A battle for the presidency of the Houston school board appears to be looming.
“I am interested in serving as president (next) year,” Eastman told Texas Watchdog. If successful, she would replace current President Paula Harris.
But a faction of the nine trustees who oversee Texas’ largest school district – and the seventh-biggest in the nation, with a $1.6 billion budget and about 203,000 students – has asked Trustee Greg Meyers to run against her.
“I’m considering it,” said Meyers, who was first elected in 2004 and served as president last year. “We’ll see at this point. I haven’t made any determinations.”
Trustees are scheduled to vote for their next chief officer during the Jan. 12 monthly board meeting, said Suzanne Harrison, HISD’s board services manager. Trustees nominate candidates and the presidency is decided by majority vote. The board members follow the same process for each individual trustee officer position.
Meyers said he would run “only for the right reasons.” When asked for an example, he replied, “I can’t pinpoint one in particular. It’s something that has to come from within yourself.”
Yet he acknowledged that though “the board is moving in the right direction, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Meyers did not reveal who requested that he oppose Eastman.
Instead, he emphasized that the board “frankly, is never about one person, and shouldn’t be.” If Meyers became president for the second time in three years, “there would be a delineation of what we’d want to do together as a unit, as a team to move forward in a collaborative way,” he said.
HISD board presidents serve for one year and may be elected for consecutive terms, according to district policy, but that is rare.
“In my experience, so far, the decision has been made through conversations with colleagues about why I'd like to serve and my personal leadership qualities,” said Eastman, who was first elected to the board in 2009. She served as assistant secretary last year and currently is second vice president.
Traditionally, “it has been viewed as a duty that rotated through trustees who were interested in serving,” Eastman said and several other board members interviewed for this story agreed.
In fact, it’s not abnormal for the first vice president to ascend to the presidency the following year.
But Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, who currently serves as first vice president and was board president in 2007, told Texas Watchdog he would not seek the board’s head seat next year.
To do so could continue what’s been months of controversy during Harris’ tenure.
She voted multiple times on district contracts with businesses run by a close friend. She also asked the district’s former procurement director to arrange a meeting with two vendors, records show.
Harris did not return a phone call or an e-mail requesting comment for this story.
And Rodriguez has faced dozens of angry speakers during the last two monthly board members.
They’ve accused him of being a bigot, full of hatred, promoting discrimination and creating an environment ripe for bullying due to a campaign brochure he distributed days before last month’s election and which critics called homophobic.
In that flier, Rodriguez said voters should not choose his opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, at the polls because “(Fonseca’s) records show he spent years advocating for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender rights… not kids.”
Rodriguez apologized for the brochure the day after the election.
Trustee Mike Lunceford said selecting the board president “has never been a big deal. You don’t go up there and pontificate and promise a chicken in every pot or anything like that.”
It’s more administrative, Lunceford said. The president serves as the spokesperson for the board, has weekly meetings with the superintendent and sets the board agenda.
“It’s more a procedural position – everyone gets their shot,” he said. “You’re supposed to have equal power relative to the other board members.”
But as Lunceford himself pointed out in September, it doesn’t always work that way.
He and some other trustees said then they did not appreciate that Superintendent Terry Grier forwarded an e-mail to only Harris and Rodriguez.
“You should send it to everyone,” Lunceford said of the e-mail at the time. He is currently the school board’s assistant secretary this year. “There's no hierarchy on the board. We're all equal trustees. It's like (George Orwell's) 'Animal Farm' – no one's more equal than the others.”
In Orwell's 1945 work, a community of animals develop a system of seven commandments – the most important being, “All animals are equal.” But over time, those commandments become perverted until only one remains: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
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