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AUSTIN (KXAN) – During a city council meeting Tuesday, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he heard the Texas Education Agency plans to take over Houston Independent School District as soon as next week.
Meanwhile, TEA officials and the head of the agency said no final decision has been made.
“I called the commissioner over the weekend and asked — and said, ‘I am hearing these rumors and confirm to me whether TEA is going to be taking over Houston ISD.’ He didn’t confirm or deny it. He said, ‘Mayor, if anything like this should happen I will give you 24 hours’ notice,'” Turner said in an interview Wednesday. “My deal is this issue is way too important to wait for a 24-hour call.”
In a statement posted to Twitter, Mayor Turner said “replacing elected officials representing the largest school district in Texas with outside managers is a blatant overreach of authority that disenfranchised HISD parents and the surrounding community at the cost of the students.”
Morath testified Tuesday and said the TEA issued an enforcement letter attempting to take over the school district in late 2019 over three issues, including alleged education code violations by the board and other district officials.
The commissioner also said the district was subject to mandatory intervention under a law passed in 2019 – HB 1842. The law allows for intervention in and sanction of a public school that has received an academically unsuccessful performance rating for at least two consecutive school years.
Houston ISD sued, and in 2020, a judge ordered a temporary injunction stopping the takeover process. The injunction was also upheld by an appeals court – prompting TEA to take the case to the Texas Supreme Court.
In January, the Supreme Court threw out the injunction – clearing the way for the TEA to potentially appoint a new school board or even appoint a new superintendent for the district.
During Tuesday’s House Public Education hearing, Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, asked Education Commissioner Mike Morath for an update on the matter.
“We have not made any final decision and not announced any final action. The Supreme Court issued an opinion in January but has not actually formalized that opinion. So, we’re still evaluating the ruling and waiting for the next action.”
Rep. Allen told Morath she heard a new superintendent candidate had already been asked to take over the position at Houston ISD – and that the change could happen as early as Mar. 6.
“All I would say is we are still waiting to evaluate the Supreme Court ruling, which has not yet been finalized, to try to discern then what our next required action is under state law,” Morath said. “What we’re going to do is going to be a mandatory action under state law, not a discretionary action.”
Houston ISD officials have not responded to requests for comment. We will update this story when we receive a response.
What happens during a takeover?
In the case of a district takeover, the TEA would appoint a new board of managers – essentially a new school board.
According to the website, the agency would host a community meeting and open applications for manager roles. The commissioner of education gives the final review and approval of the managers.
A takeover of a school district, under Texas law, can last a minimum of two years. The education commissioner can extend the intervention for another two years if that person determines insufficient progress has been made in improving the academic or financial performance of the district.
Several school districts across Texas are experiencing different types, or tiers, of intervention currently, according to TEA officials.