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SOCIETY THE GREAT PARK CITIES MUD FIGHT

The recent feud for control of the city’s best schools has been more bitter than anyone imagined. It may also be a sign of things to come.
By Jim Atkinson |

“I guess Bum Bright hadn’t had anything to ruin in awhile,” goes one particularly colorful analysis of the inexplicable outbreak of trench warfare in the Park Cities earlier this year. “He’d already ruined three of the four best things about this town: The Cowboys, Republic Bank, and the Southwest Conference. Why not ruin the last one: the Highland Park schools?”

That’s not entirely fair to Mr. Bright, and it doesn’t really begin to explain all the reasons for the bloodletting over the Highland Park schools this winter and spring. But it does give the outsider a feel for how deep the wounds still run. Much of the rancor stirred by the first failed bond program in the long and illustrious history of the Highland Park schools-not to mention the X-rated school board campaign that followed it-has by now been quarantined behind tight, polite smiles and the tinny rhetoric of “healing.” But off the record, a lot of the gentry on both sides of the fracas are still angry, hurt, and just plain perplexed.

“I don’t know,” observes John Week-ley, the political consultant who found himself both personally and professionally on the winning side of the bond battle but the losing end of the trustees’ elections. “Maybe it was the old saw about local politics being the roughest form of the sport. I know I’ve never seen anything like it here, and I grew up in Highland Park. Come to think of it, I’ve worked campaigns in Louisiana, and I don’t think I’ve seen anything this bad there. “

How nasty was it? So nasty that professional political spinners like Weekley and Rob Allyn were brought in to manage the mud fight. So nasty that Park Cities dinosaurs like Bright, former Gov. Bill Clements, and former University Park Mayor Roy Coffee were stirred from their easy chairs at the Dallas Country Club to lend their names, time, and, most impor-tandy, money to the campaign. So nasty that opposing sides spent a combined total of $450,000 on the bond campaign and subsequent school board races. So nasty that by the final week of the school board trustees campaign, candidate Lou Lebowitz was spewing allegations of malfeasance by the school district administration out of one side of his mouth, defending himself against charges that he was a liar, a welsher, and a sexual harasser out of the other.

None of this would be worth a second glance were it not for the context. But cast against the compulsively genteel backdrop of the Park Cities, all the vulgarity became almost blackly farcical. You know somebody has spiked the iced tea over at Patrizio’s when one Highland Park school board candidate accuses another of being “a tax-and-spend liberal.”

Tempting as it was to laugh off the whole matter, the Rumble in the Bubble wasn’t merely some latter-day comedy of manners. It was, for one thing, the culmination of a decadelong struggle between what some observers call the “Bluebloods” and the “New Bloods” in the community-the latest in a long line of battles for cultural superiority fought by the baby boomers. And while the boomers lost this battle simply because there still are more households in the Park Cities without children in the school district, it may be only a matter of time before they win the war, For another, it was proof that anything that can be politicized will be.

Finally, even though the fracas in the Park Cities was over the affairs of a relatively small independent school district of about 6,000 students, it was, in its way, a harbinger of one of the faces that politics will wear in the next millennium. And if the Rumble in the Bubble was any example, they will be very local, very testy, and very much about schools.



FIRST BLOOD: WHO SLIGHTED WHOM?

To understand how a place became ripe for revolution where following politics has always been about as interesting as watching the water flow down the hole in Turtle Creek, you have to go back to the early ’90s, when three events conspired to produce the past year’s conflagration. One was enactment of the Robin Hood school finance law, whose Draconian egalitarianism mandated that wealthy districts share their largess with the state’s poorest districts, This forced HPISD to double its taxes virtually overnight. Even the well-to-do can’t countenance a 100 percent tax increase without becoming a little irritable, particularly when more than half the money is going to the schools in Laredo and not their own.

