The news that HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza was leaving Houston after 18 months to become the new school chancellor in New York City was just another bump, albeit a big one, on what has become quite the wild ride for the district.
On Sunday, March 4, Mayor Bill de Blasio offered Carranza the spot after his first choice Alberto M. Carvalho, the superintendent of schools for Miami-Dade County, backed out of the position. On Monday, Carranza was announced as the new chancellor at a press conference in New York, after he had informed the mayor and the trustees, but before he addressed the Houston community. According to the Houston Chronicle, Carranza had been in talks with de Blasio for about a month.
Despite saying on his 2016 Listen and Learn tour of HISD that he wanted to retire from HISD when the time came and perhaps become a history professor, he was enthusiastic about his new challenge. The New York system has about 1.1 million students in about 1,800 schools. Houston, while the biggest in Texas, has about 215,000 students in approximately 284 schools.
“My word is my bond, we shook hands,” Carranza said of the New York mayor during the press conference, according to The Wall Street Journal. “I’ll be in New York City as long as you’ll have me.”
Reaction to Carranza’s departure was largely one of surprise and shock.
“He won’t finish the school year? That’s terrible,” said a parent in response to HISD’s Facebook post about his departure. “What a waste of time for HISD,” said another.
While some mourned the loss and said that they appreciated his warmth, others thought Carranza wasn’t a good fit for HISD and are glad to see him go.
Monica Richart, an education advocate who was also a candidate for District I in the last school board election, said that she was hopeful for the future.
“We have incredibly capable top administrators who have been committed to our District and its students for years,” Richart said. “I am sure they will provide the work and leadership we need at this critical time.”
HISD Parent Advocates leader Ben Becker says he sees the development as a largely positive one, as it will allow the board an opportunity to truly engage the community in order to set policy and develop a codified vision. To Becker, it’s not an issue of decentralization versus centralization with regard to funding, as much as it is a lack of policy to govern either.
“Is centralization helpful to equity?” he asks.
Becker also said that Carranza is paid 50 percent more than the next highest paid administrator in the district and suggested that there might be some local candidates who could get the job done more effectively, and with less cost.
“To me the number one issue for HISD in recent years has been instability,” he said. “Students need stability. There are plenty of people in the HISD administration who have been here a long time and are dedicated to educating children.”
Where do we go from here?
At Tuesday’s HISD press conference, Mayor Sylvester Turner said he wished Carranza well and that “we will not let the abrupt departure create chaos for the state’s largest school district.” Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones said that a priority was the IR (improvement required) schools, getting those schools out of IR and making sure no new schools get the designation.
Skillern-Jones said that the board had three options moving forward with regard to the search for a new leader: naming a short-term interim superintendent while starting the search for someone permanent; naming a long-term interim superintendent and postponing the superintendent search for the short term; and posting the position to proceed with a permanent hire.
According to Skillern-Jones, Carranza gave the board an approximate two week notice for his departure but she did not know if he would use leave time for any part of those two weeks.
When asked at the press conference how the district would proceed without Carranza’s leadership and vision, Skillern-Jones said that the vision is set by the board and that “the leader that comes in will be tasked with the how.” She also said that the magnet proposal that was already on the table will be the one that the board vets and votes on.
A plan in flux
In mid-January, HISD announced they needed to cut $200 million from the 2018-19 budget and also proposed a plan to take away the magnet designation, and subsequent funding, for some schools and to create feeder patterns grouped into geographic quadrants, defined as north, south, east and west. A more centralized funding model was outlined. At the same time, the district was exploring partnerships with other organizations, including charters, to help IR schools improve.
The seemingly drastic nature of the initial plan was alarming to many parents who were unaware that the district would be required to keep making recapture payments to the state, and that IR schools could be taken over by the Texas Education Association. The Superintendent and other trustees routinely stressed the severity of the cuts that HISD would have to make.
An HISD FAQ from HISD dated February 1 stated that “the district is dealing with a perfect financial storm in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. School districts depend on local property tax dollars as a primary source of funding, and property values are expected to decrease in the wake of the storm. We also anticipate a decrease in student enrollment. HISD lost about 1,800 students who left the district because of Harvey, and that number may grow in September if families trying to rebuild after the storm decide to leave Houston.”
In late February, the district adjusted the projected budget deficit to $115 million, which gave parents a sigh of relief but also sparked questions about why the district used a worst-case scenario in the first place, and why they now publicized a sunnier outlook with no new information.
It was September of 2016 when the new superintendent told The Leader how he would approach change in the district.
“You really have to be thoughtful in advance how you’re making your moves so people don’t feel left out as much as possible,” he said. “You don’t want somebody to feel like someone else has information before they do or that you’re pitting one neighborhood against another.”
What is clear with his departure is that a lot of people felt left out of the conversation.