HPISD Athletic Miscellaneous Expenses. Anyone Speak School District Code and Want to Sift Through 350 Pages With Me?

A few more answers to reader questions concerning ACE fees.

Item 6499, miscellaneous/ other expenses (adjusted budget $63,250), can you provide an itemized list of this category?

6499 is the item code for Miscellaneous Operating Costs.

I understand that sometimes the word “miscellaneous” raises questions, so let me explain. Like all Texas school districts, HPISD is required to follow the accounting budget coding system developed by the state. The state requires that we list these expenses under 6499 Miscellaneous Operating Costs. but it is not a “catch-all” category, but rather, a category that allows us to account for legitimate expenditures.

Here is a list of the expenses listed under 6499 for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years:

  • Fees (ex., tournament entry fees),
  • Dues (ex., association dues),
  • Awards,
  • Food/refreshments for school-related meetings 

I am told the itemized list for this category is 350 pages and all coded.

And concerning travel staff expenses, I’m trying to stay focused but it’s hard with the warehouse mention below because I mean how much is the storage facility versus a scanner? But that topic is for another day.

Item 6411 is the item code for employee travel. The way the process works is when coaches travel on business, they are required to submit a travel voucher listing all expenses, which include mileage, meals and lodging. Those vouchers are reviewed and approved by the Business Office, then stored in the warehouse.

UPDATE: After this post was published today, Helen Williams with HPISD sent the following email as an update to the answers above. 

 
 

Just to clarify, the ACE fees are a revenue source that represents 21-22 percent of the total Athletic Department budget. 6499 is the item code for the Athletic Department’s miscellaneous operating costs (more details below).
  
It’s important to put the ACE fees in context, given the large number of students participating in athletics and the budget that is necessary to run the program. Remember, ACE fees are not subject to recapture by the state, which takes 70 cents of every locally collected tax dollar for redistribution. I have taken some of the information from our earlier conversations. Let me know if you need additional information.
  • 2007-08: $1.8 million (ACE fees pay for 22 percent)
  • 2008-09: $1.9 million (ACE fees pay for 21 percent)
Here are the details on student athletes:
  • 2007-08: 1,764 student athletes in grades 7-12
  • 2008-09: 1,987 student athletes in grades 7-12
I understand that sometimes the word “miscellaneous” raises questions, so let me explain. Like all Texas school districts, HPISD is required to follow the accounting budget coding system developed by the state. The state requires that we list these expenses under 6499 Miscellaneous Operating Costs. 6499 is not a catch-all category, but rather, it is a category that allows us to account for legitimate expenditures.
  
Here is a list of the expenses listed under 6499 (Miscellaneous Operating Costs) for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years:
  
. Fees (ex., tournament entry fees)
. Dues (ex., association dues)
. Awards

. Food/refreshments for school-related meetings 
 

 

 

56 thoughts on “HPISD Athletic Miscellaneous Expenses. Anyone Speak School District Code and Want to Sift Through 350 Pages With Me?

  • October 5, 2010 at 10:52 am
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    How much time must the district employees spend on this issue? I understand your interest in this topic but I really think it’s unfair to be bird dogging this issue to this degree.

    I have two of my own children plus a foreign exchange student living with me this year and they all play sports and I’ve paid the ACE fee for each of them, and I have written checks for fundraisers, t-shirts and miscellaneous fees. I’m happy to do it. They get a lot from participating in the sports programs. If you don’t want to pay the ACE fee, don’t pay it. No one is forcing HP kids to play sports.

    I believe, as do many others, that our district is managed by extremely competent people who have the blessing/curse of having very involved, educated volunteers to help them. Why is it so critical for Helen Williams and others at the district to stop what they’re doing to answer these questions which, in my opinion, have already been answered – and in a forum that is subject to interpretation and snipey comments. I bet Helen has spent the equivalent of three full work days getting answers to these questions – enough already. If you’re not satisfied, take it up with the school board or the Sports Club.

    You know I’m a big fan, Merritt, but I have to say – let’s move on from this subject. Mad for Plaid is launching soon and the reality of school financing in Texas is BLEAK. We have entrusted these people in the district to be good stewards of our very limited tax revenue and the HP Education Foundation to be good stewards of our contributions.

