As Houston ISD prepares for the start of a new school year later this month, a significant shakeup among the district’s leadership could be coming.
HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said Thursday that a preliminary report sent to the district by the Texas Education Agency, which for the last several months conducted a special accreditation investigation into the HISD Board of Education, recommends replacing the nine-member, publicly elected board with a state-appointed board of managers.
“We have received the preliminary report and it does recommend a board of managers and lowered accreditation based on findings,” Skillern Jones, who represents a geographic area that includes area schools, said in a text message.
According to investigation procedures outlined on the TEA website, HISD will be given an opportunity to respond to the findings. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will then make the final determination on sanctions for the largest public school district in the state, which starts classes for the 2019-20 school year on Aug. 26.
According to the Houston Chronicle, which cited the report, the TEA found instances of misconduct by multiple trustees, including violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, making false statements to investigators and inappropriately influencing vendor contracts.
TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt wrote in the report, according to the Chronicle, that the recommendations were made because of the trustees’ “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the Superintendent and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.”
A TEA spokesperson declined to comment Thursday beyond confirming that HISD had received the preliminary report, which is not a public document, and saying the investigation is “still ongoing.” According to the Chronicle, HISD has until Aug. 15 to respond to the report.
Elizabeth Santos, the other HISD trustee that represents area schools, did not respond to a voicemail Thursday.
According to the Chronicle, the TEA investigation determined Santos was among five trustees who violated the open meetings law by secretly meeting with Abe Saavedra in October 2018 about the possibility of having him replace interim superintendent Grenita Lathan. A few days later, the five trustees voted to do just that in a public school board meeting, although Lathan was reinstated shortly thereafter. The other four trustees involved, according to the Chronicle, are board president Diana Davila, Sergio Lira, Anne Sung and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca.
The HISD board already was facing the possibility of a TEA takeover if any of four consistently underperforming schools — Kashmere and Wheatley high schools, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary School — fail to meet state academic requirements this year. Those schools’ performances have not yet been determined.
And HISD already is overseen by a state-appointed conservator, Doris Delaney, who in March ordered the district to suspend its search for a permanent superintendent pending the results of the TEA investigation.