By Jeffrey L. Boney, Associate Editor, Houston Forward Times
Last October, allegations swirled about whether the majority of the members of the Houston Independent School District (HISD) Board of Trustees were allowing race to be a determining factor as to who they wanted to be their next HISD superintendent were presented.
Just a few weeks after that, the HISD Board surprisingly voted, 5 to 4, to remove Dr. Grenita Lathan as its interim superintendent and replace her with troubled former HISD superintendent Dr. Abelardo ‘Abe’ Saavedra.
Since that time, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has recently been investigating the troubled school district for a myriad of issues, including the handling of the superintendent search and the seemingly blatant violation of the Open Meetings Act regarding the handling of the superintendent position. The TEA has also been having discussions about whether or not to take over the school district and replace HISD trustees.
Well, just as the HISD Board of Trustees was days away from seeking to name a lone finalist for the superintendent position, the state-appointed conservator, Doris Delaney, sent a letter to the HISD Board of Trustees, informing them that she was ordering them to suspend their search for a permanent superintendent, effective immediately.
“I am directing the Houston ISD Board of Trustees to take no further action regarding the selection of a new Superintendent until the Board receives written authorization from the Conservator to resume the search activities,” wrote Delaney.
In the letter, Delaney also stated that she was using the legal authority bestowed upon her to suspend the search “until the agency has completed its special accreditation investigation” into HISD, specifically related to the serious allegations that five of the trustees – Diana Davila, Elizabeth Santos, Sergio Lira, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung – violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
The primary focus of the investigation involves the actions taken by those five trustees back on October 11, when out of nowhere, as the HISD Board was preparing to vote on an extension of HISD interim superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan’s employment contract, trustee Diana Davila took out her cell phone and began to propose a motion to dismiss Dr. Lathan as HISD’s interim superintendent and replace her with Saavedra, effective the following Monday morning. That pre-drafted written motion was seconded by another in what appeared to be a planned and coordinated action. It is obvious that previous communication had taken place in order for this action to have occurred.
Many people believe the actions taken by Delaney could be the handwriting on the wall that TEA could be seeking to replace the HISD Board of Trustees sometime soon because of the potential outcome of the investigations, coupled with the handling of low-performing schools in the district. If in fact the TEA decides to replace the HISD Board of Trustees, it would be up to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath to choose whoever he wants to serve as HISD’s superintendent, without having to consider the wishes of the current HISD school board.
State Senator Borris Miles (D-Houston), whose district (13) includes many schools in HISD, applauded the decision by the TEA to step in and stop the superintendent search.
“I commend the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for stepping in to take drastic, but necessary measures regarding Houston Independent School District’s (HISD) superintendent search and for putting the students’ interests first,” said Senator Miles. “I look forward to continue working with the governor, the TEA and HISD as we move forward to achieve the best outcome for our students.”
Delaney has been involved with HISD since the 2016-17 school year, when Morath appointed her to monitor the turnaround efforts at Kashmere High School, which had failed to meet the state standards for seven straight years at the time of her involvement. Delaney later had her role expanded to take on the additional responsibility of monitoring matters related to HISD governance and dealing with the turnaround schools.
With over 213,000 students enrolled in the HISD, many community leaders and activists are concerned about the current process of confirming a Superintendent and the future of HISD – a district that is extremely critical to the entire Greater Houston area.
Currently, HISD is being led by Dr. Lathan, who was named interim superintendent last March after former HISD Superintendent Richard Carranza abruptly quit to take a job as chancellor of the New York City Public School system. Dr. Lathan took over a challenged district that was faced with a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall and significant operational and administrative cuts across the district, and yet, despite her efforts to turn things around in a successful manner, the majority of HISD trustees have not been supportive of her.
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) will continue to monitor this ongoing situation involving HISD, as it is sure to have an impact on other major school districts across the United States.