    Sorry. Let’s still be friends and have coffee at Kuby’s soon.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 11:46 am
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    @Kersten

    (slow clap starts, now standing and applauding)

    Agree with everything you said – it’s time to move on.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 11:46 am
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    Kersten,
    Your attitude(and mine, unfortunately) is what cost UP $75 grand in a park re-improvement on Hillcrest & Lovers.
    Merritt asks the questions that need to be addressed.
    If these questions make people uncomfortable, they need to get a job not involving taxpayer/public money.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 11:47 am
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    Well said, Kersten! This is not Bell, California… Good luck on the coffee at Kuby’s.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 11:55 am
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    Taxes are a legitimate beef. A donation (ACE fee) is from the goodness of your heart.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 12:12 pm
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    I hear ya, grump. But at some point, and I think we’re there, you have to move on or choose a different venue for your discourse, e.g. School Board or HP Sports Club meetings, etc.

    I agree that there needs to be a critical look taken at the use of taxpayer money – not just for parks but for the school too. For example, I wrote a blog post on You+Media Park Cities blog about the number of direct dial lines going into HPHS that aren’t used – ever. That needs to be looked at because the district could save a lot of money by discontinuing telecom and other services that aren’t being used. But, again, at some point you have to leave it alone. Asking for every single GL and Cost Center number in the budget and a detailed explanation for each isn’t going to save anyone any money. It’s wasting Helen William’s time, which is wasting taxpayer money since we pay for her salary. And anyway, that’s what budget review sessions are for.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm
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    OMG, Merritt! Let it go, honey! When you are a trained accountant and understand what it is you’re looking at, you can lecture. As of now, the interest in this issue is bordering on ridiculous. Take your time sorting through the 350 pages of detail–all coded according to highly intuitive state mandates, I’m sure. Stop worrying about the scanner issue. The district may be able to afford them if the staff quit spending its time and money answering ludicrous questions.

    Bravo, Kersten!

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  • October 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm
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    Original documents are required to be retained for a certain period of time. After this time, the documents are recorded electronically and kept on file indefinitely. Thus the warehouse.

    While most likely all these expenses are legitimate, it is blind trust that can allow corruption to go on undetected. Good work Merritt.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm
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    Me thinks AMD may be a public employee.

    Go Merritt!
    I’ll help you sift through the paperwork.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 1:14 pm
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    When you’re required to pay a fee in a public school for anything it should be really easy to see EXACTLY what it’s for. Period.

    I don’t think there’s corruption, I think there’s a lack of transparency.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm
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    Sorry, Grump, not a govt employee-just an old auditor who has been on my share of fraud audits. As a result, I’m well aware that things are not always what they seem. However, I also know It’s important to have all the facts before you cause a ruckus. In an earlier post, stipends of employees were made public without seemingly any questions asked of Miss Williams to explain the disparity. If transparency is important, it should work both ways. Ask ALL the questions and understand what you know before you pass judgement.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm
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    “This is not Bell, California”: Well, I don’t think anyone is saying that, but then again, people in Bell, California, didn’t think anything was wrong, until, well, it was.

    I don’t think it’s crazy for someone to ask these questions, and to ask for answers. Especially after the money spent on renaming a park, and redoing a perfectly fine park that no one uses. Transparency is always good.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:06 pm
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    Merritt, I’m not sure where your confusion is coming from. We pay a fee to participate that covers a small percent of the total cost to participate. In fact, it doesn’t even cover the cost of transportation. How can you not see EXACTLY what it is used for? When the district is picking up the majority of the tab, why do you claim a lack of transparency? One line item more than accounts for the total collected ACE fee $$.

    I think you are trying to create controversy where there isn’t any. Oh, I forgot, that’s your job. 🙂

