After a prolonged legal battle and weeks of speculation, the Texas Education Agency on Wednesday confirmed it’s removing Houston Independent School District’s democratically elected school board and superintendent, effectively putting the state in charge of its largest school district.
The TEA will appoint a “board of managers” and replace Superintendent Millard House II and the current school board after June 1. The TEA is appointing the new board in response to years of poor academic outcomes at a single high school in the district, which TEA Commissioner Mike Morath said requires his agency to either close the campus or appoint a new board.
“In prior years, Houston ISD was governed by a Board of Trustees that did not focus on improving student outcomes,” Morath wrote in a letter to district leaders Wednesday. “Instead, the Board conducted chaotic board meetings marred by infighting while Board members routinely exceeded their authority, directing staff in violation of the school laws of Texas. Even with a delay of three full years caused by legal proceedings, systemic problems in Houston ISD continue to impact students most in need of our collective support.”
People seeking to be on the board of managers must be eligible voters living within the Houston ISD boundaries. The TEA commissioner decides how long the board is in place. Usually, these sort of takeovers last between two to six years.
Documents first reported by The Texas Tribune Tuesday night show the agency had been getting ready to appoint new leaders. Before taking down the documents from its website, the agency posted job applications for the new board of managers, which would replace the current school board.
Houston ISD, with 76 schools and an enrollment of nearly 200,000 students, will now be the largest district the agency has taken over since 2000, when it first placed a board of managers to oversee a struggling school district.
State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, said the agency is gambling with the livelihood and education of hundreds of thousands of kids.
“We have way bigger issues weighing on our state that could use the governor’s immediate attention,” Johnson said.
State Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said Morath met with the Houston delegation Wednesday morning to explain the process of the takeover.
“We’re outraged,” Reynolds said. “This is a dark day for HISD.”
Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union opposes the state replacing the democratically-elected board.
“We will work night and day to make sure that students have access to specific programs and services that they need and deserve to receive a high-quality public education in Houston schools,” she said.
Morath and the agency first moved to force out the district’s school board in 2019 in response to allegations of misconduct by trustees and years of low student performance at Phillis Wheatley High School.
The district pushed back and sued, but ultimately, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the agency could move forward with its plan to take over the district in January.
Student outcomes have improved at both Phillis Wheatley and the district at large since Morath first announced a possible takeover. The TEA, which grades schools and districts each year based on their academic achievement, gave the high school a grade of F in 2019. Last year, Phillis Wheatley got a C, and Houston ISD as a whole received a B. In the last 19 months, HISD has made strides reducing the number of its campuses with a D or F rating from 50 to 10. Ninety-four percent of HISD schools now earn a grade of A, B or C.
Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of the Community Voices for Public Education, a local education advocacy group, said the commissioner should have been congratulating Houston ISD for its recent academic improvement instead of punishing it.
“The takeover of the largest school district in Texas is a politically motivated, irresponsible experiment that will worsen inequities and disenfranchise Houston voters,” she said.
The TEA has taken over 15 school districts. It still manages Marlin ISD, outside of Waco, and Shepherd ISD, east of Conroe. The agency gave back control of eight districts to their local school boards; in other instances, it has shut them down or annexed them to other districts.
This article was written by BRIAN LOPEZ of The Texas Tribune. The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. This article originally appeared at: https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/15/texas-education-houston-isd-takeover/