Second, at least some residents were further unsettled by the hiring of a new superintendent at about the same time. While Dr. John Connollys reputation as an educator was nothing short of preeminent, he did arrive in Highland Park from Westchester County, NY, at just the wrong time. Important, difficult tasks had been left to him by his predecessor, Winston Power: the design and implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum plan; the weeding out of “deadwood” among the faculty; the upgrading of special education; and- the day he arrived, it seemed- the erection of portable classrooms at the elementary schools.

These were all matters that could-and did-by their nature stir animosity among someschool district constituents, making Connolly unpopular simply for showing up. Some ardent defenders of The Highland Park Way were actually worried about undue Yankee influence from the New Yorker. superintendent at about the same time. While Dr. John Connollys reputation as an educator was nothing short of preeminent, he did arrive in Highland Park from Westchester County, NY, at just the wrong time. Important, difficult tasks had been left to him by his predecessor, Winston Power: the design and implementation of a comprehensive, coordinated kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum plan; the weeding out of “deadwood” among the faculty; the upgrading of special education; and- the day he arrived, it seemed- the erection of portable classrooms at the elementary schools.

These were all matters that could-and did-by their nature stir animosity among someschool district constituents, making Connolly unpopular simply for showing up. Some ardent defenders of The Highland Park Way were actually worried about undue Yankee influence from the New Yorker. others had declared the old edifice unsal-vageable in any form, a group of citizens fought its eventual demolition with quixotic tenacity on the grounds that it was wasteful to destroy it.

It was in this touchy and parsimonious atmosphere that the Highland Park school board set about the task of coping with a serious overcrowding problem in 1995. Like many suburban school districts, the Highland Park Independent School District (HPISD) had been on a growth curve since the early ’90s, when the recession abated and the economy turned northward again, and more importantly, large numbers of the children of baby boomers became school-age. Given the rising costs of private schools and the continuing decline in the quality of education available in large urban districts like Dallas’, buying into a small distria with a superlative reputation like Highland Park became a priority to these young couples.

So while the number of households in the HPISD has remained stable for 20 years or so, the composition of those households has changed radically. Especially in the last decade, the number of post-retirement (65 to 74 years old) and career-entry (20s) households has declined sharply, and the number of households in the 35-55 age range has climbed steadily. Since that is the age cohort most likely to have school-age children, the student population has been growing at a rate of about 4 percent per year since the late ’80s.

The dynamics of this in-migration are fairly obvious to anyone who has driven or walked the streets of the Park Cities in the past decade: Old, retired couple living in relatively modest 50-year-old house decides to take the money and run now that housing prices have restored themselves to pre-recession levels. Young couple with two or three children buys house, levels it, and erects zero-lot-line two-story with three-car garage-then promptly has another child or two to fill up the extra bedrooms.

The result is that the population of the school district has climbed by more than one-third since its low ebb in 1988. And given the high retention rates (the number of students who remain in the districts schools from one year to the next) of the Park Cities schools-not to mention the 1,3 00 or so prospective tear-downs that have been identified, primarily in University Park-the research firm MPF has estimated it will grow by another 26 percent by 2002.

The task of figuring out how to accommodate all the new students without offending the suddenly stingy sensibilities of a lot of Highland Park taxpayers fell to the district’s Facilities Committee, a consortium of school board members and citizens. Its incoming chairman was newly elected trustee Harry Hargrave, an amiable, silver-haired real estate developer who, sensing smoldering resentment over the middle-school flap years before, immediately endeavored to preempt potential problems by peopling the committee with representatives of every conceivable age and professional group in the Park Cities.

The cosmetics succeeded in keeping things polite-at least for a while-but they could not solve the school district’s basic problem: Because of the overcrowding and other unexpected demands, Highland Park not only needed a bond program, it needed the biggest one in the near century-long history of the The Bubble. Not only did the existing elementary schools need to be expanded, but the district actually needed a whole new one,

Worse, the city was pressuring the district to do something about the terrible parking situation around the high school. Given real estate limitations, a parking garage appeared to be the answer. “We tried to keep it under $50 million,” Hargrave recalls ruefully. “But the overcrowding and all were already right in out face. We felt we didn’t have any choice.”