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:17 pm
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    Once again, D . . . the issue here is the ACE fee, not TAXPAYER MONEY. The ACE fee, if you’re just tuning in, is the $250 per student fee that parents pay when their child VOLUNTARILY plays school sports in grades 7-12. TAXPAYER money goes to flowers and parks that look more like really fancy medians.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm
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    I agree with D, Mitch and Grump…and sorta with Kersten too, lol. I do think the school has been prompt & forthcoming with the records/explanations for the ACE fee and for that reason, it’s probably time to move on to another topic. But I STRONGLY agree with those who said that asking questions and requesting transparency is important…and the ACE fee, as it was originally presented for payment to parents, was anything but. I’m not implying that they weren’t being honest, just that when I had to write the check, the form told me next to nothing, other than “general fees, we’ll be good stewards”, etc. When you get hit with an unexpected & fairly hefty fee, it’s nice to know what the heck it’s for. Merritt asking the district for a more detailed explanation is no different than me calling my health insurance company to get an explanation of why I owe this bill, when I already made my co-payment at the doctor’s office. I know HPISD Athletics is the most sacred of cows in our community, but really, folks…asking for more information won’t shut down the department and really shouldn’t raise so much squawking about wasting resources.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:30 pm
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    I can’t quite figure out the resentment over this one fee. We’ve written many checks over the years for field trips to cover transportation. Can you imagine how irritating it would be if the coaches asked for a check every week during the season to pay for that week’s buses, and if you didn’t pay, your child couldn’t attend practice or go to a meet? That would be insane.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm
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    UP and HPISD must be running well because our biggest complaints are about how beautiful our town is and a $250 athletic fee. Every town and school district should be so lucky.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 2:49 pm
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    Didn’t Nixon suggest that it was time for Woodward and Bernstein to “move on?” : )

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  • October 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm
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    LOL, Charles…good one! Laurie, maybe I’m reading your comments wrong, but I don’t think Merritt has “resentment” about paying this fee, nor is she complaining about life in our great community; she just had questions as to what this fee actually covered. I had ’em, too. While I assumed it was all kosher, it’s nice to have gotten the breakdown from Helen Williams. Asking questions shouldn’t tar the asker as being petulant, a pot-stirrer or “not a team player”, in my humble opinion.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 3:18 pm
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    To be clear, I have no problem with the ACE fee, or paying it if my child participates in a sport. I get it. I am not worked up about it at all.

    But I also believe that someone has the right to understand where it goes. Calling it “voluntary” really isn’t true, since it’s the only way that your child can play a sport (excepting a hardship fee waiver).

    Why are people so sensitive about someone asking a question? Charles, I love the reference.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm
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    Merritt – If you really want to ask hard questions, try and find out where the $72.7 million in recapture out of the HPISD budget goes – now that’s something I am interested in.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 3:50 pm
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    @B
    I think Merritt was pretty clear about what she finds confusing about the fee breakdown. Why does it cost HPISD more to transport athletes, provide refreshments, purchase awards, etc. than it costs other districts?

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  • October 5, 2010 at 4:17 pm
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    As Oscar Wilde once said, “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.” So Merrit, look through your reports and I hope that you come across the itemized line that account for the experiences and friendships kids gain through participation in these athletic programs. It seems that you question these fees without remembering why you and other live in this area. If you want to pay less, then perhaps you should consider moving a few miles southeast; and as your fees decline so will your child’s experiences because the schools in those areas do not spend money on the things that allow your child to have the opportunities they have here. Being a part of something larger then themselves is what Highland Park Athletics provides for kids. And please let these people do their job, without interruptions from a parent who thinks they can do it better.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm
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    Merritt deserves a much appreciated pat on the back for moving forward to find out whether there is a fire when there is definitely smoke within HPISD. Just like the parents who came forward a couple of years ago to expose the alleged verbal abuse by a coach, seomeone needs to speak up. There were those that tried to get everyone to move on then, and ultimately they got a coach demoted by their persistence.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 4:22 pm
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    @Old Man – I heard last week at a Mad for Plaid meeting that since the inception of Robin Hood, our district has contributed very close to, if not exactly, $1 BILLION in recapture. Hate to beat a dead horse but since Merritt is, so will I – fees suck. Wish it was just like the old days when our taxes paid for everything but that’s not the case. We have to pay ACE fees and choir fees and uniform fees and other fees and if people don’t like it or can’t pay it they have choices. They can ask for a hardship waiver or move to a cheaper district. But you get what you pay for.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 5:07 pm
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    I have 2 kids in the district, grades 11 & 12. I have never gotten the opportunity to pay the ACE fee because they have never made a team. I wish it was the good old days when cuts were not so drastic, and my son could have played Baseball, but he just can’t. I still support the Athletic program my $ support because it is good for the students in general, even if my family gets no direct benefit. Ask questions, sure. I have followed with interest because I knew nothing about the ACE fee.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 5:09 pm
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    All of us in HPISD believe in transparency, and we appreciate the opportunity to answer questions from our parents and community members.

