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Houston Matters

Houston Federation Of Teachers Takes Issue With Takeover Of HISD Board

The union representing educators at HISD says the law used to justify the takeover is being misused and undermines the democratic process.

Chris Paul/Houston Public Media
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers at a press conference Nov. 11.


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While citing a number of reasons for doing so, the primary legal basis for the Texas Education Agency’s plans to replace the Houston Independent School District’s elected board is a 2015 law: HB 1842.

The legislation says, if a public school fails state testing standards for five or more years, the TEA commissioner must either close the school or replace the district's entire school board with outside managers.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has decided to do the latter, after Wheatley High School received a failing grade from the state for its seventh straight year.

Lucio Vasquez/Houston Public Media
TEA Commissioner Mike Morath at a Houston event in September.

But, as News 88.7 has been reporting, the Houston Federation of Teachers, the union representing educators at HISD, thinks the state is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a move the organization says doesn't line up with how the state has handled failing grades in other school districts.

In a press conference Monday, the federation's president, Zeph Capo, took issue with the law itself.

"There's been long standing skepticism about his law — that allows the state to take over a local school district — from the beginning,” Capo said. “Because what we’re talking about here is thousands of students and hundreds of schools being denied democratic local control because one school needs support."

Chris Paul/Houston Public Media
Wheatley H.S., whose failing grades are cited as the catalyst for a state takeover of the HISD board.

But it's not just that "one school needs support." News 88.7’s education reporter Laura Isensee recently detailed ten other reasons the TEA is stepping in. Among them: board violation of the open meetings act, failing to cooperate with a state investigation, exceeding authority, influencing district contracts, pressuring vendors, and changing job orders.

So, at least according to the state, this one school's failing grade is essentially the last in a long line of board failures.

In the audio above, Andy Dewey, the federation's executive vice president, explains to Houston Matters host Craig Cohen why the organization then is zeroing in on the law in particular.

“The law is really simple to zero in on,” he said. “Of the 287 schools in HISD, we have one school that is in this situation. The law wasn’t intended to do that.”

Chris Paul/Houston Public Media
Zeph Capo outlines concerns over plans for a state takeover of the HISD board.

Regarding the other charges of mismanagement, Dewey said that’s something the voters should be allowed to handle on Election Day.

“Every two years, approximately half of the seats on the school board are up for election,” Dewey said. “Just last Tuesday — one week ago tonight — the voters replaced four of the school board members — just as in a democracy is supposed to happen. And it was the very next day the commissioner said, ‘You know what voters, we don’t care what you think. We frankly don’t think you’re smart enough to make the decision to run your school district. So we’re going to do it for you.’ What a slap in the face that was from the commissioner. The democratic process worked. The board has been replaced. Problem solved.”

When asked whether the union was prepared to mount a court challenge to the takeover, Dewey said the organization is currently looking into it, consulting with attorneys, and it plans to have a decision by early next week.

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Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

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