Texas education agency ready to find new leaders for Houston school district, documents show

Patricia Allen, left, a union organizer with Houston Educational Support Personnel, and a colleague hold banners against the Texas Education Agency's takeover of the Houston Independent School District during a press conference in Houston, on March 3, 2023. (Joseph Bui For The Texas Tribune, Joseph Bui For The Texas Tribune)

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Documents found on the Texas Education Agency’s website show that the state is ready to appoint new leaders to take charge of the Houston Independent School District.

A job posting seeking candidates to apply for a new board of managers to oversee the state’s largest school district and a slideshow explaining the responsibilities of the body could be found in the TEA’s site before they were taken down Tuesday night. The Texas Tribune kept copies of both documents.

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Houston ISD board of managers job description

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Reference

Houston ISD board of managers FAQ

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The TEA has not announced a takeover yet. The agency did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

The slideshow said the TEA is appointing the new board in response to years of poor academic outcomes at a single high school in the district, “requiring action to either close the campus or appoint a Board of Managers to govern the district.”

The TEA, tasked with overseeing and supporting about 1,200 school districts in the state, will begin to interview candidates for the board of managers with the goal of placing them in charge by June 1, according to the documents. People seeking to be on the board of managers must be eligible voters living within the Houston ISD boundaries. The TEA commissioner decides how long the board is in place.

Houston ISD would become the largest district the agency has taken over since 2000.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and the agency first moved to force out the district’s school board in 2019 in response to allegations of misconduct by trustees and years of low student performance at Phillis Wheatley High School.

Houston ISD sued, and in 2020, a Travis County district judge halted Morath’s plan by granting a temporary injunction. The case eventually reached the Texas Supreme Court last October, when the agency’s lawyers argued that a 2021 law — which went into effect after the case was first taken to court — permits the TEA commissioner to replace a school board and its superintendent if one of its schools receives consecutive years of failing grades.

The Texas Supreme Court threw out the injunction in January and formalized its decision March 1, clearing the path for the TEA to put in place new school board members, who could then vote to end the lawsuit.

Houston ISD has 276 schools and an enrollment of nearly 200,000 students.

Student outcomes have improved at both Phillis Wheatley and the district at large since Morath first announced a possible takeover. The TEA, which grades schools and districts each year based on their academic achievement, gave the high school a grade of F in 2019. Last year, Phillis Wheatley got a C, and Houston ISD as a whole received a B. In the past 19 months, HISD has made strides in reducing the number of its campuses with a D or F rating from 50 to 10. Ninety-four percent of HISD schools now earn a grade of A, B or C.

The TEA has taken over 15 school districts. It still manages Marlin ISD, outside of Waco, and Shepherd ISD, east of Conroe. The agency gave back control of eight districts to their local school boards; in other instances, it has shut them down or annexed them to other districts.

Supporters of the state’s takeover of Houston ISD say it would be a way to get faltering school districts back on track. Critics say it undermines the community’s will by removing the district’s elected school board members, and they worry the move could lead to layoffs. Days before the TEA confirmed the takeover, parents and teachers at HISD’s State of the Schools luncheon on March 3 called the plan an insult after the district’s improvements and an unnecessary disruption in the middle of the spring semester.

Ruth Kravetz, co-founder of the Community Voices for Public Education, a local education advocacy group, said the commissioner should have been congratulating Houston ISD for its recent academic improvement instead of punishing it.

"The takeover of the largest school district in Texas is a politically motivated, irresponsible experiment that will worsen inequities and disenfranchise Houston voters," she said.

Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, said the teachers union opposes the state replacing the democratically elected board.

"We will work night and day to make sure that students have access to specific programs and services that they need and deserve to receive a high-quality public education in Houston schools,” she said.