    I think part of the reason for the confusion here is that this discussion has been disjointed over numerous posts over the last three weeks. The discussion started with the question, “What is the ACE fee, and what does it pay for?”

    The answer is that the ACE fee is collected to offset the considerable expense of running an athletic program that serves more than 1,750 students in grades 7-12. Please note that many students participate in more than one sport. However, they are only required to pay one ACE fee per year.

    Students whose families cannot afford to pay the ACE fee may make a partial payment or apply for a hardship waiver.

    Since ACE fees are not subject to recapture by the state, every dollar collected stays here in HPISD. Considering our current recapture rate is 70 percent, you can see the difference that makes.

    From there, we supplied audited financial figures for the athletic budget for 2007-08 and 2008-09, supported by revenue & expenditure reports for each year(including payroll, travel dues & awards, supplies, materials & equipment, contracted services, which includes payment for officials, security, rental equipment & printing costs).

    – 2007-08: $1,794,995 – Athletic expenditures
    – 2008-09: $1,859.813 – Athletic expenditures

    Here is the corresponding ACE fee information for those years:

    – 2007-08: $390,587 – ACE fees collected
    – 2008-09: $388,708– ACE fees collected

    Here are the athletic participation numbers for those years:

    – 2007-08: 1,764 student athletes in grades 7-12
    – 2008-09: 1,987 student athletes in grades 7-12

    As you can see, HPISD has very high athletic participation numbers, which means the ACE fees make a difference in allowing us to run a top-notch athletic program. ACE fees cover approximately 21-22% of the total expenses each year.

    We also supplied the details about other revenue sources, such as gate receipts, Sports Club donations and concessions, along with expenditure reports for both the school years.

    We also reviewed the budget and item codes and answered all of Merritt Patterson’s questions about the design of the state accounting system (example, all personnel expenses fall under budget code 6100).

    We invited Merritt Patterson to review the general ledger, which details each and every expense. The general ledger for the Athletic Department is 358 pages for the 2007-08 school year and 348 pages for the 2008-09 school year. That invitation is still open.

    HPISD enjoys a tremendously successful athletic and academic program, a reputation that has been earned by the hard work of our students, supported by amazing parents, teachers and coaches.

    If you have any questions, please feel free to e-mail me at [email protected].

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  • October 5, 2010 at 6:46 pm
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    Helen, bravo for learning how to post to the blog. Had you done that long ago, you wouldn’t have to complain about what you perceive to be a slight. You alway have access to comment and seethe record straight here. It’s fast, it’s immediate and it’s direct to your constituents. So don’t blame other people for not telling YOUR story – it’s not their job.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 7:11 pm
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    @Kersten – I have paid ACE fees. I don’t mind paying ACE fees.

    Extracurricular activities are a privilege and not a right. If you go back to Merritt’s original post about the ACE fees, I commented then that the real problem is recapture and not the fees. I still feel that way.

    When almost 60% of the HPISD school budget walks out the back door and we don’t even get the benefits of the money – to me, that is an issue that everyone should be upset about.

    I think the ACE fee controversy has become what I would call a “sound and fury” issue.

    @Merritt – Please get involved with Mad for Plaid – focus your efforts on a cause where you could make a difference. Worst case is you could get some column fodder.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 8:22 pm
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    I agree 110 percent with you, Old Man. On every single point. And, yes, Merritt, please get involved with and support Mad for Plaid.

    And Mr. Commentor, thank you for clarifying the correct way to spell that word, I never know if it’s commentEr or commentOr. But as a PR professional for almost 23 years, my opinion is that blogs are a tricky and often dangerous venue for PR folks . . . the anonymity and snarky tone make it a slippery slope for the playing-it-straight PR person. I don’t think Ms. Williams is blaming anyone. I think that perhaps she provided Merritt with the information and was following up to be sure all of the information she provided was represented. That’s what it looks like to me, anyway. Blogs are subject to interpretation though, for better or worse. I thought her answer was informative and satisfying.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 8:58 pm
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    Kersten,
    I imagine the air must be a little nicer all the way up on your high horse, but if you could maybe not get your feathers so ruffled about your sacred HP school district and listen, sympathize, and reason it might be a nice change of pace.

    Yes Merritt has written about this a lot, as she should have. Congratulations on being able to spend literally thousands of dollars on your children throughout school so that they can voluntarily (if they make it) play sports. Some people however just simply cannot do that, and even if they can it is their money and are allowed to see where it’s going.