About two years deep into the committee’s work, Hargrave had a conversation with fellow school board and Facilities Committee member Jack Sides that he now believes may have planted some of the seeds of this year’s squabble. Sides told Hargrave he thought the committee was too “schools-oriented” and that there weren’t enough “city people” on it. He recommended several individuals to Hargrave, including former University Park Mayor Roy Coffee and insurance executive and revered philanthropist William Seay,

Hargrave pondered the suggestion but decided he really didn’t see the point: The committee was almost finished with its work, and Coffee, he knew, could be something of a zealot on the city vs. schools issue. {He had initially been against the ’92 bond until he was sweet-talked into supporting it.)

“I just knew he would be very negative on all of this,” recalls Hargrave. “It was my decision to keep Roy Coffee off. “

Often as not, political battles eruptless from substantive disagreements than from a single, fatal slight: Somebody’s sense of self-importance is insulted, and before you know it, you have a fight on your hands. Before the Rumble in the Bubble was over, there would be many alleged slights cited by both camps as precipitating events in the fracas-the Park Cities, after all, probably have more self-important people per square mile than any other community in the nation. But Hargrave’s decision not to include Coffee on the committee was the first of these slights and “left us open to the charge that the Facilities Committee were pawns of Superintendent Connolly,” as Hargrave now analyzes it.

That would be the least of the criticism hurled at Hargrave and other board members once they took the finalized $76 million proposal to the public. At a public forum held by the Facilities Committee to ventilate the issue with the citizenry in December 1997, a group of former mayors was in attendance, “and I think they got worried about the $76 million sticker price,” recalls Hargrave. The next day, he was invited to breakfast by two of them, Jack Hammack and Joel Williams. Hargrave took along school board president Brownie Simpson.

The former mayors were concerned, they said. The bond was just too large. The parking garage looked too extravagant. Both would send the wrong message to Austin on the Robin Hood matter. How can we convince them of the onerousness of Robin Hood if we’re building parking garages? Put it off, they pleaded. Pare it down. At the minimum, they suggested, offer it up to voters “cafeteria style,” so taxpayers could pick and choose which issues to accept and which to reject.

“I listened very carefully,” says Har-grave. “These were men I respect deeply.” But after calling other members of the school hoard, Hargrave found that the membership (outside of Sides) was still firm on the size and substance of the proposal. In fact, some felt a little slighted themselves that the former mayors wouldn’t trust that they knew best after the two and a half years they’d worked on it. The former mayors, in turn, felt slighted that their advice was being ignored.

The legendary Park Cities civility was beginning to fray. Coffee and former school board member/bond supporter Mike Boone exchanged sharp words at a subsequent confab to try to work out a compromise. Although Boone says he merely stated he thought the bond would pass, opposition or not. Coffee remembers being “shocked at how arrogant they were. They had just decided no one else had an opinion.”

At a board of directors meeting of the Sports Club (a sports booster organization ) at the Dallas Country Club, Sides and Facilities Committee member Jeff Swope almost had more than words over the issue. Sides had taken the occasion to formally and publicly announce his opposition to the bond-even though he’d voted the measure out of the Facilities Committee.

Swope, who saw this as the worst sort of duplicity, angrily told Sides to “just sit down. ” Sides says he did his best to remain calm, although, “I couldn’t believe he was treating a public official that way.” Later that evening, Sides called Swope to tell him he didn’t appreciate the treatment, especially in front of his son, who’d been at the meeting with Sides. He added that “if you need to work something out with me, come on over here.”

Swope recalls saying, “Jack…are we having this conversation?”

The two haven’t spoken since.



