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How much more danger is HISD in of being taken over?

Hard to say for sure, but they’re not in a good place right now.

The threat of state takeover has loomed over Houston ISD for months, largely due to chronically low-rated schools and mounting frustration with its much-criticized school board.

Now, another factor could give state leaders more reason to pull the trigger: a new investigation into potential violations of open meetings laws by five trustees last year.

It’s far too soon to tell whether state investigators will dig up any dirt on the five board members, but the fallout from the disclosure of the investigation is leading to speculation about what sanctions could befall the state’s largest school district.

The worst-case scenario for those who want HISD to remain under local control: investigators find extensive wrongdoing that provides cover for Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration to wrest jurisdiction over the board.

“I’m inclined to think this gives them the opportunity to really seize the public discourse,” said Jasmine Jenkins, executive director of Houstonians for Great Public School, a nonprofit that monitors HISD’s governance practices. “Part of the problem about the governor taking over is that it’s politically unpopular. It’s easier to do that if you remind the public how dysfunctional the board is.”

[…]

A special accreditation investigation allows Texas Education Agency staff members to obtain documents and interview witnesses to determine whether school officials violated laws or threatened a district’s welfare. If investigators find one-time or minor missteps by HISD trustees, TEA officials could mandate relatively light sanctions, such as additional training on open records laws.

However, more egregious or systemic wrongdoing could allow TEA to lower the district’s accreditation, opening the district to a wide array of escalating sanctions. Given that HISD already is monitored by a state-appointed conservator — one of the most severe interventions at the TEA’s disposal — some district onlookers fear a state takeover of the district’s board could be next.

Trustee Jolanda Jones, who has called for state and criminal investigations into her five fellow board members, said she believes the inquiry “very well could be the cause for us getting taken over.”

“It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, to ask for an investigation from an agency I don’t even respect,” said Jones, an ardent critic of the TEA and supporter of Lathan. “That bothers me, but I can’t stay silent and turn a blind eye.”

See here for the background. Let’s see what the investigation turns up first. The five trustees have maintained they did nothing wrong and have pledged to cooperate. If they’re right on both counts, then this ought to blow over and I don’t think HISD will be in any more real danger than before. If they’re wrong, to whatever extent, that’s when things get dicey. I tend to agree with Jasmine Jenkins here: The state would, all things considered and Greg Abbott’s mini-Trump tweets aside, rather not take over HISD. They are not equipped to run a big school district, and there’s no empirical reason to believe they will get any better results by stepping in. But the board is on thin ice, and they don’t have many friends in positions of power. If this investigation gives weight to the critics, that could be enough to overcome the resistance. I sure hope it doesn’t come to that.

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5 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    The engineers, contractors, architects, law firms want HISD to try to pass another bond. I don’t think the state will take it over. Because if they did there is no way a bond election would ever pass.

  2. Ross says:

    What we really need is to get rid of Diana Davila and Jolanda Jones. The animosity between the two is awful, and neither of them seems to give a rat’s behind about the students. Both of them appear to operate for their own best interests, rather than what’s best for the district.

  3. Manny Barrera says:

    Ross, what is best for the district? One must have an idea as to what would make the district better.

    I once asked you what kind of problems you are having at HISD and you did not respond. I went to look to see if a Ross had showed up to speak and could not find such a person. Most of the problems were transportation, but then I am not sure what you expect a Trustee to do because by law they are not suppose to get involved in the day to day operation, per state law.

    I am not defending either one, but I am interested in the problem as I want to research it.

  4. mark kerrissey says:

    First thing to remember. Violations of the Open Meetings Act are misdemeanors. A fine up to $500 and at worst six months in the county jail. People need to refrain from characterizing the TEA investigation as a criminal felony with prison time. Agree, let’s set if the five trustees met together away from the HISD board room. If they did not, no violation.

    But this new TEA investigation has a political smell to it. The “remove Lathan” vote was on October 11. The TEA launched its investigation three months later. Normal? No. At the Dec. 11 board meeting our board members (5) openly rebelled against Abbott’s plan to annex and privatize Texas public schools by passing on a RFP for SB 1882 outside partnership. It was a “Come and Get It” moment.

    So is the TEA investigation in earnest to uphold the Open Meeting law or is it Abbott’s response against a rebellious school district board? It is important to put HISD’s rebellion in the context that 24 other school boards flipped schools to SB 1882 partners last years and they are having regrets. Can we trust the TEA to run an impartial investigation?

  5. Manny Barrera says:

    TEA does not do a good job, several years ago they took over Beaumont ISD, last year BISD had three under performing schools that they had to turn over to charters. BISD is much smaller than HISD.