    Now with regards to all of this my question is:
    Why is it fair to make a child that plays 3 sports pay the same as another child that plays only one and perhaps does choir or another activity that requires fees? Shouldn’t it be “charged” on how much you do? I.E. – football costs x amount, baseball costs y, etc. I’m sure it’s easier as it is now but I would rather have costs specific to the sport my child is participating in.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 10:19 pm
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    I would be interested in the breakdown by sport of that $1,859,813. To get a clear picture, the breakdown by sport, then the additional required by sport – on top of the ACE fee. I don’t think the girls volleyball team is spending $900-$1000 per kid on top of the fees they charge team members. And by fees charged, I mean manditory uniforms and equiptment that has to be purchased to participate, and all the other fees.

    I wanted to start some type of “scholorship” fund or something when my son was in band to offer the kids whose parents couldn’t pay all of the fees. There were fees to be in band, manditory clothing and equipment to be purchased, a manditory amount of “junk” to sell – (ie: $250 of bbq tickets, $100 lottery tickets, etc. ) and then the band trips each year cost money. We knew of two family’s at least that couldn’t afford it one year, and we knew if a fund was started many would donate to insure these kids full participation. All of you saying you gladly pay the fees, consider for a moment if circumstances change – your kid is in the sport/activity and loves it – but you cannot scrape it together financially. There should be a fund for these folks to – confidentially – request help. As far as I know that fund wasn’t ever started for the band – even when the previous band director screamed at the kids whose parents hadn’t paid, during class, humiliating them.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 10:26 pm
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    @ Mr. Commentor,

    Thank you for your message. If you’ll look back to Sept. 15 when this discussion began, you’ll see that HPISD has been part of the conversation from its inception.

    Because this has not been a continuous thread, but rather multiple disjointed posts, it is understandable that many readers just tuning in are not aware of the input, facts and reports HPISD has been providing for the last three weeks.

    The bottom line is that under the current school finance system, both wealthy and poor school districts across the stage of Texas are struggling.

    Please feel free to contact me by e-mail – [email protected] – or phone – 214-780-3008 – if you have any questions.

    All of HPISD’s financial records and other documents are public information. All you need to do is ask.

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  • October 5, 2010 at 11:02 pm
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    Thanks, Helen. I do appreciate your willingness to speak to me but why not just have the conversation here so it’s out in the open for all to see. That’s really the point of all of this anyway, right?

    So, now that we got all of that out of the way, can you help shed light on the real question, what exactly is covered in the miscellaneous category? Just as you have fairly pointed out, it takes a great deal of time and resources to sort through all of this. For the benefit of the broad population in HPISD, what is the misc. fee for – office supplies, sneakers, Starbucks, what?

    What you’ve done in responding to the request is what any good trial attorney would do – bury the opposition in irrelevant facts. That, in and of itself, raises a red flag for me. So please tell us, what are the miscellaneous fees (6499) for? (please, in something less than 300 pages)

    Or, perhaps you can provide an excel spreadsheet with the data so we can actually sort the information.

    Clearly this is an important issue to you and the school (you wouldn’t be engaging at 10pm otherwise) so let’s just make this very simple for everyone.

    I value this community and our schools very much but it’s disappointing when HPISD tells us to “trust” them and give us answers that only lead to more questions. As James Carvell would say, “sometimes you gotta take out your own trash.”

