in Houston, Texas
HISD's Apollo 20 program needs to raise just $6M more -- but cost is up $9M
Thursday, Oct 07, 2010, 09:11PM CST
By Lynn Walsh
The Houston Independent School District is $6 million short in the private donations it must raise to fund a program to reform failing schools -- meanwhile, the estimated cost of the program is now $9 million more than the school system originally said.

HISD has secured more than $23 million for the Apollo 20 program to target 20 troubled schools -- including $10.45 million just since August, school officials said.

Sharpstown High School
That month, the district gave Texas Watchdog a cost estimate of $20.2 million for Apollo 20.

Now, HISD Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett says the overall cost of Apollo 20 is $29.5 million this year, and that the district still needs to raise $6.1 million in private donations.

Why the difference? Garrett said it is simply a misunderstanding.

“The total cost associated with the school programs is $20 million,” Garrett said. “But when you add in the central office costs, close to $9 million, the total comes to $29.5 million for this school year.”

The central office costs include overhead administration costs like money spent on the overall planning of Apollo 20, training costs and the addition of two new positions -- a school improvement officer and a secretary for the new SIO position.

Those costs weren’t accounted for when district spokesman Norm Uhl answered Texas Watchdog’s questions in an e-mail Aug. 3: “The high schools are costing $11.4 million for 2010-11. We have to raise an additional $120,000. The middle school cost is $8.8 million, and we have to raise an additional $7 million,” Uhl said then.

This is not the first time HISD has reported discrepancies in estimated costs for various projects. Last month HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said a district-wide construction program was $39 million over budget. On Thursday, a private consultant working for the district said the same program was $4 million under budget.

The Apollo 20 program includes 20 high schools, middle schools and elementary schools that HISD has identified as under-performing. All of the money HISD has received will pay for longer school days, a longer school year, tutor salaries and transportation costs.

The program has already launched at Lee, Kashmere, Sharpstown and Jones high schools, as well as Fondren, Key, Ryan, Attucks and Dowling middle schools. Eleven elementary schools are slated to enter the program next school year.

Where the money is coming from

When asked for the most recent funding numbers associated with Apollo 20, district spokeswoman Sarah Greer pointed Texas Watchdog to HISD trustee Harvin Moore’s recent blog post on donations to the program.

That post details $9.5 million in grants and private donations for the 2010-11 Apollo 20 program since Aug. 3:
  • $28 million three-year Title 1 Priority Schools Grant from the Texas Education Agency awarded Aug. 12 to six Apollo 20 schools. That is $9.3 million annually.
  • $100,000 private donation from Bank of America on Aug. 27.
  • $100,000 private donation from Wells Fargo Bank on Sept. 22.

The district also received an additional $950,000 from the Brown Foundation last week, for a total of $10.45 million.

HISD had secured $13.08 million in funding prior to Aug. 3, bringing the total amount raised to $23.5 million.

Greer said the HISD Foundation, the district’s nonprofit fundraising arm, expects more grants over the next two years. “Because corporations and foundations have different times when their boards meet or when they do their annual budget, it is a continuous, ongoing process,” she said in an e-mail Friday.

Reach Lynn Walsh at or follow her on Twitter at @lwalsh or @texaswatchdog.

Public domain photo of Sharpstown High School by Wikipedia user WhisperToMe.

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