AP NEWS

Texas residents fight off state plan to replace school board

November 20, 2019 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) — Education advocates in Texas are challenging a plan to replace their elected school board with a state-appointed one.

Lawmakers decided in 2015 to require state education officials to either close a school that failed for over four years or select a board to run the district. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath chose the latter and announced his plans last week for the Houston Independent School District.

The decision follows the release of a report detailing Wheatley High School’s poor performance and the board’s alleged wrongdoing. Houston ISD is suing the state, arguing that the takeover would disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters.

Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said the union is considering whether to join the lawsuit, which claims Texas Education Agency officials have no authority to replace the board.

“We do not feel the students and teachers are anyone’s first interest at this particular point,” Capo said. “We’re having our legal specialist looking at the Voting Rights Act and a few other things to determine whether we could actually intervene in HISD’s lawsuit. I suspect that’s the way we would go.”

The union’s decision would serve as a backup plan for supporters of the lawsuit following this month’s elections, which ensured that four new trustees will join the nine-member board in January. Once those seats are filled, the board could vote to end the district’s contract with a special counsel handling the lawsuit and end the litigation.

Lawsuit supporters argued the district should fight the seizure of the TEA, while opponents said the lawsuit takes money from HISD students and aims to excuse the board’s failings.

The Federation of Teachers would not likely have legal standing to fight the state’s decision because the union cannot represent Houston ISD in court. However, the union’s lawyers could have legal standing to argue the TEA would violate the rights of voters in Houston, if a plaintiff resides within one of HISD’s nine single-member voting districts.

“We’re going to take care of that,” Capo said. “There will be voters. I’m making sure there’s one for every district.”

Education Agency officials have said an appointed board likely would not be seated until March 2020 at the earliest. Elected board members would likely regain their power within two to five years.

Earlier this month, Arkansas teachers went go on strike over a state panel’s decision to strip their collective bargaining power and complaints about state control of the 23,000-student district.

Chicago teachers also went on strike in October holding marches and rallies across the city after months of unsuccessful negotiations.