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  • October 6, 2010 at 9:25 am
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    @Mr. Commentator
    Good land, She’s trying to give you her number so you can ask anything you want, not because there is a super secret conspiracy she is trying to cover up. And I’m willing to go out on a ledge and tell you that she would be equally happy to talk to anyone else who wants to ask questions too.
    The suggestion that HPISD employees are going out to Starbucks on parent-supplied sports fees is out of line.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 9:27 am
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    Oh, come on! You guys are really interested in miscellaneous expenses that represent 3.4% of the total athletic budget? Ms. Williams is providing access to the detail of those expenses, and now we get to complain about the detail because we don’t like the format? Asked and answered! She’s not burying you in irrelevant facts–she is providing you specifically the facts that you asked for–a complete list of details for miscellaneous expenses (likely thousands of small items). If we’re so interested in “transparency”, pony up and dig in.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 10:17 am
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    I agree with Kersten and Old Man. And lets move on to where all the recapture money goes.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 10:25 am
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    @Mr. Commentor-I just don’t get why Ms. Williams, or any public sector employee, has a duty to answer any question on a blog where people can hide behind the veil of anonymoty. People can lob grenades from the cheap seats without any fear of retribution while she runs the risk of consuming her time answering endless questions that will never make everyone completely satisfied. I don’t see that as a lack of transperancy, I think it is common sense in trying to do this in the most efficient way possible. If you really want to get some questions answered, how about picking up the phone, or better yet going to her office, ask your questions and then reporting back to the blog what your answers are? Calling out people as if they are trying to hide something when they have provided significant amounts of data already is pretty lame.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 10:38 am
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    Wow -some good comments here. I am so thankful to Merritt and Mr. Commentator for bringing this up and continuing to dig. It just amazes me that there are so many people outraged about just asking questions about what OUR money is spent on!! There is nothing wrong with that – in fact it is very necessary! I don’t understand why so many people seem to think that anyone in the HP/UP government/school district is absolutely above reproach and incapable of even the slightest misdeed. What my position has been all along is that we are charged fees that no other district is charged. Why is that???? That has never been answered. I believe the answer is that we are rich and will pay it. I don’t necessarily think that anyone is stealing money or anything, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen, for pity’s sake. Do we really want to crucify people for looking into what our money is spent on? And really, it’s not just the ACE fee if you really want to get into it. But we can start there. And AMD, were you REALLY an auditor?? I find that very hard to believe. You must have been fired for thinking that everything was just fine. Or maybe you just added up columns of numbers? Oh, and one more thing. Thanks to the person who brought up the issue of playing sports being voluntary. Come on, public school sports should be open to student at the school who wants to try out. Thanks again Merritt!!

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  • October 6, 2010 at 11:05 am
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    To all those that wish to move on…it sounds rather Monty Pythonish. “Nothing to see here. Move on people, move on”.
    In this day and age, transparency should be as easy as a click, double click and/or print.
    I just re-read Merritt’s original post. Hard to see where she cast any aspersions to wrong doing or nefarious actions or people. She asked for transparency. Off with her head!
    I used to be like AMD. Back in the late ’80s, my buddy and I both banked at 1st Interstate. He asked me if I knew why a $1 misc charge was on our statements every month. I didn’t and just shrugged it off. He called the bank and they wouldn’t/couldn’t give him an answer. The charge mysteriously disappeared from our statements from that point on. $1 a month times how many customers?
    AMD-3.4% of that budget is a significant amount of money. No one thinks Helen is pocketing the money. Just asking a few questions.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 11:09 am
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    Thanks, thornton. For the record, I’m not outraged, I’m not crucifying anyone for asking questions. My point is now and has been that HPISD has stated that they’ve provided answers to the nine questions Merritt asked and mentioned that the documents are available for the public to review.

    And I’m not on a high horse or thinking I’m better than anyone else, Cynthia. I’m a working mother with kids in the district. I’ve been involved in many fundraising and volunteer activities since my kids started school. I’m just like every other person who slings food in the cafeteria, buys unwanted wrapping paper and magazines I don’t have time to read because that’s kind of what we have to do here. It doesn’t make me feel like a hero or above anyone. It makes me feel like a member of the community and, sometimes, a chump.

    This is getting personal, with rude comments directed at me and others here. I’m tired of the discussion so I’m leaving it.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 11:19 am
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    @Urbangirl – that would be a new and different discussion. There’s no reason to stop this discussion to start that one, and no reason to inject that discussion into this one.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm
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    @Mr. Commentor(sic) – Went back and reread this thread. No one from the District has asked you to “trust us”. By request (and by law) they have produced all the information asked for about the ACE fees and the athletic budget. What you do with that information is up to you. If it is insufficient to answer your concerns, you can always ask for more information. You cannot expect (nor are they required) to summarize or catagorize information to your liking.

    @jp – The ACE fee is charged only if you make the team. You aren’t charged to try out. Any student can try out for the teams but not every student makes the team (except for football and girls cross country)

    @grump – FYI – “Nothing to see here, move along” is from the movie “The Naked Gun” and is not a Monty Python quote.

    @kmom – What more is there to discuss? Currently there is a fee charged for athletic participation. It is accounted for in the athletic budget and the backup has been provided. There is a district contact for people who have questions.

