AUSTIN (KXAN) – On Thursday, Austin Independent School District board members decided not to vote on the Texas Education Agency’s plan for how the state will intervene in the district’s special education services.
Board President Arati Singh said the board will instead vote next Tuesday, Sept. 26. The board has to make a decision before the end of the month.
Since March, the Texas Education Agency has said it intends to appoint a conservator to tell the district how to operate matters related to special education.
The recommendation was announced alongside the release of a TEA investigative report finding the district had violated more than 40 special education requirements since 2020.
The proposed plan would be a less severe type of state intervention than TEA’s original recommendation.
Over the last several weeks, parents have asked the board not to approve the TEA plan, expressing concern about increased state control.
One parent with a student receiving special education services from the district said the plan could have “catastrophic consequences.”
“Even though this is difficult, a more difficult pill to swallow would be a conservator. An even bigger pill would be a state takeover,” Education Austin President Ken Zafaris said during Thursday’s meeting. “We know the answers are not at TEA. The answers are within this district.”
What is at stake for Austin ISD?
If the district agrees to the plan – Austin ISD officials will avoid, at least for now, having a state-appointed conservator come into the district and tell them how to handle operations. Instead, as a part of the agreement, a monitor would observe the district’s operations and report back to TEA officials.
The district’s legal team warned during its Sept. 7 meeting that if the district voted to reject the plan, TEA would likely appoint a conservator to oversee the district’s special education services.
The proposed agreement with TEA would allow the district to maintain control over its operations for now, but it could have more severe consequences in the future.
TEA would require Austin ISD to meet several deadlines and requirements to prevent the state from appointing a conservator team to take over its special education services. Education Commissioner Mike Morath could increase the state intervention to a conservator if the district fails to meet them.
The district could not appeal the commissioners’ decision as it has in the past under this agreement.
TEA’s proposed 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 to only allow the superintendent to make hiring decisions – from district staff to campus principals.
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.
It would require the district to spend at least 50% of its meeting time discussing student outcomes.
A Lone Star Governance coach told the board on Sept. 14 that student outcomes could include discussing grades, test scores, and even how the districts’ sports teams performed.