Answering Your Questions


Rather than talk about my plans, this post is a post to answer questions I've been asked either here, through my Facebook page, in events attended, or while out engaging with voters. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out either through the message function here or via email info@degeyterforhisd.com .


Q: What made you decide to run?


A: I'm tired of seeing the students of the district hurt by the board's actions. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is involved with litigation to take over the district. That's a threat everyone should rally against since the TEA managers are not accountable while Houstonians get to elect board members which holds them accountable.


The special education department is in conservatorship status, and improving the situation is simply a matter of political will and using the tools available more efficiently. All districts must provide special educations services under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and this requirement could be used to both serve special needs students as well as strengthen the district's finances. Medicaid is a joint state-federal program, and Texas has the School Health and Related Services program (SHARH) where the state portion of Medicaid allows school districts to enroll in SHARH and charge Medicaid on a fee for service model for the services they are already required to provide. The board simply has not chosen to do so.


Q: The district has run a budget deficit for several years. What steps will you take to address this problem?


A: School taxes, and the budget, are made up of two components. The maintenance and operations (M&O) funds regular school maintenance and operations, and the interest and sink (I&S) is what pays back the school bonds. Both portions run a deficit.


The I&S portion of the budget is easy to fix. The last bond issue was in 2012, and municipal bond interest rates have dropped significantly since then. HISD simply needs to refinance the bonds at the new lower interest rate. The interest savings will bring the I&S portion of the budget into surplus. The M&O is also in deficit, but in general has been in deficit by less than 5% of the budget. This can be resolved by a more aggressive grant solicitation program. HISD already has a high success rate with grant solicitation. We need to empower this department to have more success. Also, we should start with a zero budget per line item rather than adjusting from last year's budget. Making up a 5% deficit is readily achievable if we are deliberate in choosing to make a balanced budget a priority.


Q: What is your stance on new bonds?


A: We need to refinance the current bonds at the current lower interest rates, and use the interest savings to make renovations and repairs as necessary. The current board is all in on a new bond. This seems premature with the alternative pathway forward available.


Q: What is your experience with budgets in the billions of dollars?


A: When I worked for the Environmental Protection Agency one of my duties was purchasing equipment. While I didn't have access to billions, it was a substantial budget and for a young professional (at the time) a very eye opening process about how there can be waste and savings depending on the diligence of purchasing.


On a much smaller level I was president of the homeowners association where I live. The association has a very modest budget - around $100,000/year. When I took office we had approximately $30,000 cash on hand. When my term was over we had doubled that amount. That includes having one of the buildings catching on fire and the City requiring approximately $80,000 in repair work. Despite opening a line of credit and tapping the line of credit to make the repairs we were able to double our cash on hand. It's not billions of dollars in a budget, but it does show prudent financial management in the face of crisis.


Q: What actions can the district take to be more environmentally friendly?


A: The district has both short and long term actions they can take. I am more concerned about taking the short term plans since the actions can be taken within the current budget allocation.


A couple of examples: The schools currently have grey roofs. If the roofs were sealed with white sealant the increased albedo would prevent approximately half of the heat transfer from roof to building. Whitewashing the exterior of the schools would also decrease heat transfer since the schools are envelope dominated construction (as opposed to load dominated.) This reduction in heat transfer would result in lower energy consumption since much less air conditioning would be needed.


Another simple step we can take is to organize the drop off and pick up lines to operate more smoothly. For example, in District VI we have St. Francis de Sales Catholic school, Neff elementary, and Sharpstown International high school all in close proximity. The district should reach out to St. Francis de Sales and see if they would be willing to have a coordinated pick up plan so that all three schools pick up lines could operate more smoothly. I'm on the pastoral council at St. Francis, they would entertain such a discussion. By organizing campus pick up lines so the time waiting and idling is reduced the schools operate more efficiently and pollution is reduced.


Once we have taken the simple steps we can take within our current budget allocation we can plan for larger steps. When we plan for larger steps we need to see what efficiencies we can have with other programs. Houston already has a climate plan to help increase carbon capture. The schools should seek funding from the city for measures, such a campus beatification campaign that will also capture carbon in the form of increased tree and plant usage.


Once we have taken the simple steps we can take within our current budget allocation we can plan for larger steps. When we plan for larger steps we need to see what efficiencies we can have with other programs. Houston already has a climate plan to help increase carbon capture. The schools should seek funding from the city for measures, such a campus beatification campaign that will also capture carbon in the form of increased tree and plant usage.


Solar panels are another area where funding may be available and can be justified. We just had a horrific power outage from a want of energy supply. If the schools had solar panels on the gyms at a minimum space heaters could have been powered. While it would still have been uncomfortable, a 45-50 degree gym could have kept people from freezing to death. The schools already are used as shelters when other disasters such as hurricanes strike. This simply extends the current community service aspects the schools are engaged in and can be used to support grant solicitation to fund the solar panels.


Q: You have several Republican endorsements. How will you get along with the rest of the board who are all democrats?


A: This race is appropriately a nonpartisan race because we need to be focused on what's best for our children rather than partisan ideology. I am a Republican, and that means I have a somewhat different world view than the current Trustees. However, cross pollenization of ideas leads to a more thorough examination of the issues and results that are better for all involved.


Fundamentally it is not my desire to argue or be divisive. People have lost the art of disagreeing without being disagreeable. It is my intention to come into the board with a goal of finding common ground and working from that starting point. When I do not agree with the other Trustees I will conduct myself in a manner that in intentionally focused on being productive. Sometimes that means accepting my ideas and proposals will not carry the day and move on to the next issue.


The other Trustees and I have some differences, but we also have common ground to work from. It is my goal to generate goodwill by seeking to engage in areas of common ground. We all have some of the same goals. Improve reading scores. Make sure the district provides the best services possible to special needs students in the special education department and get the department out of conservatorship status. We all want to see the schools act in an energy efficient manner so electricity consumption is reduced. We all want to see the district stop running a budget deficit. In the end, being kind and charitable to the other Trustees and making the decision to operate from a spirit of cooperation where possible will minimize any issues that come from differing world views.

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