Outraged taxpayers, parents, alumni, and community watchdog groups held a press conference at the Houston Independent School District offices Wednesday to protest the school board’s plans to spend millions in taxpayer dollars to rename eight schools. They feel the money would be better spent on the students.
One parent stated: “We need to sit down and focus as a city and we need to say, ‘You know what, Board, let’s focus on the children. Stop focusing on yourself. Stop focusing on what’s not important. And start focusing on the children. And the only way you’re going to do that is if you start spending money on kids, and not buildings and not things that we don’t need,” KPRC 2 reported.
To alleviate the taxpayer’s burden in an already cash-strapped school district, Wayne Dolcefino, the investigative consultant assisting parents battling name changes at Lanier and Dowling middle schools plus Reagan High, suggested a way to raise funds and take the pressure off Houston taxpayers.
“Let’s have a contest in each of the schools,” he said at the press conference. “The student who wins the writing contest gets to put the letter on the plaque. A letter that can talk about the insanity of slavery, and the complicated history of these men. The business community can help raise the money to pay for the plaques. And Houston ISD can save that money to spend on something that actually prepares our children for the future.”
Dolcefino offered to put up the first $1,000 in a fundraising campaign to erect plaques in the front halls of the affected schools.
Taxpayers have no idea of the actual costs for the eight new names that go into effect this school year. The board meets for a vote Thursday evening, August 11, to determine this amount.
In 2015, Houston ISD trustees estimated a $2 million price tag in a district with a $107 million budgetary shortfall. Last December, the board approved the district borrowing $212 million to cover a gap in its $1.9 billion 2012 bond, resulting in the $107 million. In May, board trustees removed the chief auditor investigating the missing funds after he reported potential violations of state law to police, shared information with the FBI, and identified a board member for breaking competitive bidding rules, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The longstanding clash over renaming schools started when Houston ISD trustees jumped on the national bandwagon to strip all Confederate-connected names from public structures.
Breitbart Texas reported:
“Former board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, prompted by a letter from State Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), led the charge last year to change Houston ISD’s policy to allow the board of trustees to order campus name changes. The move followed the hate crime shootings of nine black parishioners in South Carolina. That tragedy spurned a national movement to shun symbols and historical figures that recalled the pre-Civil War South.”
In February, trustee Skillern-Jones declared: “I’ll take dignity over dollars,” despite concerns over associated taxpayer costs.
Along the way, some residents threatened to sue. Even in cases where community members support re-branding, they do not always agree on the board’s picks. A large contingent of Dowling Middle School taxpayers and alumni rallied to honor the late Carrie McAfee, the first black female principal of a Texas high school. Board members wanted the late Audrey Lawson, an activist.
The school district released a statement Wednesday in response the press conference:
“By their nature, the costs associated with renaming the schools are not known precisely when the decisions were made. These are refined over time and HISD administration has presented updated information since before it was served with the lawsuit and will continue to do so in the future. The court has heard oral argument and testimony over two days in this lawsuit. The parties are submitting briefs to the court this week and next and anticipate a decision soon after.
“The remedy sought by the parties in the lawsuit was to overturn the renaming of the schools. That is clear in their pleadings and in their responses to the Judge’s questions in open court. HISD is confident that the estimates provided in the past and in the future do not affect the validity of the Board’s action to rename the schools, which it occurred during public meetings this past spring.”
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