A Houston-area school district is in trouble.

Crosby ISD is in a dire situation that is, unfortunately, a familiar story: shoddy financial management, staffing changes, and mounting debt. However, what’s different about this story is that the community has decided to tackle the issue head-on rather than just complaining and waiting for the district to fix it.

Code Red Community started as a place for CISD parents, taxpayers, and teachers to share information, but when the superintendent revealed the depth of the district’s financial problems, the group turned to action.

At the August CISD school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Scott Davis outlined financial troubles he first uncovered in Spring of 2017. He found that with his new role, he inherited a district with a significant cash flow problem that led to abuse of short-term loans and internal fund borrowing by the prior administration. The complex issues left the district with few options, forcing them to lay off employees.

An immediate impact was CISD could no longer fund the cleaning of the stadium following games.

Yet without hesitation, the Code Red group showed up. “Over 100 people volunteered and it was done in less than three minutes,” said David Givens, founder and administrator of the group. “Our community cleaned up after 12,000 people in three minutes. It’s astounding to see the community rally behind the district.”

The problems extended to teaching staff as well. Texas Scorecard spoke to Givans right after he returned from purchasing hundreds of beverages to stock teachers’ refrigerators.

“We wanted to let them know we appreciate them,” he said.

Recent changes have shown that might be necessary.

Last week, letters went out from at least two CISD schools, including Crosby and Newport Elementary Schools, notifying parents of voluntary teaching staff changes due to the “difficulties that CISD is facing.” While those teachers chose to leave or move campuses to fill vacancies, Dr. Davis said in a memo last week that there will be involuntary reductions as well.

When I learned of the financial troubles we would be facing, I knew that my role as superintendent would have to be so different from what I had envisioned when I first began to consider working here,” Davis’ memo read. “That being said, I want to prepare you for what will be happening in the next couple of weeks. These will be some of the most difficult weeks most of us will ever have to experience in our careers. We don’t want this, but we have no choice. Crosby ISD must survive.”

He went on to say there will be a special called board meeting on October 8, where they will receive a “Declaration of Financial Exigency” and a list of employment areas expected to be reduced. The declaration, according to the Texas Education Agency, means the district’s finances are in so much trouble that they cannot support instructional programs or finance full staff compensation for the current or next fiscal year.

The regularly scheduled October 15 board meeting will include a list of employees who will be affected. Following that meeting, at-will basis employees who will be impacted by the reduction in force will start to be notified of employment status. The last day of employment for those will be November 2.

Contracted employees will have until December 20.

Davis, who only recently took over the district, has led a transparent effort to address the issues. Though that doesn’t make the load any easier to bear.

Givans said that two weeks ago, his Code Red group raised over $2,000 in two days for the band and the middle school’s autumn festival. The Vidor Pirate Band even took up donations during a game to fund a band trip.

“The community, while upset with the board and looking for answers, has found ways to help,” said Givans. “Two weeks ago, there were 42 people willing to load up their zero turn lawnmowers and mow all CISD properties. Unfortunately, there are liability issues to be worked through before that can happen, but plain and simple, we are behind the district 100 percent.”

Despite the issues created by the previous board and superintendent, the district is moving forward and re-committing their focus on the citizens, parents, and students.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.