The state-appointed Board of Managers for Houston ISD continued to unanimously approve requests from Superintendent Mike Miles on Thursday, paving the way for exemptions from multiple state laws and for the termination of staffers from schools that are closed in the future.
Miles has previously said that school closures are likely, as Houston ISD faces declining enrollment and increased costs from his reform program. The board approved two policy changes — one creates an "excess pool" for staffers from schools that are closed, while the other makes placement in the "excess pool" good cause for their contracts to be non-renewed.
"It’s to ensure that those teachers don’t continue to be employed when the (enrollment) numbers don’t go back up," Miles said in a press conference after the vote. "They still have contracts to the end of the year, but it does allow us to remove them at the end of the year. And we would have to make a determination on whether or not we have a growing-enrollment district or declining-enrollment district."
The board also greenlit the formation of a planning group to seek a "District of Innovation" status. Miles has said he wants the designation so he can lengthen the school year by about two weeks, but it could allow a slew of other changes — like increasing class sizes, removing planning periods for teachers and hiring non-certified educators.
Jasmine Colvin, from the reform-minded education nonprofit Good Reason Houston, read a prepared statement in favor of the "innovation" status but declined to answer any questions from Houston Public Media.
"Of the 25 school districts in Harris County, HISD is one of only two that are not (districts of innovation)," Colvin told the board. "It is time for HISD to join surrounding districts and take the necessary steps to offer an educational experience that meets the unique needs of students and communities."
The planning group includes attorney Edgardo Colon, entrepreneur Lauren Fontaine, TEA-appointed board member Janette Garza Lindner, education consultant Bill Horwath, HISD Central Office staffer Jessica Morffi, Texas Southern University pharmaceutical professor Uche Ndefo and emergency physician Theresa Tran.
After the group creates a plan, it will need to be approved by the District Advisory Committee, which consists of educators elected by other educators and community members appointed by the board and superintendent. The District Advisory Committee was the primary roadblock to a previous push for an "innovation" designation in 2021.
This week, several members of the committee who had been appointed by the elected school board were removed "effective immediately," according to an email shared by one of the now-former committee members, Karina Quesada.
She argued the "innovation" status "is about convenience and skirting state law," and she criticized the removal of herself and other community members from the advisory committee before the end of their terms.
"They don’t care, and they don’t listen to community input," Quesada said. "This is a checked box. This is part of the process."
When asked whether the removal of committee members represented a silencing of oppositional perspectives, Miles said the district is focused on creating a District of Innovation plan that aligns with his Year 2035 framework.
"I’m getting input from other people — not just people who have been here, but people who are part of the community but hadn’t been on the DAC before," he said. "So, I think the input is the input. And we can get input from people who’ve been here, or we can get input from people who have been here and have not had a chance to participate."
The state-appointed school board also passed a resolution seeking an exemption from House Bill 3, which took effect this month and requires a police officer at every school. Houston ISD estimates that it would cost about $15 million to comply with the law. An earlier version of the request pointed to a lack of funds, but that line was deleted. The approved resolution only said there aren't enough qualified personnel.
Myrna Guidry is one of the elected school board members who was replaced by the Texas Education Agency in June. She criticized the resolution during an unofficial agenda review.
"We have a whole lot of people sitting in the administrative office being paid a whole lot of money," Guidry said. "Y’all are finding money to do everything else y’all want to do — everything else — but you cannot find the money to provide the safety for our children."
Houston ISD plans to adopt an alternative safety plan, which won't be made public because of "security reasons." The resolution promised a police officer at every campus within four years.