Education

Houston school board holds final hearing ahead of takeover, TEA presents update on transition

With two weeks until the takeover, the Texas Education Agency says it will stick with June 1 for the appointment of a new superintendent and Board of Managers — who have not yet been selected, according to the agency. The new leaders will be in office for a long time.

A screenshot of HISD's April 13, 2023 meeting.
Houston ISD screenshot
A screenshot of HISD’s April 13, 2023 meeting.

Houston ISD trustees met Thursday morning for what was likely their final hearing before their decision-making power transfers to a state-appointed Board of Managers.

Steve Lecholop, deputy commissioner of governance for the Texas Education Agency, updated trustees on the transition process. He promised no immediate disruptions to district operations.

"The current district staff will continue to be employed by the district. Current district operations will continue to run just as they're running," Lecholop said. "The trains are still going to run on time."

Trustee Elizabeth Santos characterized the takeover as "taking away our democracy," and she pressed Lecholop on the tight timeline between the installment of the Board of Managers and the end-of-June deadline to approve a budget.

"I'm going to ask that you get your math together," Santos said. "When you have nine people that don't know the ropes, it can get pretty complicated."

227 of the 462 applicants for the Board of Managers completed TEA's mandatory Lone Star Governance training over the past few weeks, according to Lecholop. Nine of them will take control of the state's largest school district in June.

After the takeover, the current trustees will continue to meet, and November elections will proceed. But policymaking — including finalization of next school year's budget — will rest with the state-appointed managers and superintendent. Lecholop encouraged trustees to act as community liaisons, to advise board members and to help update the district's goals.

"This is a temporary intervention," Lecholop told trustees. "The board will return to elected leadership. I suspect many of you will continue to run, will continue to be engaged, and will transition back onto the board after the timeline of the intervention takes place."

In order for Houston voters to regain control of their schools, the district must check three boxes: full compliance with special education laws, no schools that fail to meet state standards for two years, as well as board procedures and conduct that "focus on student outcomes." Once all criteria are met, three elected trustees replace three managers each year until the district exits state management. In the best case scenario, Houston ISD residents won't have complete control of their public education system until 2027 — at the very earliest.

Rumors and unanswered questions swirled ahead of the Thursday hearing.

On Saturday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner claimed former Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles had been chosen to replace Houston ISD superintendent Millard House II. But this week, a TEA spokesperson said no selections have been made and that there were "no updates regarding BOM or superintendent search to share at this time." A spokesperson for Mayor Turner did not respond to a request for more information on his claim.

Mike Miles served as superintendent in Dallas from 2012 through 2015, coinciding with Education Commissioner Mike Morath's tenure on the DISD school board. Miles' leadership style and reforms, including performance-based pay for teachers, led to some controversy ahead of his resignation. After departing the district, he founded Third Future Schools, which describes itself as "a network of public charter schools serving 4500 students across Colorado, Texas, and Louisiana." He did not respond to a request for comment.

On Tuesday, Morath directly engaged with a group of Houston ISD teachers for the first time. TEA said it invited about 200 teachers, and that it selected invitees based on previous nominations by campus colleagues for the District Advisory Committee.

Morath again said that any policy changes will be made by the superintendent and Board of Managers — who he said have not yet been chosen.

"I find that very difficult to believe," said union president Jackie Anderson, with the Houston Federation of Teachers. "But if that is the case, it shows a very lax attitude about who's going to run the district."