On Tuesday, the Texas Education Agency hosted the first of four informational meetings about the application and selection process for the new board of directors over Houston ISD. Community members were not satisfied.
TEA Deputy Commissioner of Operations Alejandro Delgado led the meeting at Westbury High School. He said that the application process for the board of directors is already underway, and applications are due on April 6. The new board will be selected and installed by June 1.
At the beginning of last night's meeting, there had been a total of 138 applications submitted for the board of managers.
"We are looking for local Houstonians who live within HISD boundaries that reflect the diversity of HISD," Delgado said. The 9-member board itself as well as a superintendent will be selected by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who was not in attendance at last night's meeting.
Delgado stated that the board of managers is intended to be temporary. "There will be a transition to the board of trustees," he said. "However, there is exit criteria."
HISD will only begin its transition back to the elected board of trustees when the district has no campuses that have a received a failing grade for more than one year. After at least two years, if exit criteria is met, the transition back to the elected board of trustees will begin, with one third of the board being reinstalled each year for three years, until the re-installment is complete. This means TEA will retain some control of HISD for a minimum of five years, beginning this summer.
Many of those in attendance at last night's meeting felt their questions were not being addressed, and many opposed the takeover all together. The presenter only planned to answer questions that were submitted through an online form accessible via a QR code posted at the meeting and that specifically pertained to the application and selection process for the board of directors.
Around thirteen minutes into the hour-long meeting, attendees began shouting at Delgado, demanding answers about the takeover. "How will you help our schools? Answer our questions!" one audience member could be heard yelling. Soon, a chant of "Pass us the mic!" began to spread through the crowd. Later, shouts of "Makeover, not takeover!" began to echo through the auditorium.
Soon, attendees began questioning the absence of the man who will be choosing the board, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. "Where is Mike Morath?" shouted one audience member. "We want to ask Mike Morath questions!"
"You have your foot on our throats!" one woman shouted and was met with applause from the audience.
Eventually, U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston arrived at the venue and took to the podium, voicing opposition to the takeover.
"We are absolutely and conspicuously with the majority," she said. "We are opposed to the approach of the takeover."
Jackson Lee said she believes TEA is in violation of the Texas Education Code, which states that a takeover is mandated if a school "is not assigned an overall performance rating of a C or higher in the 2022 school year and has been assigned an unacceptable performance rating for five or more school years prior to 2021." She says Wheatley High School, which the TEA has used to justify the takeover, does not meet both of those criteria.
"The provisions say ‘and,'" she said. "[TEA] came to court on Wheatley High School, and Wheatley High School is at a C right now."
She went on to call for TEA to walk back the takeover and, instead, work with the currently elected board of trustees to solve the district's problems.
"There are other schools on the margins in the state of Texas, and those schools are not being attacked," Jackson Lee said.
Delgado seemed unprepared for the audience response he received at the session, and once the crowd began voicing its concerns, he never regained control of the meeting.
There are three more information sessions scheduled around HISD, including one tonight at Chavez High School. There will also be a session on May 29 at Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center and on May 30 at Kashmere High School. All of the sessions will begin at 6:30 p.m.