THE BOND VOTE: THE BLUEBLOODS VS. THE NEW BLOODS

It got worse. After returning from a Christmas vacation in New Mexico, Coffee decided to fight the proposed bond, now slated for a February vote. A voluble, energetic man with infinite contacts in the Park Cities (his father, Roy Coffee Sr., had been mayor of University Park for some 20 years), Coffee sent out a quick mailing with a return card, he says, “to see what support might be out there. We only had 30 days, and the other side already had their committee, had yard signs, the whole bit. But I was amazed at the response.”

One of the respondents was John Weekley, who promised to provide his considerable campaign management skills to the effort. Another was former Gov. Bill Clements, who sent back a card saying he was against the bond. When Coffee called him, “He basically said he thought it was too much. I knew we were on to something then. See, they had misjudged the public sentiment.”

Had they. Over the next month, denizens of The Bubble were treated to something none of them had ever witnessed before: a bare-knuckles political brawl worthy of the Chicago ward system. Sensing untapped support in the community, Coffee and Weekley quickly began raising money and organizing volunteers. Neither was difficult: Unexpected angels like Bright began writing checks, and volunteer workers were calling in on their own,

“We were tapping into many different constituencies,” Weekley recalls. “Older residents whose kids were gone, citizens who were afraid a new elementary school would displace them. But mainly it was people who thought $76 million was too much.”

By mid-January, major boulevards like Beverly Drive were a sea of yard signs, most of them anti-bond. Residents could barely get through dinner without a call from a phone bank on one side or the other of the issue. From the outset, the rhetoric was sharper, more personal, and more mean-spirited than in past elections.

“The idea of controversy in a Highland Park school election just seemed ridiculous,” Swope says, “What 1 couldn’t understand was, what, really, were they doing this for? I mean. Bill Clements’ taxes are frozen. What does he care?”

That would remain a mystery. Coffee and company cast the campaign in myriad poses: fiscal integrity vs. unwise, even reckless public spending-money for bricks and mortar instead of raises for teachers; lowly homeowners vs. the big, uncaring institution of the school district.

But fiscal paranoia was only part of the story. As the Rumble in the Bubble played itself out, it became increasingly clear that there was something of a cultural war taking place between the Bluebloods and the New Bloods.

The former, the heart and soul of the anti-bond forces, consist of older, longtime residents like Bright, Clements, Coffee, plus younger ones like Bright’s son, Clay, and Lou Lebowitz, who have a long Park Cities bloodline. They take the sarcastic moniker “The Bubble” quite literally and want the place to remain as it was in the ’50s and ’60s.

Not all of them actually belong to the Dallas Country Club, but they do believe in the provincialism it symbolizes. Privately, some resent the young, affluent “outsiders” who have bought homes there in recent years to take advantage of the school system.

“They see those Suburbans crammed with kids along Beverly Drive,” says one observer of Park Cities culture, “and it drives them crazy. A lot of those people are not only not from the Park Cities, they may not be from Dallas. It upsets them that often their own kids can’t afford to buy back into the Park Cities. It’s a real kind of a bloodline thing.”

Hence, the Bluebloods were suspicious of the bond not only because of its large sticker price but also because building new schools might prove to be a case of “If you build it, they will come.”

As Coffee explained after his side’s victory in the bond vote: “I’m not sure we want the kind of community where well-to-do young couples with kids buy into the place to use the schools, then sell out. You don’t have any continuity that way. Tin is place used to be a real mix of people. They were all ambitious and smart, but most of them weren’t really rich. Today it’s just a bunch of rich people,”

Other Bluebloods professed worry that passage of a large bond would only enhance the power of Superintendent Connolly and his policies, some of which they consider to be “out on the edge” and of “a national-type orientation “-though they consistently hesitate to get more specific than that.

