The trustees and superintendents of two Texas school districts – Marlin ISD and Pearsall ISD – have recently been given the boot by the state. That, combined with the news of eleven school districts being ordered to attend mandatory governance training, has drawn attention to the Texas Education Agency and its fight to crack down on failing schools.
The decision to intervene in Marlin ISD and Pearsall ISD was made after the districts repeatedly failed to meet state academic standards. In an effort to rehabilitate their academic performance, Education Commissioner Mike Morath plans to appoint interim Superintendents and replace the school boards with a “Boards of Managers” that will oversee the management of the districts.
An application on the TEA’s website for Marlin ISD allows residents to apply online for a board of managers’ position and states that, “A majority of the board of managers must consist of members of the [community] who are committed to service on behalf of the students of the district.”
While many residents and school officials are understandably reluctant to have a state agency intervene, it’s important to remember that the proper role of the TEA is to serve as an accountability tool for school districts, and that the state can only intervene if there are specific “triggers.” Such triggers include fiscal malfeasance, fraud and corruption, civil rights violations, and, in many cases, under-performing campuses.
This was demonstrated when, under former Education Commissioner Michael Williams, the TEA attempted to intervene in the south Texas school district of Progreso on account of corruption. Several Progreso school board members and other local government officials were convicted of bribery, embezzlement, and federal conspiracy. However, when the TEA attempted to replace the board, the district sued the TEA and blocked the action. In the case of poor performance, districts who have faced TEA intervention over recent years include North Forest ISD, El Paso ISD, and Beaumont ISD.
In lieu of appointing a board of managers, the Education Commissioner has the authority to appoint a monitor, conservator, or management team. According to the TEA’s website:
“When acting as monitors, these appointees participate in and report to the agency on the activities of the board of trustees or the superintendent. In the conservator role, they oversee the operations of the district. If appointed as a board of managers, they exercise the powers and duties of the board of trustees. The commissioner will consider individuals who have successfully managed school districts in a program role or administrative leadership role for these appointments.”
According to a recent study by Education Week, Texas is ranked #41 in the U.S. in terms of quality K-12 education, with student achievement levels in particular receiving a disappointing grade of C- (minus). The recent measures taken by the state’s education agency are hopefully helping to move the academic needle in the right direction. Long-term improvement, however, falls on the shoulders of the parents and leaders of those respective communities.