After weeks of rumors out of Austin, it has been confirmed that the Texas Education Agency will announce the state takeover of Houston Independent School District. Commissioner Mike Morath told Houston area leaders Wednesday in a closed-door meeting that HISD performed worse than other districts from 2019-2022, but leaders pushed back, saying that the COVID pandemic had a particularly negative impact in large minority districts like Houston.
Houston ISD would become the largest district the agency has taken over since 2000. Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, said, “I believe the decision has been made, and they are determined to do this.” Reynolds joined several state officials, Houston-area leaders, and community members in openly opposing the takeover.
Morath will discuss the state’s plans for the district before a public announcement regarding the TEA’s decision to take over the district which will impact 187,000 students and their families.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be positive and I want the public to be prepared for the worst. That’s what we anticipate we will be receiving tomorrow,” Reynolds told ABC 13. “I believe that they want to ‘charterize’ many of these schools in HISD,” Reynolds added. “And there is a great push toward vouchers and other things that gut public schools. So, this is the ugly side of politics that I despise.”
Despite improvement in the academic performance of some HISD schools such as Wheatley High School, the TEA is removing the board of trustees, replacing Superintendent Millard House II, and closing Wheatley down. Morath could announce specific action on some or none of those options today in his meeting with Houston leaders to discuss the new plans.
“I don’t believe it’s going to be positive and I want the public to be prepared for the worst. That’s what we anticipate we will be receiving tomorrow,” Reynolds said. “I’m prepared for taking over the board, taking over local control with a board of managers that will have no accountability to the public, that will only report to the TEA Commissioner.”
Late Tuesday evening, the Texas Tribune reported that postings found on the TEA’s website showed that the state is actively seeking to appoint new leaders for the Houston Independent School District. Before they were taken down from the site Tuesday night, a job posting seeking candidates for a new board of managers to run the district, in addition to a slideshow explaining the responsibilities.
The slideshow said the TEA was 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 will begin to interview candidates for the new HISD board of managers and plans to have them in place by June 1, according to the documents.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner first heard the rumors of the takeover weeks ago. At that time he expressed his dismay, saying “HISD has 273 schools. How do you come in and take over the largest school district in Texas and do it successfully?”
When rumors first began in late February, Dani Hernandez, the president of the HISD School Board, said she believes that the community should choose the leadership of HISD. “I passionately believe that HISD needs a Democratically elected board and that parents in the community should get input on who is running the district,” Hernandez told KHOU, the CBS affiliate in Houston.
But some local leaders, including current district trustee Kendall Baker, said he is open to seeing what state intervention would bring. “Let’s look at the positive side of it,” Baker said. “Wait and see what happens. What has occurred in the past has got us in a little trouble. Now, the commissioner has the green light to come in and check. He has my full support in whatever happens.”
State Rep. Harold V. Dutton, D-Houston, also supports the takeover. On Tuesday, he said “I live in the neighborhood and I have to look at all these students. Particularly, when you look at the students who are coming into our criminal justice system, they’re coming from the ZIP codes with the failing schools, and so why shouldn’t we fix these schools?”
Dutton, who serves on the House Public Education committee, said he based his opinion on the chronic underperformance at schools in his northeast Houston district, noting that Kashmere High School, his alma mater, did not have a certified math teacher for more than 10 years.
“I know there are people that are saying, ‘Well, Wheatley’s doing better,’” said Dutton. “Well, that’s true to some extent, but at the same time, Kashmere High School, which had formerly been a C, went back to basically an F.”