Tensions Remain Over Houston ISD Takeover

An HISD building | Image by Houston ISD

Tensions are high in Houston, where the local school system — the biggest in Texas — is set to be taken over by the state in the coming months.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath informed the Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) Board of Trustees that he would be appointing a board of managers to run the district and replacing the current superintendent after one of the HISD’s campuses logged five consecutive-years of unacceptable performance, triggering a law that would require the campus to be closed or TEA to replace the district’s elected leadership.

The current school board could still operate in an advisory capacity, even if they cannot vote on policy. In fact, four HISD trustees are still planning on running for reelection in November, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Still, concerned teachers and parents are pressing TEA for more information about how the takeover will unfold and what it would mean for stakeholders.

TEA Deputy Commissioner Alejandro Delgado attended a community meeting Wednesday night where he was supposed to field questions from residents about the takeover, but anti-takeover activists disrupted the event early on with a megaphone and turned it into a rally against TEA, ABC 13 reported.

Parents, teachers, and community members remain unsure of what the takeover will look like in practice and how long the district will be under the control of a state-appointed board of managers.

The Dallas Express reached out to TEA and asked what conditions HISD would need to meet in order for a locally-elected leadership to take back control of the district. The agency responded in an emailed statement:

“What needs to be true for control to be transferred back?

  • No multi-year D or F campuses inside HISD.
  • HISD special education programs must be in full compliance with federal and state law.
  • An elected board of trustees that is prepared to reassume control and is highly focused on student outcomes.”

An education specialist and former superintendent for Balch Springs Independent School District, Duncan Klussmann, told the Houston Chronicle that the conditions set by TEA are a “very high expectation” but “definitely achievable.”

“The state’s now in control. It’s their responsibility to produce that result, and we’ll have to see what happens,” Klussmann said.

Student outcomes have long been a problem at HISD, just as they are at the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), the second-biggest school system in Texas, which had more D- and F-rated campuses than HISD last school year, according to TEA’s accountability reports.

In a ranking of big-city Texas counties based on student achievement outcomes, The Dallas Express found that the number of D- and F-rated campuses dragged Dallas County to the bottom of the list. Meanwhile, Harris County — where HISD is located — came in third.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, nearly 50% of respondents in a poll conducted by the news outlet believed that mismanagement is the primary reason why the school system is struggling academically. Still, it is unlikely that TEA can intervene in DISD’s case because none of its campuses have triggered the takeover law.

The sponsor of the bill that ultimately became the takeover law, Texas House Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), has come under some fire for wanting a legal mechanism for holding school districts accountable.

When asked by the Houston-area news outlet Defender if he felt responsible for everything that has transpired, Dutton replied:

“That’s like saying the guy who comes with the ambulance to pick up the guy who is shot is somehow responsible. It’s HISD’s responsibility to educate students and when they let them fail, they should be punished.”

Per Morath’s letter to HISD’s leadership earlier this month, TEA will not move to name a board of managers or a new superintendent until at least June of this year.

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1 Comment

  1. Arlene koeppen

    So this is about punishment?!
    I thought it was about improving educational achievement. As Burl Ives sang, watch the donut, not the hole.”


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