The New Bloods, on the other hand, are largely boomers whose children have reached school age during the past 10 years. They have made enormous investments in Park Cities real estate to secure a Highland Park education for their kids, so they are more concerned with the future than with the past. They too tend to be conservative but are decidedly less parochial. While many were somewhat taken aback by the size of the proposed bond, they took it on faith that the debt was necessary to keep HPISD up to snuff. While they don’t necessarily see themselves as on the edge, they do tend to endorse the policies of Superintendent Connolly.

“Listen, I’ve had kids under Power [the previous superintendent] and Connolly,” Swope says. “The difference is remarkable. It’s no offense to anyone, but we can’t afford to live in the past.”

But the pro-bond advocates never could persuade voters to view the issue in those terms. The Bluebloods’ message of fiscal integrity simply cut too wide a swath with the majority of residents who do not have kids in the schools. As long and hard as they’d worked on the bond proposal, they found themselves strangely on the defensive throughout the campaign.

“Were we a little complacent?” Hargrave wonders. “Maybe so. But we’d worked on this for over two years. It was just hard to conceive that people didn’t think we did the only thing we could with the bond and that there wasn’t any funny business with it.”

But voters obviously did. When the vote was finally tallied in February, even the most jaded observer of the brawl had to be shocked at the margin of the anti-bond victory. Sixty percent is a landslide in anybody’s book, and residents had to wonder once again what it all meant.



THE SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS: BLUE BLOOD TURNS RED

Given that blood was still draining from the gutters along Armstrong Parkway, many observers had hoped that the anti-bond forces would be satisfied with their victoiy and leave well enough alone. But Coffee and company wanted to ensure that no such blasphemy would ever come up again.

Now the pro-bond forces had to worry about losing control of the school board. Barely days after the bond vote, a slate of Bluebloods announced their intention to run in the May elections to fill three seats on the board: Clay Bright (son of Bum); former teacher Libba Massey; and lawyer and venture capitalist Lou Lebowitz. Though they preached a rather banal message of “restoring fiscal integrity” to the district, the New Bloods feared that their elections could result in turmoil at the school district, including unwarranted spending cuts, even the ouster of Superintendent Connolly.

It was Lebowitz who became the lightning rod for this particular battle. Smart, sharp-tongued and confrontational, he was considered the principal force in shaping the anti-bond campaign’s in-your-face style and was the author of many of the curmudgeonly red herrings that the group presented as issues. Defeating the 49-year-old developer was critical not only to forestalling a Blueblood majority on the board, but also to putting the damper on any future, similar insurgencies.

The campaign descended to new depths, Lebowitz fired the first salvo by charging that, according to the school district’s own records, some $6 million in fixed assets had “disappeared.” The malodorous inference that the candidate wished to be drawn was clear; The school board wasn’t merely getting too big for its britches, it couldn’t even keep track of its assets and thus couldn’t be trusted at all. Though the missing-assets charge would prove to be a good deal less sensational that it initially sounded, such a militant campaign style by Lebowitz seemed to set the tone for the entire campaign-and assured him of much stronger opposition than he’d anticipated.

Some members of the New Blood faction decided they had had enough of Lebowitz and Coffee and their arrogance. “I’ll tel] you,” says Brian Lidji, the former Facilities Committee member and pro-bond activist. “This wasn’t anything I did for Guy Kerr (Lebowitz’s incumbent opponent) or at his request. But Lou had me worried. I worried that with his calling the school district in competent and all, administrators and teachers-maybe Connolly-would leave. I felt I had to do something for my kids.”

Lidji was aware that Lebowitz had something of a checkered history as an entrepreneur. Since the candidate had made “accountability and full disclosure” by the school board and district an issue in his campaign, “I decided to see how he stood up on those fronts,” Lidji says.

It didn’t take the attorney long to excavate some mud. A computer check at the county spit up some 30 lawsuits filed against Lebowitz and entities he’d been involved with. In nine suits, records revealed that Lebowitz had not merely been sued but had been pursued legally by major banks, such as Bank One and NCNB (now NationsBank), for business debts ranging into the seven figures.

