the mother of a young child?

Powerful Republicans in Washington and Austin must feel threatened by the 4300+ members of the Humble ISD Parents group. This group is recommending several challengers for the school board who all feel that public money should stay in public schools. If the Machine can’t win a fight against a few angry parents in Humble, Texas, they can’t win. These parents are in their way. That’s why they are pulling out all the stops to squash them like bugs.

Why Vote for Rehak?

When you go to the polls today, vote for people who put parents, teachers and students ahead of profit and ideology. Vote for people who will stand up to bullies.

Vote for Bob Rehak. Unlike my opponent, I have not accepted a penny in donations and owe no one favors. I will represent you, not the Machine.

Protesting without Voting is like…

Can you figure out a way to improve voter turnout in school board elections?

It’s a curiosity of modern life. People will protest by the millions, but vote by the thousands. What’s with that? If people hate something enough to march in the streets, why don’t they take the time to actually do something about it at the ballot box?

Let’s see how well you can motivate people. Please complete this sentence with an analogy. “Protesting without voting is like…”

Here are three examples to prime the pump.

  1. Protesting without voting is like cooking without eating.
  2. Protesting without voting is like a car without wheels.
  3. Protesting without voting is like a book without an ending.

OK. You get the idea. Let’s make this go viral. Send it to all your friends, especially the ones on couches.

All entries are due by noon on Friday this week. Come one, come all.

There are only two rules: have fun and keep it clean.

The winner will have his or her idea turned into a professionally designed poster for posterity and the satisfaction of knowing that she/he actually may have helped change the world for the better.

I’m also posting this on Facebook. The winner will be the response with the most likes.