Education News

Two Houston School Board Incumbents Seek Reelection, Two Others Step Down

Despite the threat of a state takeover, the Houston school board elections will move forward.

community on behalf of the Houston school board, for how they've behaved over the last 10 months.
In October, Trustee Diana Davila issued an apology to the community on behalf of the Houston school board, for how they’ve behaved over the last 10 months.

The slate of candidates is set for the Houston school board elections in November, even as a state-appointed board of managers is looking more likely due to governance issues and chronic low test scores at one high school.

Of the four seats up for election, two incumbents — Diana Davila representing District VIII and Sergio Lira in District III — are running for another term.  But two other trustees, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones in Districts II and IV respectively, have decided to step down and not run for another term. In all, 11 candidates are vying for those open seats: seven in District II and four in District IV.

Mark Jones, a political professor with Rice University, said that might not be enough turnover to avoid a state takeover of the entire nine-member board.

“If in the end the level of renewal is only two seats, I doubt that has much effect on the overall function of the board and probably more importantly does not change the vision of the board in the eyes in the state of Texas government and the eyes of the TEA in particular,” Jones said.

The beleaguered board is subject to a special investigation by the Texas Education Agency, whose top investigator has recommended that the state’s Education Commissioner, Mike Morath, replace the elected board with an appointed board of managers. Separately, the HISD board of trustees could be removed and replaced with appointed governors because one high school, Wheatley, recently had its seventh failing grade in a row. A state law mandates that a school be closed or a school board be replaced if a campus fails state standards for five or more years.

Another HISD trustee, Elizabeth Santos, has announced she’s exploring a run for the Texas House to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat, but isn’t required to resign in order to campaign.

Despite the threat of a state takeover, the elections will move forward, according to TEA’s rules. If the commissioner does appoint his own board of mangers, those governors would schedule new elections as they transition back to an elected board. In that scenario, recently elected HISD officials could assume their powers and serve out the remainder of their terms, if there is any time left during that transition. HISD trustees serve four-year terms; state-appointed board of managers have typically served between two and five years in other Texas districts.

Jones said that Davila and Lira may be more vulnerable than typical incumbents because of the allegations in the state’s investigation, but considered them still the favorites as incumbents. They each face only one challenger: Judith Cruz in District VIII and Dani Hernandez in District III. What’s more, Jones said, is that the Houston mayoral race and City Council elections in November could drown out attention from the school board races.

For the open seats, Jones said the real battle is to get into a run-off.

He said while the general public may not be very attuned to the controversies swirling around the board — from secret meetings to free meals — the looming potential state takeover could have dampened a more robust challenge against either Davila or Lira.

“There’s a sense of why bother — Why go out and work really hard? Why incur the wrath of incumbents and the special interests that support them if in the end, all that’s going to happen is a board of managers is going to take over?” Jones said.

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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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