Houston Matters

How A State Takeover Of HISD Might Work

Education expert Duncan Klussmann, a former superintendent, explains how state takeovers of school boards tend to play out.

News 88.7 found more than 40 Texas school districts that could see an outside board of managers as early as next year, if their school ratings don’t change by 2018.
If legal challenges don’t stop it, the TEA plans to take over the HISD board.

As we’ve reported over the past several weeks, the Texas Education Agency plans to take over the Houston Independent School District’s board.

And while there are legal challenges that seek to stop that takeover in the courts — including a move by the district’s lawyers this week — should the plan move forward, how might it all play out?

Dr. Duncan Klussmann is an assistant professor at the University of Houston’s College of Education and the former superintendent for Spring Branch ISD. 

In the audio above, he tells Houston Matters host Craig Cohen how the process will likely go, how long it could take, and how the process has changed since the law allowing it took effect.

Duncan Klussmann - Spring Branch ISD
Duncan Klussmann in 2015 when he served as superintendent of Spring Branch ISD. He’s now an assistant professor in the University’s of Houston’s College of Education.

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS:

If the takeover does proceed, what happens first?

Klussmann says the TEA will have to appoint a board of managers to take the place of the elected school board.

How does the TEA decide who those managers are?

The TEA has been taking applications online from members of the Houston community who are interested in serving on the board of managers.

Klussmann says that board could consist of five, seven, or nine members. The deadline for applications is Jan. 2, but he says TEA staff members will start reviewing applications as early as Friday (Dec. 6).

TEA Applications Screen Capture
The online application page of the TEA website for potential members of the board of managers that would oversee HISD during the state takeover of the district.

What is the selection process like?

Klussmann says applicants will have to attend two days of Lone Star Governance training, pass a background check, and conduct a phone interview. If they make it to an in-person interview they’re given a specific task to perform.

And, if they are indeed chosen, they’ll have to do even more training for the job.

“So, it’s a very extensive process that the state has evolved over time to develop to make sure that the individuals they’ve placed as a board of managers are prepared to do that job well,” he said.

Candidates for the HISD board participate in a candidate forum.

What becomes of the elected board members that preceded the takeover?

The elected board members (including some just voted into office in November) stay seated and elections continue to be held. And those members are even invited to take part in training sessions and attend board meetings. But they’d have no power until the TEA returns it to them.

The rationale there is some of those elected board members could be the first re-seated once that happens — and they’d be trained and engaged enough to hit the ground running, Klussmann said.

What are the first tasks the new board of managers would have to take up once in place?

Considering who would fill the superintendent role would be high on the priority list. They’ll have to consider whether to continue with an interim superintendent, whether to make the interim superintendent the long-term choice, or whether to search for a new administrator.

Houston Independent School District Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Is there anything different about how this board would conduct meetings and do business?

The board of managers would still have regular public meetings and bear the same responsibilities to respond to citizens.

How long could the takeover last?

There’s no defined timeline. Klussmann says sometimes the process can take two to three years.

Failing ratings at Wheatley H.S. are among the reasons cited for a state takeover of HISD.

How does the state decide to end the takeover?

“The goal when you do go to a board of managers is to transition back to an effectively functioning elected board as soon as possible,” Klussmann said.

But, of course, how that’s defined is subjective. However, he says some signs of an effective board include its cohesiveness as a unit and its ability to follow its own rules — along with those of the state.

“They’re the ultimate leadership body of the district,” Klussmann said. “And if they’re not functioning well how can you expect anyone else to function well?”

When the takeover ends, how will that occur?

Eventually, the state will start to re-seat elected board members gradually. Klussmann says in the past the state would re-seat all the board members at once, such as was done in El Paso.

“That would be like having seven new bosses all at once,” he said.

So, now, they’re phased in one at a time.

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