Takeover, turnaround, transfer…what happens when Texas takes over a school district?
“This is not a decision a commissioner takes lightly, because you are setting aside an elected body… so there is a lot of thought,” said DeEtta Culbertson, information specialist with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) referring to the commissioner of education’s decision to take over a school district. Some of the most recent schools receiving assistance are Southside ISD, Edgewood ISD and Hearne ISD.
By law, TEA has the ability to take over a school district or charter school due to problems with finances, governance, academics or health and security. Charter school board members are not elected to their seat, but are either appointed by school staff or they volunteer. An independent school district holds elections for school board members, which normally has five to seven members of the community who serve, and are re-elected or replaced after serving up to four years- depending on district policy.
There are currently 1,024 independent school districts in Texas, and over the years, some districts have been temporarily taken over, while others have closed and merged with another district due to an infraction that couldn’t be resolved. When TEA discovers that a school district is in need of assistance, they will normally have an individual monitor the situation. The monitor could then be elevated to a conservator if conditions do not improve. The conservator provides a quarterly report to TEA and if improvements are not met, it is then the option of Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to replace the school board and superintendent.
According to Culbertson, when Morath decides to implement a board of managers into the district, TEA has a new process in place to find volunteers. “We actually do an application process to individuals in the community,” said Culbertson. “We also do training for anyone interested in being on the board of managers to learn what duties they provide. There are reviews, interviews and phone calls before Morath determines what will be in the best interest of the students.” The provided training is called Lone Star Governance, which is offered by the director of governance and school improvement. “The director has been going around and doing training at the service centers for the school superintendents and board members on how to work better, more effectively together, and individually in order to improve student outcomes,” said Culbertson. “Hopefully this will help boards get more cohesive in their programs and planning.”
Prior to the 2015 Legislative Session, TEA could only take over a school district for two years. Following the passage of House Bill 3106, the commissioner was granted more authority in the timeline for continuing a board of managers beyond two years.
The temporary replacement of a superintendent tends to be someone who chooses to come out of retirement or a superintendent that is between jobs. If the superintendent is not certified, the commissioner can allow them a waiver and they have three years to complete the superintendent process.
Shutting down a school district and merging it with another is the last resort for TEA. “A few years ago we closed and merged a school district because there was horrifying conditions,” said Culbertson. “They also had financial and academic issues but the conditions of the school buildings were just unbelievable. There was also serious issues there with health and safety. It was just a combination of things.” Before merging school districts, TEA looks at which district can absorb the incoming district and where it has the least impact on the receiving district students and finances. There is incentive aid that is also provided to the receiving district.
School takeovers happen not only in Texas, but throughout the United States. In the past decade, the debate over school control has shifted to include “takeover districts” in which schools that are deemed “chronically failing” are removed from the local school district and placed in a statewide district with a separate governance structure. In 2003, Louisiana established the “Recovery School District,” the first statewide district of this kind. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state rapidly expanded its takeover district. Tennessee followed suit, creating its “Achievement School District” in 2010 and expanding it in 2012. Michigan established its “Education Achievement Authority” in 2013, explicitly modeled on the Louisiana precedent. Nevada launched their “Nevada Achievement School District” this year.
School District Closures and Takeovers Timeline
1990s– Kendleton ISD went on and off through TEA interventions until 2010 when it closed and merged with Lamar Consolidated ISD.
1998– Asherton Independent School District closed and merged with Carrizo Springs ISD.
July 2005– Mirando City ISD was closed and combined with Webb Consolidated ISD.
July 2006– Wilmer-Hutchins ISD was closed and absorbed by Dallas ISD.
2012– El Paso ISD was taken over in 2013, but had an elected board return in 2015.
July 2013– North Forest ISD closed and merged with Houston ISD.
July 2014– Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced the appointment of a five-member board of managers for Beaumont ISD. In April 2017, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath extended the Beaumont ISD transition.
December 2015– Commissioner Williams announced he would annex the La Marque ISD into the Texas City ISD beginning in the 2016-2017 school year.
May 2016 – Commissioner Morath announced the appointment of a five-member board of managers and a superintendent for Edgewood ISD in San Antonio.
December 2016– The court ruled in favor of Progreso ISD in a lawsuit filed against TEA. The agency must now reissue their findings from the 2011-2013 investigation. It is unclear at this time whether Progresso violated any laws, rules or policies. A decision on the litigation between the school district and TEA is still pending.
February 2017– The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that an online application was available on the agency and school’s website for any community member seeking to serve on the Southside ISD board of managers.
February 2017– Commissioner Morath announced the appointment of a five-member board of managers for the Marlin Independent School District.
April 2017– Hearne ISD received a letter from TEA about a decision to take over the district. The district chose to appeal the takeover and has been granted a deadline of May 1 to request a formal/informal review.
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