The Houston Independent School District board of trustees voted Thursday evening to approve spending nearly $1.25 million taxpayer dollars to rename eight schools with politically correct monikers that erase all traces of their historical Confederate ties.
The board approved $1,245,197 of taxpayer funding to re-brand eight campuses and related items, which is less than the $2 million originally estimated by the school board last year. Those funds will cover, in part, athletic and band uniforms, plus temporary banners for those schools under reconstruction, the Houston Chronicle reported, noting the lower price tag a partial victory for community members who, in June, filed a lawsuit against the school board.
The lawsuit argues the school board’s action is illegal. The plaintiffs also seek to protect the schools as monuments under state law. According to the the Chronicle, Goforth law firm attorneys representing the plaintiffs indicated Houston ISD needs to obtain clearances from agencies which oversee historical preservation before they can change the school names. The district denies the claim.
On Tuesday, District Interim Superintendent Kenneth Huewitt asked trustees to approve the approximate $1.25 million in response to the lawsuit. KHOU 11 reported more parents and teachers joined the lawsuit this week. Those suing want more accountability and transparency from their school board, especially because Houston ISD remains $107 million in the hole even after borrowing $212 million to cover their 2012 $1.9 billion bond, the largest school bond in Texas history.
After the board meeting, Adrienne Murry, one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, told Breitbart Texas by email: “We find this number ($1.25 million) very suspect as they have yet to produce any documentation to support this number. The district has been all over the map regarding numbers including saying it would cost $2 million, then $1 million, then $7.83 million.”
A line item on the June 9 school board agenda created an uproar because it showed the school board approved spending $7 million. At the time, a Houston ISD spokesman told Breitbart Texas those figures were “misinterpreted.” He stated: “The cost of renaming schools is still being calculated, but we expect the final figure to be around $2 million, if not less.”
The revised line item then permitted the board to spend up to $1.7 million for uniforms and other associated renaming costs, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Murry told Breitbart Texas the board never provided a spreadsheet to back up any of the numbers. She said, “No CFO of a publicly traded company would be allowed this kind of creative math, and we should expect more from people who are elected as stewards to education.”
She also commended trustees Anna Eastman and Greg Meyers for highlighting “the procedural insufficiencies, the lack of transparency, and how this should never be done without community support.”
Earlier, Murry voiced her public comments during the board meeting, underscoring a greater need for funds to go to classrooms in a district with a high percentage of poor performing schools. Breitbart Texas reported approximately 40 percent of Houston ISD’s schools rated as failing or low performing based on poor test scores or unacceptable ratings on the Texas Education Agency’s 2016-17 Public Education Grant (PEG) list. This equals 109 campuses, up from 86 last year. Houston ISD has the most failing schools in the state.
Often outspoken trustee Jolanda Jones shared at the meeting she wanted her legacy to be about fighting for “equity,” asserting that people seem to use money as an excuse “to stop equity and equality and respect of all races.”
Below are the schools being renamed:
- Richard Dowling Middle School to Audrey H. Lawson Middle School
- Henry Grady Middle School to Tanglewood Middle School
- Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Middle School to Yolanda Black Navarro Middle School of Excellence
- Albert Sidney Johnston Middle School to Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School
- Sidney Lanier Middle School to Bob Lanier Middle School
- Jefferson Davis High School to Northside High School
- Lee High School to Margaret Long Wisdom High School
- John Reagan High School to Heights High School
Houston ISD is the seventh largest public school system in the United States and the largest in Texas.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.