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Houston: Department of Education Trying to Violate Policy

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Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) Mike Wolfe, Position 5, At-Large, seeks to spend $53,886 to rename a general administration building after his mother, Ethel Wolfe. This action violates policy stating, “The Board prohibits the naming of any HCDE facility in honor of any individual living or dead.”

The building in question is at 6005 Westview and already has a sign, but HCDE leaders say it’s an old logo.

Earlier this year, Wolfe tried to close the Head Start Program in efforts to save money. This program is vital to the community because it serves as a day-care, educational program to over 1,200 children a day whose families are income-eligible. After public outcry, the program remained untouched. Remember, HCDE is a government agency and is funded by tax-dollars.

If he’s looking to save money, why would he want to spend $53,886 to rename a building after his mother that violates policy anyway? Moreover, this has not gone through any committees or public debate before violating policy. Wolfe says he has private donors to make it happen, so worrying about tax-dollars is not necessary.

“We can get all the donors we want, but is it the right thing for this board to stand behind? Is this really a precedent we want to set for future boards?” Dr. Diane Trautman, Position 3, At-Large, said. “And is it a precedent we want to set naming it after a family member, that is again, extremely self-serving.”

Besides Ethel Wolfe being a Houston teacher and a board member in Cy-Fair ISD and the letter from James A. McSwain, principal in the Houston Independent School District, setting the case for why Ethel should have a building named after her, the only connection she has to HCDE is her elected son, Mike.

Let’s remember what the policy says: “The Board prohibits the naming of any HCDE facility in honor of any individual living or dead.” This came 10 years ago after Mike named the agency’s headquarters after Ronald Reagan who is not from Texas and has zero connection to Harris County let alone the education department.

The board was supposed to come to a decision about it on August 16, 2017, but Dr. George P. Moore Position 1, Precinct 2, made a motion to table the vote to Sept. 20, 2017, and Mike seconded the motion.

“What is the reason? Are we just passing the buck so the people won’t hear? You’re not giving a reason besides ‘I don’t think we have the vote,'” Erica Lee Carter Position 6, Precinct 1, said.

Mike Wolfe’s statement on the signs:

Dr. James McSwain, the Principal of Houston ISD’s Lamar High School, who was my mom’s principal for the entirety of her teaching career said it best when speaking of Ethel Wolfe:

“Naming buildings in the field of Education is more than simply honoring the memory of someone we admire. It is about making a statement for the future of kids. By this practice, we hold up examples of people to emulate. Often, we think of politicians or others of great notoriety. This is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of a teacher – one who spent her life each day making a difference in the lives of students. I can think of no one better as a model for the lives of young people.”

Taxpayers will bear no cost for the inclusion of my mom’s name on this signage.

I have privately raised the $3,400 which is needed to pay for the inclusion of my mom’s name on the updated signage. Any amount above that is for updated signage that HCDE’s Superintendent insists is necessary for the building, regardless of the naming that was proposed by HCDE Vice President Eric Dick and approved by the Board this past January.

I have heard from dozens and dozens of people who support honoring my mom with the naming of that building, well over 100 people in fact. Honestly, I believe that it’s a breath of fresh air that HCDE’s Board of Trustees honored a teacher when so many these days are wanting to refight the American Civil War.

Sincerely,

Mike Wolfe
Harris County School Trustee
Position 5, At-Large

If local trustees on on local boards are taking advantage of their position to violate policy, it begs to question what else local boards are doing that do not represent the people.

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