Education News

State Investigators Finish Their Preliminary Probe Into Houston School Board

News 88.7 has also confirmed with two school board members that the Houston board has received a copy of the preliminary report, but it is not public.

HISD Trustees Sergio Lira, Diana Dávila and Elizabeth Santos speak at a community meeting where local leaders and parents gave their input on the superintendent search. Last fall, the three trustees voted to abruptly fire the current interim superintendent, Grenita Lathan.
HISD Trustees Sergio Lira, Diana Dávila and Elizabeth Santos speak at a community meeting where local leaders and parents gave their input on the superintendent search. Last fall, the three trustees voted to abruptly fire the current interim superintendent, Grenita Lathan.

The Texas Education Agency has finished its preliminary investigation into the Houston school district, drawing calls from parents and other residents for its findings to be made public.

State investigators launched the probe in January to see if Houston school board members violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when they abruptly fired the district’s superintendent last fall. They later expanded the investigation to examine the district’s business practices in procurement and notified the board they had to suspend its superintendent search because of that.

Now, the initial investigation has finished and the preliminary report has been sent to HISD, according to the TEA. The agency declined to give any other details.

“Because the investigation, which spurred this report, is still ongoing, and to allow HISD time to respond, we cannot comment further at this time,” Melissa Holmes with the TEA said in an email.

News 88.7 has also confirmed with two school board members that the Houston board has received a copy of the report, but that it is not public.

“The public should hold us accountable to respond as quickly as possible,” said Trustee Sue Deigaard. “And then put pressure back on the TEA to finish the final report as soon as possible.”

So far, it’s not clear what violations — if any — investigators found or if they recommend a state takeover of the largest school district in Texas. Sanctions in these types of investigations could include downgrading the district’s accreditation and installing a board of managers to replace the elected school board.

According to state rules, HISD has a deadline to respond, but that timeline isn’t clear either because they vary on a case-by-case basis. If state education investigators find no violation of law or rules, they can release the preliminary report as its final report.

Some parents and Houston taxpayers have started an online petition asking for the findings to be released as soon as possible.

“If the investigation has not yielded any evidence that there is wrong-doing on the part of the Board, Board members deserve to have their reputations cleared, and the public deserves for the Board to be able to refocus on their work of hiring a permanent superintendent,” the petition reads. “However, if there is evidence to support that Board members have engaged in wrong-doing, the public deserves to know.”

Four HISD school board members will be up for reelection in November, which is another reason some parents and advocates say it’s critical to know the findings sooner rather than later.

In addition to the investigation into governance and procurement, the Houston school district also faces the threat of a state takeover because of chronic low academic performance at four schools. Those campuses and the district will know more if that threat lifts next week, when the TEA releases report cards for schools and districts.

“Maybe, just maybe we’re going to make the cut and all these schools are going to get out of this [improvement required status],” HISD Board President Diana Dávila said in an interview last week.

“I personally believe that they’re still going to find a way to come in and put a board of managers to oversee us. I think that’s inevitable. I think that’s been their main goal from the very beginning. They’re either going to try and get us on one thing or another.”

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Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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