My esteem for the Houston Chronicle has vacillated mightily over the years, hitting a low point in 1995 with the tragic demise of the Houston Post. In the Internet era, Houston's only bigtime daily has undergone changes for the better and the worse. I bear a great fondness for some of its editors, writers, and contributors (Lisa Gray and the Gray Matters crew), grudging respect for others (Rusty Tomlinson), but I find the non-paywall site chron.com site an ad-strangled train wreck.
It's unfortunate that the most effective way to persuade people to buy newspapers is to hold over their heads the prospect of newspapers' extinction. True, it's strikingly similar to the way public and community radio stations tell us, "Without your financial contributions, we would not exist!" But there is an important difference: Most of our newspapers depend on paid advertising more than on subscriptions or individual purchases.
But I didn't come here today to ramble about existential threats to the newspaper as we know it. The rambling introduction above serves primarily to remind Houstonians and Houston-lovers, wherever they may live, to pay for a friggin' digital subscription to houstonchronicle.com. Seriously. It's a paltry ten dollars a month for unlimited, relatively ad-free access to the Chronicle's relatively ad-free site, plus Sunday delivery of the print edition within the delivery area (which could pay for itself in coupons alone).
Lately the Chron has found some long-lost backbone, publishing articles directly critical of city governments and school districts' policies and practices in Greater Houston. This is not just a typical case of a right-wing news outlet lashing out at a center-left Council and bureaucracy; this is a centrist-to-liberal paper shining its fact-light on taxpayer-funded ineptitude and venality in high places.
Some recent favorites, if you can call them that, include a front-pager about sloppy accounting in Houston's housing fund and a scathing retrospective of Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell's tenure.
Regarding Pasadena, where I worked in the early 1990s: There's a reason—or several—that an American city of 150,000 with a large stock of affordable housing is only about 1% black. Part of that reason is the establishment that Johnny Isbell has represented for half a century. Read all about it, as they say, if you can get past the paywall.
Hey Mayor: About Those No Camping/Panhandling Ordinances...
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas apparently believes that Houston's efforts at controlling the actions of its homeless, hungry, and addicted are not only wrong-headed and immoral but add up to denial of Constitutional rights. As if we didn't have enough trouble with Republicans in Austin passing anti-immigrant and transphobic legislation (Trigger Warning: photo of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst), we have to deal with local Democrats passing laws to take people's tents away before the housing fund can find the money to put them in apartments.
On the panhandling front, Mayor and Council are encouraging people to discourage the practice by not giving spare change to those who request it. Instead of providing money that might go toward booze or kush, say our elected leaders, folks can throw some money to Meaningful Change. At face value, it's a beautiful initiative, and it just might work. Perhaps people on the street will tire of hearing, "I gave to Meaningful Change; are you not taking advantage of the program?" and apply for services. Perhaps the city really will save money, as Salt Lake City did, but providing food, shelter, and medical care for the victims of capitalism's hit & run. And it's all voluntary, not involving any increases in our municipal taxes! Pure genius, right?
Come on. All the facilities should be in place before the city starts raiding the tent cities and busting people who are just trying to survive. The New Hope housing facility on Reed Road isn't even built yet. There is a New Hope on Hamilton, right by Minute Maid Park, and also very close to one of the largest encampments under the Eastex Elevated.
Meanwhile, I'll keep shelling out spare change for people whose lives generally suck and who desperately need help. Also meanwhile, the folks at Food Not Bombs will keep cooking tasty vegan meals and serving the "least of our brethren" by the Houston Public Library.
Hey HISD: How about a Raise?
In 1988, I took a part-time Latin teaching job at R.E. Fitch Senior High School in Groton, Connecticut. Since I was teaching two classes, 2/5 of a full schedule, Groton paid me just above $10,000 a year in '80s money. (I had other part-time jobs.) My department chair, with 20-plus years of experience, was earning about $60,000 in '80s money. In three years there, I didn't manage to recruit enough Latin students to increase to 3/5, or else I would have stayed. By 1991, with a baby on the way and the economy going completely to shit in New England anyway, I high-tailed it back to Houston, just ducking a layoff notice from Groton Public Schools.
In light of that memory, it's an eye-opener to see that Houston Independent School District still doesn't pay its veteran teachers the same figure that my chairperson earned three decades ago. During my ten years as a high school teacher, I may have popped into a couple of psychological counseling offices, but at least I never had to make use of a food bank.
Public school teachers in this state have it pretty bad as it is, what with
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said low pay has led to a shortage of experienced teachers in HISD. About 60 percent of Houston ISD teachers had 10 or fewer years of experience during the 2015-2016 school year, according to the district's Texas Academic Performance Report, while about 15.5 percent had more than 20 years of experience. That dearth of veteran teachers also affects newer teachers, Capo said, because they cannot lean on or learn from those with more years in the classroom.
As the article notes, however, "...the district must begin paying tens of millions of dollars to the state under Texas' school-funding formula, known as 'recapture.'" HISD is property-rich, so it must pay the state an assessed amount to help property-poor districts, per the state's Robin Hood law. The alternative, rejected by referendum earlier this month, would be to lose the ability to tax high-ticket properties, whose taxes our poorer neighbor districts would then get to collect instead. Either way, the district just lost a several football stadia's worth of funds with which they might have boosted salaries.
Here's the major suckage behind this whole sucky story: In the past decade, Houston has seen an explosion of residential development inside Loop 610. There are been commercial development, but not as much or as fast. Most of the development has come in the form of replacing older, more affordable housing stock with glitzy new townhomes, mid-rises, and high-rises. These new units in turn raise the assessed value of properties around them. A 1200-square-foot bungalow in the Heights might have listed for $200,000 in 2007, but nearly double that now. (Oh look, that's the house from this Chronicle story a few weeks ago!)
And yet, there still isn't enough tax money coming out of all that property to provide adequate schools for all our children. We have some mega-awesome schools like the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. We also have a lot of schools that are still waiting to accrue the benefits of the desegregation imposed on the district in 1971—the same desegregation that created HSPVA and other magnet schools. We have families moving into fancy new digs built in low-income neighborhoods who do not send their children to the neighborhood schools because those schools are scary to those mostly white affluent residents.
Perhaps Dr. Richard Carranza, the new superintendent will help put the district on course to quality education for all and better salaries for professional educators. He'll probably have to step on some noisy toes by re-evaluating and restructuring the magnet program, and he'll need buy-in from the various stakeholders. But one can hope.
Blogging Sporadically since 2014
Here you will find political campaign-related entries, as well as some about my literature, Houston underground arts, peace & justice, urban cycling, soccer, alt-religion, and other topics.