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Texas school officials want to oust Houston school board

August 8, 2019

HOUSTON (AP) — Texas education officials have recommended the ouster of Houston’s school board after an investigation revealed alleged trustee misconduct, signaling what could be the district’s first loss of local control to the state.

The Houston Chronicle reviewed the Texas Education Agency investigation report Wednesday. The report found some Houston Independent School District trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, inappropriately influenced vendor contracts and made false statements to investigators. The report wasn’t made public.

The recommendation and findings, issued by TEA Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt, will not be final until the agency hears back from school board officials, who have until Aug. 15 to respond.

Ultimately, it’s up to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who heads the agency, to decide if the school board should be replaced.

Trustee Jolanda Jones said replacement of the school board is “sadly, unfortunately” in the district’s best interests.

“I think it’s tragic, but I think the alternative is worse,” Jones said.

Hewitt wrote in the recommendation that HISD trustees should be replaced by a state-appointed board due to their “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure proper contract procurement laws are followed.”

Houston is the state’s largest public school district, with 209,000 students and more than 280 schools.

The report outlines years of failed oversight, improper behavior, in-fighting and distrust. The report says some five trustees secretly met with a former Houston superintendent, violating state law that requires trustees to conduct district business in public.

The school board denied violating the state’s Open Meetings Act in a lawsuit filed in June.

TEA officials placed a conservator in the district three years ago due to poor academic outcomes at several schools. The appointment of a conservator is the third-most severe intervention, followed by installation of a board of managers and closure of the district.

Trustee Sue Deigaard said the public “deserves full transparency and to see a final report as soon as possible.”

“Any response that the board is going to make to TEA on the preliminary findings needs to be done expeditiously,” Deigaard said. “Once TEA has our response, they need to work quickly to get a final report.”

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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