Mayor White — working to improve Houston's schools?

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The Suffolk (VA) News-Herald has this entry in its Editors Blog about Houston sprawl:

If there’s a city where sprawl isn’t just tolerated but celebrated, it’s Houston. After all, this is a place where people love their property rights so much, they don’t allow zoning.

But even in Houston, residents are having second thoughts about plunking houses and strip shopping centers ever farther out on the prairie. Still, leaders are careful how they criticize these developments. “I don’t want, nor do most people in this community want, to tell people where they can and can’t live or how long their commute should or shouldn’t be,” Mayor Bill White told the Houston Chronicle recently. “One person’s sprawl is another person’s dream house. On the other hand, as a fiscal conservative, I’ll tell you it is much more expensive for us to provide transportation services, water and sewer services and everything else if somebody lives twice as far away.”

That seems to be the Texas approach to dealing with sprawl: Label it a bad investment. Also, point to the obvious: that building new highways only invites more distant development. One anti-sprawl group looked over the new regional transportation plan and was appalled by what it found: plans for building 12,900 miles of new roads over the next 20 years.

“That was not a plan, it was a continuation of what we’ve always done,” the group’s president told the Chronicle. “A 75 percent increase in vehicle-miles traveled is assumed. Sprawl is written into it – it’s guaranteed, when we should be trying to rein it in.”

Mayor White agrees that transportation shapes the nature and location of growth, but he’s unwilling to say no to more roads. His approach: Improve neighborhoods, be quick to turn property seized for tax delinquencies into affordable housing. and work with the school district on improving the schools. Do these things, he said, and the city’s charms will bring the people back.

Wow. There’s plenty to digest in those five paragraphs. I’ll let readers come to their own conclusions, but the part about Mayor White working to improve schools interests me because I haven’t heard much from Mayor White on this topic. In fact, in his 2005 State of the City address, he used the word “schools” once.

Of course, Dr. Saavedra has been front and center working to improve HISD schools, but if Mayor White has been assisting or supporting Dr. Saavedra in his aggressive reforms, I’ve missed it. And frankly, when Dr. Saavedra was being strung up for trying to improve three high schools that were threatened with state takeover, I don’t recall Mayor White coming to Dr. Saavedra’s defense.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.