KXAN (AUSTIN) — Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath announced on Thursday the names of the two state-appointed officials who will oversee the Austin Independent School District and its board’s actions following an investigation that found the district, since 2020, violated more than 40 special education requirements.
After weeks of delaying a vote, Austin ISD trustees voted in September to sign an agreement allowing it to remain in control of its special education operations for now while working to comply with a years-long backlog of evaluations and other state requirements.
The decision meant the district waived its ability to appeal or sue if the agency decided to increase the level of state intervention in the future. The district also agreed that the TEA could do just that if, at any point, the district failed to meet a requirement or deadline set by the state.
Sherry Marsh, an education consultant, and Lesa Shocklee, the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Executive Director of Special Services, will step into the role of monitor, according to the Texas Education Agency.
“We look forward to onboarding the monitors and continuing to implement our comprehensive plan to transform how our students and families experience Special Education in Austin ISD,” district officials said in an emailed statement to KXAN.
Along with reporting back to the state, the pair will conduct on-site inspections and work on a needs assessment, looking at how the district and school board govern.
The district will cover the cost of the monitor’s services, including travel fees and a $125 an hour rate. The district could have funds deducted from its state funding if the monitors are not paid in a timely manner.
TEA announced its plan to intervene in the district’s special education operations on March 30. The agency then recommended a conservator to direct the district’s special education services.
The agency released an investigative report finding the district had sometimes waited as long as nine months to evaluate students needing special education evaluations.
State law requires school districts to evaluate students within 45 days of parental consent.
What’s in the plan?
Under the agreement, the agency would require the district to come into compliance with more than a dozen corrective action plans, including completing evaluations requested during the previous school year by Oct. 31.
By Jan. 1, the district would also have to determine how it will help students who did not get the services they needed because of delayed evaluations.
TEA would also require the district to commission a third-party audit, create a strategic plan, and publish a public report on its special education services this year.
The plan also places new requirements on the school board, including changing board policy only to allow the superintendent to make hiring decisions – from district staff to campus principals. The change would not just apply to special education-related positions.
Under the agreement, the district would have to implement a program called Lone Star Governance. The program is supposed to provide coaching for school boards.
The agreement requires the district to do quarterly self-evaluations using a Lone Star Governance model and achieve a “meets focus” score within two years of the board completing the program’s workshop.
Spending 50% of board meeting time on student outcomes is a part of the Lone Star Governance Model. The board is expected to accomplish that milestone no later than January.