In one suit, the sheriff’s department had to file special papers to serve Lebowitz and his wife, who, the department implied, were evading service. Another computer probe found that numerous business entities Lebowitz had been an officer of were forfeited by the state for failure to pay franchise taxes, including his one-time law firm, Wilson, Bray and Lebowitz.

By the last two weeks of the campaign, Lidji and others had formed their own PAC, Citizens for Campaign Integrity. They also had brought in local political pro Rob Allyn. hired phone banks to “push poll” the Lebowitz-Kerr race, and worked up a mailing about Lou Lebowitz and his “troubled business history,” which highlighted the question “Can we trust this man with our school taxes?”

But Lidji and company weren’t Lebo-witz’s only problem. As the flyers were being readied for distribution, Lidji got a call from Dallas attorney Wallace Swanson, who said he needed to talk with him about Lebowitz. Lidji met him at his home near midnight. He quickly learned that things were about to get even nastier,

Like Lidji, Swanson (formerly a longtime Park Cities resident and supporter of the school district) had been doing a slow bum over Lebowitz’s loose lip. Although he had no stake in the power struggle in the HPISD, he was incensed over a Park Cities People story in which Lebowitz had made what he regarded as false claims about his service as an attorney with Swanson’s former firm, Hewett, Johnson, Swanson and Barbee.

Specifically, in a letter he sent to Lebowitz, Swanson objected to claims Lebowitz had made that he had been an assistant to former Swanson partner, the late John Johnson. Lebowitz had also claimed that back in the 70s, he had been “handed the $200 million Reunion Arena deal”’ by Johnson with orders to “make it happen.” All this, after he only been with the firm for about six months. (John Johnson represented Ray Hunt, the private developer involved in the Reunion deal.)

Swanson said that Johnson had never had an assistant; that his recollection was that the younger lawyer had been moved from the firm’s real estate department because of Johnson’s dissatisfaction with his work; that Lebowitz had, in fact, been summarily terminated from Johnson, Swanson for inappropriately touching a secretary at the firm. Swanson was outraged that Lebowtiz would take advantage of his former partner Johnson’s absence. In bis letter to Lebowitz, he demanded that the candidate publish “accurate information” about his tenure at the firm before April 24 (a week before the election), or Swanson would disseminate the truth to the public.

Swanson told Lidji he hadn’t heard from Lebowitz by the deadline and asked his advice on what to do. Lidji advised him to compose a shorter version of the letter for a direct mailing and said he would take care of spreading the news elsewhere.

“What I did was I told about 10 women I know. That took care of it,” Lidji says.

The various allegations attacking Lebo-witz’s character spread through The Bubble like a virus. Lebowitz and his supporters fired off hasty responses. Letters from Sides, Lebowitz attorney Stephen Mark, and the candidate himself assured voters that all the lawsuits and debts cited by Lidji’s group had been “settled amicably,” and implied that much of the litigation was the result of “the real estate crisis and bank failures” of the 1980s (although at least some of the suits were from the mid-’90s and none of the language in them sounded particularly “amicable”). Mark’s letter went on to explain that, as an attorney who’d worked with Lebowitz at Johnson and Swanson during the Reunion project days, Mark could vouch for Lebowitz’s claims and that, far from being ousted, the lawyer had left Johnson, Swanson for a higher-paying job with another firm. Lebowitz, for his part, categorically denied the sexual harassment allegation and labeled the Lidji effort an act of desperation. “They figured they were behind after early voting, and they were,” he said later. “So they called out the dogs and resorted to the lowest form of campaigning I’ve ever seen.”

To the average voter, it all became a bout of mud wrestling in which the participants couldn’t be distinguished from one another. Which is perhaps why when election day arrived, one-third fewer voters turned out than in the bond election, sending both Lebowitz and Bright down to defeat. But they were notably narrow defeats (less than 1 percent) so residents of The Bubble still can’t be sure what it all meant-or whether it’s finally over.

