Houston Independent School District trustees have again decided in favor of rewarding the captain of the district, Superintendent Terry Grier, for sub-standard academic results, instead of holding him accountable for the sinking ship.

At HISD’s December board meeting, the board unanimously voted to give Grier a bonus of $116,673.33 on top of his contracted base salary of $300,000.

While 80.4% of HISD students and families are considered economically disadvantaged, and the district’s percentage of low-performing schools is nearly twice as much as the statewide percent, trustees somehow find it justifiable to award Grier a bonus that is almost 40% of his annual salary.

The 2014-2015 Public Education Grant list compiled by the Texas Education Agency showed that out of 268 HISD campuses, 58 were placed in the “needs improvement” category. The other districts in the region that are comparable in size, Cypress-Fairbanks and Fort Bend ISD, had only five failing schools between the both of them.

A Houston news organization reported that in the 2013-2014 school year, the year for which this extravagant bonus was given, there were high school seniors graduating HISD who couldn’t read. After analyzing the End-of-Year testing data, Unlimited Access Educational Systems determined that, “Only 29% of elementary school students read at or above grade level.”


Sheltered by secrecy, school board trustees don’t release their individual evaluations of the superintendent. According to the board president, Juliet Stipeche, there would be no need for public discussion because the board hashed out the details in a closed-door session. Even though HISD taxpayers fund not only this bonus, but salaries of all HISD staff, the board finds backroom politics acceptable, and has no problem keeping taxpayers in the dark. One board member said they are, “working to revise the system and Grier’s next evaluation will be different.” Reassuring, right?

School board members said that the bonus is a combination of his evaluation and student performance. The grading scale used rates Grier in multiple categories, such as population growth, enrollment, and test scores. As mentioned in a previous article, a majority of student enrollment has been from unaccompanied and undocumented minors, which undoubtedly add to the board’s admiration for Grier’s ability to boost the HISD student body.

Grier, whose contract runs through 2016, has received more than $420,000 in bonuses within the past four years. This doesn’t include car and technology stipends, payout for leave days he does not use (up to 65), and reimbursements for a number of other reasons. His most recently released reimbursements totaled more than $25,000.

While raking in taxpayer dollars, Grier is enjoying all of the perks of being the chief administrator of the largest school district in Texas, and seventh largest in the nation. He recently visited the White House to tout HISD’s commitment to offer more computer science classes. Prior to that, Grier travelled to Istanbul, Turkey for on an all-expense paid trip paid for by the HISD Foundation.(The HISD Foundation, which Grier sits on the board of, is a not-for-profit organization that raises funds for district-wide and school-based programs to boost student achievement.)

This highly paid, subpar administration is not the return on investment that Houston taxpayers deserve.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.