    The issue that everyone seems to keep flogging like a dead horse is WHY is there an ACE fee? I would suggest that anyone who has commented on this issue go to the next HPISD school board meeting (next Tuesday 10/12, 5pm, MIS Auditorium) and ask the Board these questions.

    My dead horse (so to speak) is that I am more interested in how the HPISD’s $72.7 million sent to Austin is spent. That isn’t a voluntary activity for the District. Do you think there would be an ACE fee if we didn’t send 60% of the school district’s budget to Austin?

    Would I prefer not having to pay the ACE fee? Absolutely. Will I keep paying it? Yes.

    All the vitriol and name calling here doesn’t accomplish anything.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm
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    I would like to personally thank Helen Williams for taking the extra time to post info on this blog. I think Merritt has raised some good points, and I also think that Kersten has also.

    I agree with Southern Gent that Ms. Harris probably has better things to do than sit around reading all the comments on this blog and responding. Unlike many other people, I doubt she has time to waste her day on here. I also don’t think she deserves some of the rather negative vitriol that is getting directed toward her. As she has clearly stated on more than one occasion, if you have a question or need additional information, all you need to do is ask her, and she has kindly provided both her email address and phone number. All of this is TONS more than we would get out of anyone at DISD!

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  • October 6, 2010 at 2:31 pm
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    It seems that if the amount of the ACE fee doesn’t even cover travel, then ACE (at best) covers travel. So, the question, as they say, has been answered. HP travel might be higher since they have to rent buses (being without its own busing system). But I can’t imagine they would save money by buying buses. The miscellaneous category title might be a general expression but percentage wise, it is a small amount, and it is a term required by the State of Texas.

    Southlake was mentioned as not charging ACE fees, but they charge for parking…I can’t imagine that if a district isn’t charging ACE then they are on the receiving end of Robin Hood or making up the money in some other way. In fact, Southlake dropped the ACE but is in a budget shortfall. Is that preferable?

    I tried to call Plano ISD to ask if they charge for parking, and after ten minutes of being on hold the phone system hung up on me. So maybe they are saving money through reduced admin personnel. At least at HP you still get a person when you call.

    Oh, and Mr. Commentor “Helen, bravo for learning how to post to the blog” struck me as rude and unnecessary. Beyond the fact she HAD been responding and giving Merritt answers to her questions, that is the kind of statement people are willing to make on a blog but, one would hope, would never speak that way directly to a person. Helen is one of the most straight forward honest people I have ever met, and everything I read was that of a person wanting to give information and be clear.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 3:38 pm
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    @kmom – It has all been said. And said and said and said! My suggestion was to get some new material. I vote for a Robin Hood topic / post. How does that break down. I would love to know. It wouldn’t bother me if it made every ship rise. But it doesn’t look like that is what happens. The districts that give it are still “exemplary” while working with less and the districts that receive it often remain at “unacceptable”. Perhaps I am oversimplifying. But that is how it looks to me.

    And I agree with DallasD’s assessment of Mr. Commentor. If he actually takes Ms. Harris up on her offer I bet she won’t post a comment such as “Mr. Commentor, bravo for learning how to dial a phone”.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm
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    @dallasD. Your point is well taken. Helen, my apologies for the sarcasm. I, like many here, am frustrated by all of this – but not for the reasons you might think – and my response wasn’t very polite in some regards.

    But, my point was that we are making excuses at every turn – either we are blaming Robin Hood, or the strained resources of a District employee – or just criticizing people (Merritt) for asking too many questions.

    Yes, her style can be over the top and yes, it’s very unconventional in this community. I dont always get her humor or agree with the positions sh takes But, she’s willing to ask the tough questions (and she puts herself out there by name) despite the fact she’s getting clobbered by many folks here – giving her the same treatment they are crying foul over wehen it’s directed at someone other than Merritt

    Yes, I’m hiding in anonymity – but I’m not going to subject myself to the badgering.

    Anyway, my frustration is this…the information at the heart of Merritt’s request (what is the exact nature of the “miscellaneous” expenditures) is apparently available to anyone industrious enough to sort through hundreds of pages of entries. Why, then, can’t that data be sorted to provide a line-by-line listing for category 6499 or whatever it is.

