Those who follow public education closely in Houston may have been surprised by the Texas Education Agency’s directive that the Houston ISD Board of Trustees cease its search for a permanent superintendent until the TEA has completed its special accreditation investigation of the board. The state is reportedly investigating possible violations of the Open Meetings Act and improprieties in how HISD vendors are selected.
A local group called Supporters of HISD Magnets and Budget Accountability organized a meeting last Saturday with AJ Crabill, the TEA’s deputy commissioner for governance, to talk about the possible outcomes of the investigation as well as the timing of the TEA’s directive.
Crabill expressed concern that details of the investigation were already known, stating that the state’s documents were privileged, but said a final public report would be months away. Possible sanctions for HISD, in order of severity from least to greatest, include a corrective action plan, a TEA monitor who observes and can give advice, a conservator who gives directives to the superintendent or the board (one already is in place) or a board of managers that would temporarily replace all of the current trustees.
“Either it impacts the full board or it doesn’t impact the full board,” he said, adding that the most severe sanctions were reserved for when governance “has degraded to a point that it is actually harming the well-being of a community’s children.”
Other districts that have had a board of managers installed include El Paso ISD, Beaumont ISD and Edgewood ISD in San Antonio.
Crabill said a board of managers in these cases was a temporary fix for a few years and that the board members were tasked with resolving the specific issues that brought the sanctions.
“Their job is to make it easy for (the) board of trustees when they return,” said Crabill, who added that rolling elections for trustees continue while the board of managers is in place so that the board is repopulated with elected persons in thirds.
When asked about any link between the investigation and the superintendent search, Crabill referenced the state conservator’s letter to trustees and said he took it at its word that there was some connection.
He said he was not involved in the decision regarding the superintendent search because he had recused himself from ongoing investigations into HISD in order to be a better support mechanism for the board. Crabill also said it is his hope that the board would continue to improve.
“If what there was was this kind of blood lust for (a board of managers), I think that would have already occurred,” he said.
HISD charter renewal
At the April 4 HISD Board of Education meeting, the board voted to renew in-district charter agreements for eight campuses. While five of the schools were renewed with a 7-1 vote, the renewal for the Energized and Inspired charter schools, founded by Lois Bullock, squeaked by 5-4.
Those schools have come under fire for loaning Bullock’s for-profit company millions of dollars and paying high salaries to their leaders.
Trustee Elizabeth Santos, who voted against renewing all charters, said she found the administration’s oversight of these contracts to be inadequate, particularly for finances, special education and teacher certification.
“With the Energized schools, the administration could not answer questions about multi-million dollar loans to a for-profit company owned by the head of schools,” Santos said. “Until we have better safeguards in place, I cannot support continuing to rubber stamp these in-district charter contracts.”
Trustees added an amendment stipulating the district will incorporate into the agreements greater oversight of financial management and academic performance of the in-district charters.
Education finance reform
There are dueling proposals in Austin for how schools would be financed and how teachers would get paid.
The Texas Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 3 in early March, which would give $5,000 annual pay raises to full-time classroom teachers and librarians. The cost would be $4 billion.
On April 3, the House almost unanimously passed House Bill 3, which is more all-encompassing. It would increase the funding weights for each student by $890 and fund a full-day pre-kindergarten for low-income students.
The bill also would reduce the recapture payment for wealthy districts in terms of property tax revenue, such as HISD. It also would add raises for all full-time school employees who are not administrators, although the annual base amount for teachers would be a little more than $1,300 with discretion given to districts to increase that amount.
Heather Golden, who is in Austin this week with HEAR, an HISD advocacy group, said House Bill 3 also includes increased weights for dyslexic and dual-language students.
“It also has transportation funding HISD doesn’t currently receive as a recapture district,” Golden said. “Overall, House Bill 3 is good for kids.”
Golden expressed concern that the Senate bill has no way to fund the teacher raises after two years and doesn’t address the larger school-finance concerns that the House bill does.
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said his body is less satisfied with the lowered minimum required amount in the House bill, along with the fact HISD will be distributing the raises.
“There is a significant lack of trust right now between our educators and the district,” Capo said. “Some of it is valid, but I am confident that if the educators continue to stand with us and speak up then we will be able to push much closer to the proposed $5,000 for teachers and also ensure that the rest of our team is included.”
Golden said the final version of a school-finance bill that gets the nod from the House and Senate will likely be hashed out in conference.