Nov. 7, 2003, 12:42AM

HISD denies report it held back data on school crime From staff and wire reports 

The Houston Independent School District has underreported crime statistics to the state for at least the past four years, including the 2001 rape of a disabled 16-year-old student at Yates High School, according to a published report.

According to the New York Times, police officers in 80 middle and high schools in HISD have recorded 3,091 assaults over the past four years, but only 761 assaults were listed on annual disciplinary summaries sent to the Texas Education Agency.

The article cites three cases reported by the police that do not appear in statistics sent to the state. In addition to the Yates rape, another crime, in 2000, involved a Williams Middle School student who was "stomped and beaten" by another student, the paper reported. The third was a stabbing last April at Washington High School.

School violence reports have taken on new importance since President Bush made a national goal of holding schools accountable for test scores and campus crime. At his insistence, a new federal law requires states to use violence data to identify "persistently dangerous" schools, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, who is HISD's former superintendent, is in charge of enforcing that law.

HISD spokesman Terry Abbott denied that the district's reporting on school crime had been anything but thorough and accurate, saying the Times' account is "a reckless disregard for the truth."

Abbott said the campus crime statistics differ from what is reported to the state because the police reports include offenses both on and off campus as well as allegations that proved to be false. The figures reported to the state involve only disciplinary actions that are taken against students who commit offenses, he said.

In the case of the Yates rape, he said, the student who committed the crime was never disciplined at the school but instead was arrested by the police and later convicted. Abbott said the same type of offense would be reported today because of new state data standards. The Washington High incident was not reported to the state because the attacker was never identified and disciplined, he said.

"We report what we are supposed to report in the state system as it exists, and that is the point we tried to make to the Times," Abbott said.

But not everyone believes that HISD is without blame.

"They're cooking the books," said Michael Witkowski, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Detroit Mercy, who studied Houston's school violence and crime reporting system before serving in 2002 as a plaintiff's witness in a suit filed by parents of a student stabbed to death at Deady Middle School.

"There are dozens of crimes in Houston schools that you will not see on any official document," Witkowski said. "Teachers are assaulted, students are beaten up, and these things do not make it into the reports."

Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, told the Times, "I can guarantee you that there is a lot of underreporting" of school crimes in Houston.

Texas law requires that school districts report incidents to Austin when a student is removed from class for disciplinary reasons. As a result, Houston's failure to report many crimes for which students have not been disciplined does not appear to have violated the law, state officials said.

Experts say that Houston is not the only city underreporting its school crime problems. School-based police officers rocked the Roanoke, Va., system this year, accusing principals and district officials of intentionally hiding incidents of school crime, and in Gwinnett County, Ga., an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that thousands of fights and drug, sex and weapons violations had been left out of school crime reports.

Last month, after a Houston Chronicle report that revealed a crime data collection system that schools said was confusing, overly broad and frequently changed, TEA reversed its assessment of six Texas schools as "persistently" dangerous. The agency said that flawed data led them to believe the schools were more dangerous than they really are. The schools on the list were in the Crystal City ISD, the San Marcos Consolidated ISD and the El Paso ISD.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Nov. 24, 2003, 10:28PM

Teachers: `Give us the dough' DeLay is assailed at rally over delay in vote on benefits


Teachers wanted none of the punch and cookies U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay's office staff offered them Monday, spread out on a table that welcomed educators challenging his position on Social Security benefits.

"We don't want cookies," the teachers responded with a chant. "Give us the dough."

About 300 public school employees from Houston, Fort Bend, Brazosport and other school districts rallied at DeLay's Stafford office, blaming the House majority leader for not bringing to a floor vote House Resolution Bill 594, the Social Security Fairness Act.

The Act, which has enough votes to pass in the House, would allow teachers and other government employees who have had other jobs to receive full Social Security benefits. DeLay has said the bill could bankrupt Social Security.

Teachers such as Randy Elms, who carried signs like "DeLay denies Teachers," say the current policy is unfair to Texas educators.

"If I would die today, he would get no Social Security benefits," said the 50-year-old middle school teacher, nodding toward his 10-year-old son, Ryan. Both were bundled in their coats as they stood outside DeLay's office in the cold weather.

Teachers who pay into the Teacher Retirement System receive that pension fund upon retirement but do not receive full Social Security benefits even if they paid into it and are vested, Texas Federation of Teachers secretary-treasurer John O'Sullivan said at the rally. Spouses and children of teachers do not receive full Social Security benefits either, he said.

HR 594 would allow teachers and their families to receive full Social Security benefits upon retirement or disability in addition to the teacher pension.

The bill has 277 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, including 23 from Texas, with a majority needed to pass. DeLay has the power to prevent a vote, said John Cole, president of the Texas Federation of Teachers. Texas is one of 12 states that considers teachers public servants and requires them to live off their teacher pensions, even if they had other careers before or afterward, he said.

DeLay's office released a statement that said HR 594 would add more than $50 billion over the next 10 years to the Social Security program. He was not at the rally.

In a written statement released Monday, DeLay said, "As the husband of a former teacher, I am fully aware of the sacrifices teachers make on behalf of our children and our future."

Current law "allows Texas teachers, and all who pay into a government pension plan, to receive the same, if not better benefits than they would receive under Social Security alone," he wrote.

O'Sullivan said he knew that DeLay's wife, Christine, taught in Virginia. In addition, O'Sullivan said, the congressman will receive three sources of retirement from his salary of $166,700 as majority leader, not including his local pesticide business.

DeLay supposedly will receive Social Security benefits of about $1,660 minimum per month with an annual cost-of-living increase, a Federal Employees Retirement System with an annual retirement annuity of $56,678 plus a "Thrift Savings Plan" for members of Congress, which the government matches, O'Sullivan estimated.


 Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

  Turkeys of the Year

(partial story)

Runner-up Turkey of the Year

Union members -- and yes, there are some in Houston -- know what it's like to go out on strike: "It causes dismay and consternation and it is tough to go through," says E. Dale Wortham, president of the Harris County AFL-CIO.

So when 11 Democrats from the state Senate camped out in Oklahoma, and then New Mexico, in order to stop Czar DeLay's redistricting scheme, the unions quickly showed their support.

The steelworkers union gave $25,000 to the state Democratic Party. And at one union meeting, members literally passed the hat and forked over from their own pockets $631 to send to the holdouts in Albuquerque.

So imagine Wortham's surprise when, as he puts it, "All of a sudden I look up and see John Whitmire at the airport on the TV."

State Senator John Whitmire of Houston -- soon to become known as John Quitmire -- incurred the wrath of rank-and-file Democrats across the country when he decided to sneak out of New Mexico on September 2 and give the Republicans the quorum they needed to pass DeLay's bill.

And that's enough to make a man the Runner-up Turkey of the Year.

Quitmire -- sorry, Whitmire -- got the cold shoulder from Democratic colleagues, some of whom muttered darkly that he caved in to pressure from his employer, a large Houston law firm.

And the union guys weren't too happy, either. "The steelworkers were mad as hell," says Chairman Birnberg.

"We told our members to dig deep into their pockets to fund this thing, and all of a sudden he's gone," Wortham says. "I told Whitmire, 'You have to understand -- our men think you're a strikebreaker.' "

A tense meeting in September went a little way toward cooling things off. Whitmire is not up for re-election until 2006, and has been a pretty reliable ally of labor in Austin. "I don't know if the relationship between John Whitmire and labor is severed," Wortham says. "I think most folks eventually will say, 'Okay, you messed up. Let's take a deep breath and get back on track.' But there are still some hard feelings."


 Copyright 2003 Houston Press