Mayor Sylvester Turner sounded alarm bells Wednesday when he announced that he has heard from multiple sources that the state intends to take over Houston ISD as early as next week.
“I’m talking to legislators, and what they’re saying to me is that the state intends to takeover the district, replacing the entire board, replacing the superintendent … And they intend to do it next week,” said Turner, who spent three decades as a state representative.
Turner questioned how the state would take over 273 schools successfully, and urged the community to sound speak out against the takeover.
“We can’t be silent on this one. The state is overreaching on this one,” Turner said. “It is a total obliteration of local control, and when you take it, you own it… You are destroying the public education system.”
Rep. Alma Allen, who had also been hearing various rumors of a soon-to-be takeover, asked TEA commission Mike Morath about the possibility at a Public Education Committee meeting Tuesday.
“The streets have it…that it’s going to be March 6, and there are already persons that have already been asked to take over the position of superintendent,” Allen said. “Do you have any idea (if this is true)?”
Morath did not give a timeline.
“All I will say is we’re waiting to evaluate the Supreme Court’s ruling that has not yet been finalized,” Morath said during the meeting. “What we’re going to do is going to be a mandatory action under state law, not a discretionary action.”
Houston ISD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Texas Education Agency said: “TEA continues to review the Supreme Court’s decision in order to determine next steps that best support the students, teachers, parents, and school community of the Houston Independent School District.”
See here and here for the background. The Trib also quotes Morath at that same hearing saying they “have not made any final decision and not announced any final action”. There’s nothing here to contradict what Mayor Turner says, but it’s not totally clear what Morath means. This Chron story lays out some possibilities.
What is the TEA’s likely first step?
The Texas Education Agency likely would choose one of the following options: It could:
1) Appoint a conservator, effectively a state-appointed manager to oversee district operations.
2) Replace Houston ISD’s 9-person elected board with a state-appointed “board of managers.” If this happens, based on previous experience, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath would select those new trustees and potentially pick a new superintendent.
3) Allow the district to remain autonomous but retain a degree of oversight.
The state agency will have to release the details after they pull the trigger on the takeover.
Door #3 is the obvious choice, if we have one. My thought on trying to parse Mike Morath’s words is that the TEA and its lawyers want to read the SCOTx decision before they do whatever it is they will do. Depending on whether that decision says or implies that the TEA “shall” take over HISD or that it “may” take over HISD could be the difference between a conservator and an appointed Board on one hand, and a monitoring situation on the other. Or maybe I’m full of hopium and Morath already has a full-on takeover plan at the ready and he’s just waiting for the ink to dry on the SCOTx decision before they hit Send on the press release. Hell if I know. But if the Mayor’s threat intel is accurate, and I tend to think he has the goods, then we’ll know very soon what’s up. Reform Austin has more.