Three schools may be off the closure list, but the fact that two schools are still remain on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) chopping block is still a great concern of U.S. District 18 Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. She is also founder and co-chair of the Congressional Children’s Caucus.
She continues to urge the HISD Board reject a proposal to close any schools in predominantly minority communities.
“The objective of education should be to maximize the human potential of every child,” she said in a letter to HISD Superintendent Terry Grier addressing the proposed closings. “The decision of Houston Independent School District (HISD) to close schools at the end of the 2014 school year, coupled with the decision by the State of Texas to close the North Forest Independent School District last year raises questions about the process of making decisions to close neighborhood schools.”
Jackson Lee said the schools slated for closure by HISD in 2014 are not on the list because of poor academic performance or financial issues.
Schools still in danger of closing include Dodson Elementary-Montessori and Jesse H. Jones High School.
Schools spared the axe for now were Nathaniel Q. Henderson Elementary School, Port Houston Elementary School, and Fleming Middle School — all located in areas experiencing growth, new housing developments underway and others in the planning stages.
HISD has not ruled out bringing the issues of those schools back next year after another review.
“School children living in these areas should not be punished with the loss of a neighborhood school based on a decision prompted by short-term considerations which will have long term negative consequences for communities involved,” she said. “No school should ever be closed, but carefully calculating all the costs is essential before running cost benefit analysis to demonstrate the sense of closing one.”
She also noted that students are doing very well and their teachers and administrators are dedicated to educating the school children.
According to Jackson Lee, in recent years a number of HISD neighborhood schools serving under-served populations have borne the brunt of decisions to close neighborhood schools. The communities in which these schools are located are the least able to absorb the loss of a valuable neighborhood school.
“Communities of color too often suffer the adverse impacts of decisions to close neighborhood schools,” she said. “Just like the shutdown of the federal government, the negative consequences of closing the schools do not become known until after the damage is done. The stories of the children and their families affected by neighborhood school closings are too often hidden. Houston will be worse off if we do not make the right decisions when it comes to neighborhood school closings and HISD will not make the right decision if it does not consider the relevant factors and consider the views of the people who will be impacted by the decision to close neighborhood schools.”
She requested the board reconsider both the tangible and intangible factors and impacts of closing school in those neighborhoods.
Some of the tangible costs of a neighborhood school closing include: disrupting and forcing children away from their education homes; campuses going unused for the purpose for which they were created; declining home values resulting from the loss of a neighborhood school; and the loss of a safe haven that schools provide in the event of public emergencies and natural disasters.
Other intangible costs of a school closing include: disrupted relationships of teachers and the schools with generations of children, some of whom are now parents; broken of strong positive relationships between parents, businesses and institutions where schools are located; and the lost history of success of the schools’ alumni that bear witness to the importance of a good education.
As evidence of her concerns, Lee provided a Washington Post report dated September 12, 2012 that showed an audit of the school Chancellor’s decision to to close 23 D.C. public schools in 2008. It cost the city nearly $40 million, far more than was initially assumed according to the district auditor.
What started out as a $9.7 million price tag boomeranged into an additional $8 million in costs to move or demolish buildings and the city also forfeited $22 million in lost property value at close sites.
She also pointed out the values educational resources, positive test scores, academic programs and achievements in fine arts, math, science and technology at each school as more evidence that the school should remain open.
According to Jackson Lee, the board should consider other initiatives to help keep schools open.
“We must look at innovative ideas like those being made in under Miami-Dade Superintendent of Schools Alberto M. Carvalho who was named Florida’s Superintendent of the Year today by the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS),” she said.
Under Alberto Carvalho’s leadership, schools that were threatened with closure by the state were transformed from D and F schools into A, B, and C schools, earning a visit from President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Through precision budgeting, art, music and language offerings flourished in Miami-Dade County’s schools while being cut by other districts.
Carvalho successfully led a campaign for a $1.2 billion General Obligation Bond that will improve schools, provide new schools, and enhance technology.
She hopes there will be a thorough analysis and review before a final determination is made.
“Ultimately our decisions should be guided by this principle: the best interest of the children,” she said. “Therefore, before taking precipitous action we must evaluate and consider the far reaching impact on the support network provided to children by their neighborhood school, family and community.”