The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Wednesday morning that it has taken over the biggest school district in the state — the Houston Independent School District (HISD).
In a letter obtained by The Dallas Express, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath informed the HISD Board of Trustees and the district’s superintendent that the state is taking over.
“[T]o best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of Houston ISD, I am appointing a Board of Managers to the district as an intervention action required by law. As detailed in this letter, the Board of Managers and superintendent will be named in subsequent correspondence later this year,” wrote Morath.
The move puts an end to weeks of anticipation following a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court that opened the door for the takeover, as previously reported in The Dallas Express.
State Board of Education member Julie Pickren told The Dallas Express that she supports local control of the district but that the HISD school board’s troubled legal history and its oversight of consistently poor student achievement outcomes had left the TEA with little choice.
“I want the local school board to win. I want them to do a great job servicing children. What’s unfortunate is that’s not happening and so the state must step in,” Pickren said.
Morath highlighted the same points in his letter, writing:
“In prior years, Houston ISD was governed by a Board of Trustees that did not focus on improving student outcomes. 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. A former Board majority blatantly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, and Board members broke Texas procurement law.”
Still, the takeover has prompted public officials and parents in the Houston area to voice their opposition, with some rallying in defense of the existing school board maintaining control of HISD.
“This is not just about [one campus] or about HISD. There is a concerted attack on public education and on public schools,” said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, KHOU 11 reported.
Some parents also expressed nervousness about a TEA takeover.
“My worst fear as a mom with a child with special needs … is that my voice is going to be muffled because of the lack of representation, the lack of political power that comes along with a takeover,” claimed HISD parent Patrinia Baksmaty, the Houston Chronicle reported.
For her part, Pickren noted that the TEA has a legal obligation to take over the district and told The Dallas Express that thousands of students are being failed by districts like HISD and the Dallas Independent School District (DISD).
“The problem is that the communities, the cities — Houston, Dallas — other communities, they are electing school board trustees and they are telling their local elected officials, ‘We trust you with the finances of this district, we trust you that you are going to educate our children, we trust you that over 90% of them are going to graduate high school.’ And these trustees fail to keep their promises … The State of Texas taking over a school district is just a measure of last resort,” said Pickren.
TEA’s unprecedented decision to take over a district the size of HISD suggests the agency might be willing to assume responsibility over other large troubled districts, like DISD, which logged worse student achievement metrics than HISD last year.
According to TEA accountability reports, only 41% of DISD students scored at grade level on the STAAR exam, and almost 20% of its Class of 2022 failed to graduate on time. For its part, 43% of HISD students scored at grade level on the STAAR and 85.7% of its seniors graduated on time last year.
In his letter to HISD’s superintendent and school board, Morath stated that the TEA would not appoint a board of managers until at least June 1, at which time the current board’s powers will be suspended.
“A school board has a solemn responsibility to focus above all else on serving all students enrolled in its school system. It does this by ensuring its superintendent is positioned to provide a strong set of supports for district teachers and staff who work directly with those students, not just on some of its campuses, but all of them. The intervention I am ordering is focused on ensuring the Houston ISD governing team is better supporting its students,” Morath wrote.