    But, instead of answering the question, the focus gets shifted and devolved into a debate about Robin Hood, dead horses, limited time and resources of a public employee whose job it is to INFORM the public.

    Ms Williams, can you please help sort the list of expenses and separate out the miscellaneous category so we can see that there arent any needles buried in the haystack. Merritt, will you please post the list if/when it’s made available?

    I fully expect everyone will see there is nothing to hide and no wrongdoing/misuse or whatever – but we just don’t know and that leaves us wondering and asking more questions.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm
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    We have a right to know how the school spends the money. Merritt, you are a community treasure. Keep up the good work!

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  • October 6, 2010 at 4:57 pm
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    I’ve been out of pocket for awhile. Can someone share with me all of the evidence of misuse and/or misappropriation of the ACE Fees that has been discovered? What’s that? You don’t have any evidence of misuse or misappropriation? The specifics shown in the detailed breakdown match up with the summary? Well, that can’t possibly be. Someone posted that there was “smoke” in the district office (what smoke?) and as we all know where there’s smoke… Uh,what’s that? You really didn’t ever have any evidence whatsoever to support any claim, or even the hint of a claim, of malfeasance by the Athletic Department about the use and disbursement of ACE Fees? No smoke? None? You sure? Not even a little?

    Admit it. This story is a tempest in a teapot, and was several weeks ago when it first came up.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 6:15 pm
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    @Mr. Commentor(sic) – Why don’t you grab the eight or nine posters on this thread and split the job up? I will be more than happy to sit down and go through it with you.

    I am not trying to shift the focus, just point out that the issue has been asked and answered by the District. If you want to see some red tape, take a look at what hurdles the District could make you go through to get the information under a FOIA request – but they didn’t.

    http://bit.ly/crz9Wy

    If you aren’t happy with that, again I would say to go to the HPISD School Board meeting next Tuesday the 12th and raise your question with the School Board. They are the ultimate decision makers in this.

    If you are too uncomfortable in that forum, I can arrange one of the school board members to contact you to discuss.

    I will make sure that they are aware of the situation.

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  • October 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm
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    I don’t think Merritt said the money was misappropriated, she just wondered a) what it was used for and b) why there wasn’t a simple answer.

    And it’s a legitimate question, and not a new one, particularly. I’ve covered all kinds of school districts in my time as a reporter, and how school funds are used is always a bone of contention – or at least a point of curiosity. One district – that served a town of 1,800 – actually saw its entire school board voted out of office because they approved the expenditure of $60,000 for a metal building to be used as an indoor practice facility. When Prosper built its athletic complex, plenty of people (who didn’t understand how bonds worked) griped about the fact that the district had a multi-million dollar athletic facility, but teachers still had to buy supplies to make up for what the district couldn’t give them.

    It’s not an unusual question, and I think it’s probably more troubling to pay for something and not know what you’re paying for, exactly. Would you do that with any other bill?

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  • October 6, 2010 at 10:00 pm
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    I would rather follow a person asking the questions than the lemmings to the sea. You may not always agree with Merritt’s approach, but she is at least paying attention. She raised some good questions and got everyone some answers.

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  • October 8, 2010 at 8:36 am
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    HPISD parents get so much information about so many things that it is a real surprise to discover the things that aren’t told, that parents with older kids know but others don’t, e.g., that the $250 ACE fee exists, or that a required Fine Arts credit can mean at least a $300 hit to the pocketbook. If the course description said it, I’d have known going in. Were students told about the ACE fee when they signed up for Athletics at the middle school? Those are the kids who may do a sport and owe it.

    Yes, sports are optional and if you decide your kid will do them you are deciding to pay the fee, but only if you know about the fee when you and your kid decide to do the sports. I suspect the problem here is more the surprise than the fee itself or where it is being spent. Perhaps the course listings should list financial requirements of a class along with the academic summary of the class.

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  • October 12, 2010 at 6:50 pm
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    I think we need to demand accountability in all public expenditures, and I’m so glad Merritt is asking these questions. I would go a step further and ask for all athletic dept. expenditures — not just miscellaneous.

    Misappropriation? Probably not.

    But, I think we could all work together to help discover waste that could be curbed, if we just put an extra pair of eyes on the situation. I’m guessing that our athletic director, Randy Allen, is probably a little busy 6 months out of the year with his “other job” to monitor line item spending.

    And, wouldn’t that be good for everyone?

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