HISD board, superintendent out after state takeover

HISD board replaced
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the House Public Education Committee at the state capitol.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

BY ALIYYA SWABY

HISD board out, superintendent replaced. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath informed Houston Independent School District leaders that he plans to replace their elected school board with an appointed board of managers to “prevent imminent and substantial harm to the welfare of the district’s students.”

In a letter dated Wednesday, Morath gave two principal reasons for his decision: the school board’s “failure of governance” and the chronic low academic performance of Wheatley High School, which received its seventh failing rating this year. He will also appoint a superintendent for the district.

“Given the inability of the board of trustees to govern the district, these sanctions are necessary to protect the best interests of the district’s current and future students,” he wrote. The decision is unprecedented in scope: The state will be taking over its largest public school district, which contains more than 270 schools and educates more than 200,000 students.

But it was far from unexpected. Last week, a final state investigation report recommended Morath replace the school board, finding that it had violated the state’s open meetings law, attempted to influence how contracts were awarded and took action on district issues individually without consulting other board members.

And just yesterday, the state denied Houston ISD’s appeal of Wheatley High School’s state accountability rating, killing its last route to remaining independently governed. A 2015 law requires Morath to penalize a district with a school that has been failing for more than four consecutive years, by either shutting down the school or taking over the entire district. This is the first time that law will be used to take over a district.

The HISD board has been on thin ice for months. The district’s governance problems come after it was able to avoid revenue recapture for the first time in three months.

This developing story will be updated.

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