Education News

Houston School Board Candidates Find Uncertainty A Challenge On The Campaign Trail

It’s widely expected that Texas’ Education Commissioner Mike Morath will replace the elected Houston school board with outside managers either because of poor academic performance or the board’s behavior.

Eight candidates for the board of trustees for the Houston Independent School District shared their perspectives on issues including charter schools, cafeteria menus, testing and more at a recent forum held by the advocacy group Children at Risk.

This November could bring four new faces to the embattled Houston school board. But candidates are finding uncertainty about the board's future is one of their biggest challenges on the campaign trail.

Judith Cruz, who is running against board president Diana Davila in District 8, said that as she visits with voters, she’s often asked if there will even be elections because of the looming threat of a state takeover of the Houston Independent School District.

“The question keeps coming up even though I keep addressing it and I feel like others are, but there’s still so many unknowns and it just seems such weird timing to have elections if the state is going to come in,” Cruz said.

It's widely expected that Texas’ Education Commissioner Mike Morath will replace the elected Houston school board with outside managers either because of poor academic performance at Wheatley High School, which recently received its seventh consecutive failing rating, or because of the board's behavior and potential violations of state law and its own rules, as alleged in a preliminary state investigation.

Still, Cruz and other candidates told Houston Public Media that they believe HISD elections in November are crucial, pointing to how trustees can still help advocate for their districts and transition back to an elected board in the future.

So that I am being their voice, their advocate, their champion, and also helping that appointed person do well in that seat, so that when the transition does happen, it's a smooth and seamless transition and that the work can continue,” said Reagan Flowers, who is running for the open seat in District 4.

Even if Morath does appoint a board of managers later this year or in 2020, trustees elected this November could return to power before their four-year term is up, as appointed members leave. That’s one reason why Cruz said that this year’s elections matter more than others.

“So if we don’t elect new board members, the board members that are rolled back on after the board of managers leaves will be the exact same board members that we have now. So nothing will have changed,” Cruz said.

Another candidate for District 4, Matt Barnes, said that he’s seen a lot of fear and distrust among residents, but he tries to shift the conversation away from the takeover and back to students.

“What I’m trying to do is let people know that there was going to be life after the TEA [Texas Education Agency] takeover and we’ve got to be focused on student performance throughout all of this,” Barnes said. “So, most of the folks that I meet with, they get so upset about the possibility of a takeover that they forget that our students are still in jeopardy.”

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Laura Isensee

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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