Things seem to have returned to normal, but that’s what things always do in the Park Cities. Lebowitz made a polite and conciliatory speech to the new school board at its first meeting in May, although lie has vowed to continue as a “watchdog” over the board and the district. This year’s Facilities Committee shoehomed all die students into existing facilities for one more year. Some insiders even think a new bond proposal-albeit, a more modest one-will soon be in the works.

But beneath the surface, residents know that nearly half a year of political brawling has raised certain questions, challenged certain assumptions as never before. Did the anti-bond victory-despite the loss of its candidates in the subsequent school board elections-forever spook a significant portion of the community on ambitious capital expenditure in the school district? If it has, will future tentativeness begin to erode the Park Cities’ time-honored policy of whatever-it-takes when it comes to its public school system? Finally, given the ferocity of the dispute over spending on education, some denizens were moved to wonder: Do most Park Cities residents truly care about the continued supremacy of their schools or only that the schools are theirs?

The optimistic view is that political scrapping of early ’98 was a growing pain, the bloodiest but perhaps not the last bat* de between the Bluebloods and the New Bloods-a war that the latter will eventually win by sheer weight of demographics, if nothing else. And it could well be that a slackening of the noose of Robin Hood by the legislature next year will render any future conflict moot. In the meantime, residents can only hope that future skirmishes can be handled with a bit more civility.

As Jeff Swope says, “You do have to wonder what our kids-who are the real point here-thought of the way we adults were behaving.”

MISINFORMATION 101

How the Bluebolld camp spun the truth for political gainBig-time political spin whirled into Park Cities politics this spring like an F-5 tornado. Before it was all over, no one was really telling the truth. But the eventually victorious antibond forces were guilty of most of the disinformation. Some examples:



ALLEGATION

The bond debt would “bankrupt” a district that was already guilty of “deficit spending.”

THE TRUTH

The charge relied on projections that did not factor in the “hold harmless” clause, which allows rich districts to exempt some tax revenues from Robin Hood. Taking into account the provision, HP’s finances are very strong-which bond opponents should have known.



ALLEGATION

The bond debt would jeopardize pay raises for the district’s teachers.The inference was twofold: that many teachers were against the bond, and that new debt would filch money from teachers.

THE TRUTH

HP teachers were overwhelmingly in favor of the bond: In the long term, new school buildings and the expansion of existing ones would actually free up cash for salaries that now pays for portable buildings.



ALLEGATION

The HP teaching staff is inexperienced and suffers from low morale, with 37 percent of its teachers having been in the district for a year or less.

THE TRUTH

The 37 percent figure is only true if you count teachers hired in the past year plus those hired for the coming year. The figure also counts replacement hires and new hires, though new hires are merely a reflection of a growing district. Taking into account these “oversights,” HP’s true turnover rate is about 16 percent



ALLEGATION

The district isn’t overcrowded. The 1995 Holifield study uniformly found more classroom space than the district’s own capacity work-ups.

THE TRUTH

First, Holifield admits the study’s numbers cannot “be relied upon without considerations of the schools’ individual programs.” In the case of HPISD. programs like special needs instruction can consume a lot of classroom space with relatively few students.Second, Holifield used a “functional capacity” rate of 95 percent,, while most researchers employ an 85-90 percent rate. The 5 percent spread can cause statistically significant differences-that alone could amount to 250 students districtwide.



ALLEGATION

Some time during the past decade, the school district had lost some $6 million in fixed assets. The ’97 financial statement showed the district to be carrying about $ 13 million in fixed assets, but, a special accounting of the same assets.which was performed in the fall of ’97, had placed the figure at about $6.5 million.



THE TRUTH

The second inventory only included items worth more than S500, which eliminated more than half the stuff counted in the first audit. Also, certain big-ticket items, such as $500,000 worth of library books, were dealt with in a separate audit.

The “missing” $6 million was really the product of modifications in auditing definitions and procedures.