Previous State Interventions in Texas School Districts

Previous State Interventions in Texas School Districts
Previous State Interventions in Texas School Districts

There are 15 such cases over three decades, according to state records. No one is likely to offer a case study comparable to a takeover of HISD, the largest school district in the state and the eighth largest in the nation. Still, some have compared the potential takeover of various HISDs to that of the other school systems, all of which served predominantly black and Hispanic student groups or children from families considered to be “economically disadvantaged.

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“I’ve gotten a lot of calls from HISD teachers asking me for advice,” said Jennifer Jermany, a former North Forest ISD teacher who was laid off when the district was absorbed into HISD. “Our cases are similar but not exact. My heart really goes out to these teachers because we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

HISD’s threat of state takeover

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he heard from sources that a takeover of the district was imminent. That same day, the Supreme Court issued a mandate to allow the state takeover if Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath deems it appropriate.

Superintendent Millard House II said Thursday that administrators had not received any official notification of a takeover from TEA.

As of Friday, Morath had not confirmed the rumors or provided a timeline for a potential takeover.

The battle for control between the state and HISD began in 2019, when Wheatley High School’s failure to meet accountability standards for seven consecutive years triggered a possible takeover. The campus has since earned a passing score.

The school’s failing ratings also prompted a TEA investigation, which found several HISD trustees misled investigators, violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and improperly interfered with vendor contracts. Most of the district’s board members from that time period have since been replaced by new trustees.

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Of the 15 previous state takeovers, four — Kendleton, Wilmer-Hutchins, North Forest and La Marque ISDs — closed entirely after regaining local control. El Paso, Beaumont, Edgewood and Southside ISDs remain open after local control was restored.

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Progreso, Pearsall, Hearn, Harlandale and Snyder ISDs each reached a settlement or did not move forward with a board.

Two districts — Marlin ISD and Shepherd ISD — still have a state-appointed board in place.

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Seven of these districts were predominantly black, including several districts with schools important to Texas’ African American history. Another seven of the districts taught mostly Spanish student bodies. Only one district—Shepherd ISD—was predominantly white. Around 66 per cent of the students in that district are financially disadvantaged.

Of HISD’s 187,000 students, 62 percent are Hispanic and 22 percent are black. Almost 80 percent of the students are financially disadvantaged.

A HISD state takeover would be unique

None of the districts previously taken over by TEA come close to comparing in size to HISD. The smallest of these districts, Kendleton ISD, had less than 100 students and the largest, Beaumont ISD, currently has about 17,000.

In the previous takeovers, TEA gave reasons such as financial problems, administrators breaking the law, fraudulent test score data, the inability of school boards to govern, loss of accreditation status and poor academic ratings, among other reasons.

Workers dismantle a classroom as HISD takes over North Forest ISD's Fonwood Elementary School, July 2, 2013 in Houston.
Workers dismantle a classroom as HISD takes over North Forest ISD’s Fonwood Elementary School, July 2, 2013 in Houston.Eric Kayne/For the Chronicle

Lessons in North Forest ISD

The TEA cited “systemic and pervasive weaknesses” in financial, accounting and data reporting, a lack of internal controls and an $11 million deficit for the intervention in North Forest ISD in July 2008, prompting the state to appoint a board.

The state put Adrian Johnson at the helm of the district and Johnson appointed a board.

Danielle Houston, who began working in community relations at the district in 2009 after Johnson took the reins, said the district began to improve in test scores and academic performance despite having few resources.

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“We tried everything to get the district back to where it should have been,” she said. “The takeover was not a bad thing in my eyes. For me, it was an opportunity to show the district a different way. (The state) had every intention of giving the district back to board members.”

When the North Forest board regained control in 2011 because of a Texas law that only allows a state-appointed board to hold control for two years, it voted to remove Johnson and some administrative staff hired during his tenure, including Wade .

The TEA later ordered that North Forest ISD close and be annexed into HISD. During that time, Jermany said the uncertainty of what would happen was “frustrating and very hurtful” for staff.

“There were a lot of questions we couldn’t get answers to,” she said. “We were trying to keep some sense of normalcy for the students, but we didn’t even know how we were going to get paid.”

The annexation led to all the principals being replaced, with some merging in the new school system. Only 25 of the approximately 350 teachers in North Forest were hired by HISD. Jermany said on the last day of the semester she and hundreds of her colleagues were told they no longer had jobs, with no prior indication that would be the case.

“We were open to the change,” she said. “We didn’t expect to not get back to our kids.”

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