HCDE lowers tax rate, continues services to CyFair ISD

For the sixth consecutive year, the Harris County Department of Education board of trustees voted unanimously to lower the tax rate.

“During these unprecedented times, I think it is important for residents of Harris County to know that we are in this together,” said HCDE Board President Eric Dick in a press release. “Many businesses are struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic. Harris County Department of Education is going to tighten its belt and lead fellow school districts by example.”

Board member Mike Wolfe was not present for the first in-person meeting held on Sept. 17.


The county-wide education agency launched a “Because We Care” initiative distributing hand sanitizer, masks, and food supplies to residents. Dick also said they reinvested in teachers and their staff by increasing the minimum wage to $13.50. Their plan is to raise that to $15 in 2021.

“We’re also using record low bond rates to reinvest approximately $50 million in adult education,” Dick said, “including music therapy and additional services.”

Some of those services may feel the pinch of local districts budget cuts next year when fallout from the coronavirus expenditures are realized. No school districts have announced any cuts for the next school year, but HCDE staff is prepared to meet the challenge should it occur.

“I’m a little bit worried about school districts budgets next year,” said Carie Crabb, senior director of school-based therapy services for HCDE.

“We’ve lived through budget crunches and crises before. It happens pretty regularly in education. We’ll figure it out,” she said.

That meant picking up additional tasks and hours to meet the needs which lasted for a couple of years until things were back on track again.

“We’re pretty lean as we are, but if we have to reduce the number of therapists, we look at our processes and how we can make things more efficient to get the same amount of work done with fewer people,” she said.

While those services are subsidized by HCDE, they come at a rate much cheaper than what districts would pay for it in the market.

Currently Cypress Fairbanks ISD is the largest district with the most HCDE therapists at work for the district.

Crabb said they’ve been serving CFISD continuously with no break in service since 1978.

“Our business model is pretty efficient. I serve as the director and I have nine managers and we oversee more than 150 therapists who serve 33 school districts,” she said.

The management team stays on top of the best practices for their profession and any changes in the law which occur almost annually.

“If districts were left to do it on their own, it would take considerably more personnel. Our districts count on us to do this,” Crabb said.

Therapists are trained in the medical environment to work in hospitals and clinics. In a school district, the difference is enormous between an educational and medical model.

Therapists became necessary with the passage of the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

“With the passage of the law, children with disabilities came into public school for education. Before that, they didn’t come into school classrooms,” Crabb said of their being separated from the general population.

With the law came a need for occupational and physical therapists. To fill that gap, HCDE created the School-Based Therapy Services and CFISD and HISD were the first to implement the programs.

Now, in addition to occupational and physical therapy, the agency also offers music therapy to Cypress Fairbanks ISD.

Children with disabilities who as a part of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A.) are entitled to related services that they need to benefit from their special education program.

“If they have mobility issues, like climbing the bus steps, or moving around the campus, they might need physical therapy to help them fully participate in their education program. Autistic children who may have unique sensory challenges or children with ADHD with attention challenges may need an occupation therapist to help with those sensory interventions we can put into the classroom to help meet their needs,” she said.

I.D.E.A. students have a list of benefits including an Individual Education Plan to keep them on track for success.

Crabb said their therapists can also act as advisors on playground equipment.

“Sometimes they are created with the best intentions, but mulch and even the plastic that keeps it in around the playground, can also keep students with disabilities out,” she said.

The physical therapist will work with the school and architects to reduce those barriers on the playground and throughout the campus that might be prohibitive.

Among the most popular and successful programs is the music therapy program.

“With some kids, their learning increases with the modality of music added to their therapy,” she said.

Crabb recalled a group of older students, middle and high school age, who struggled with written expressions and so the music therapist challenged them to write songs instead.

“That pulled the music into their writing and they created a songbook,” she said.

The group also performed the music and words for parents and friends.

“It was a different modality to help them with their learning,” she said. “Sometimes you get better outcomes with that kind of tool that nothing else will work.”

Written expressions are exercises taking their thoughts from their head and putting them to words on paper.

Board president Eric Dick said they will do all that is necessary to retain those programs.

“We’re there to support the districts. It’s usually at a net loss to us because the services are supplemented by the private enterprises we own and the tax rate,” the board president said.

Should districts encounter financial challenges next year, he said they would adjust accordingly.

“What’s most important to us is that we’re helping the community and helping special needs children and our pledge is to continue with low bond rates,” he said.

HCDE uses private businesses they own to produce additional income through their Choice Partners program.

“I would invite the public to use Choice Partners because the money goes to directly helping local school districts,” he said. “You can’t keep your money more local than that,” he said.

He explained they use the tax rate funds and use it as seed money for different businesses they own, to generate a profit.

“We take $1 and turn it into $5,” he said.

They also are the recipients of grants to help provide the numerous services they provide for districts.

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