The Texas Education Agency, or TEA, has the power to replace locally-elected school boards with its own appointed trustees, although it rarely does so. Such a step is typically reserved for extreme financial mismanagement or substandard student achievement. But in Houston, TEA officials are now considering replacing the local school board for a different reason: dysfunction.
An investigation by the TEA found that the Houston Independent School District Board of Trustees “demonstrated an inability to appropriately govern.” The report recommended that the board be replaced by a new slate of state-appointed managers.
“This would be a totally different case from really any other state appointment,” says Jacob Carpenter, an education reporter for The Houston Chronicle. “There are certainly academic issues at a percentage of schools, but its not district-wide. It’s on strong financial footing. And so this really comes back to more a matter of governance.”
The investigation identified three main areas of mismanagement:
– The board allegedly violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when a majority of its members met in October 2018 without publicly announcing the meeting. The group convened to discuss deposing Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
– Board members often overstepped their authority, intervening in day-to-day management of the district that fell under the superintendent’s purview.
– The board violated contract procurement rules, and then failed to adequately oversee contractors.
Houston ISD has been looking for a new, permanent superintendent since March 2018, when Richard Carranza left the post to become chancellor of New York City Schools. Carpenter said that Carranza left in part out of frustration with Houston’s school board.
“That has really brought to the forefront a huge disconnect between some board members. It’s led to a lot of community frustration,” Carpenter says.
Despite the recent recommendation, it’s unclear whether or when the board will be replaced. The decision is up to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. In May, Morath told The Houston Chronicle’s editorial board that such a move would happen after the “finalization of [school] ratings, so that’s sometime between September and November.”
Written by Michael Marks.