Definitely Not Business as Usual

There is much at stake at the HISD Board meeting on Thursday, Nov 12. Will you sign up to speak?  Agenda items include a vote to give the interim superintendent a three year contract (agenda item B1); conducting a national superintendent search instead (agenda item B2); giving $380 million in contracts to charters like Energized (agenda item F1) and approving the legislative priorities (agenda item A3)

Suspending STAAR is not on HISD’s priorities, even though other districts have called for the state to waive STAAR this year. Speak to the board (A3) and demand that HISD stand for students and teachers by calling for the suspension of STAAR. No matter where you stand on STAAR, it should not be business as usual this year.

Once again COVID is not on the HISD Board agenda. The HISD Board president and interim superintendent have been preoccupied with meetings about the DOI, kindergarten high stakes testing and STAAR based board goals. Sign up to speak (A3) if you think our board’s legislative priorities should include the global pandemic. Tell  your story about what teachers and students are having to deal with- “definitely not business as usual.”

This past Monday, just three days before the scheduled vote, the Houston ISD Board President announced HISD would be voting to make interim superintendent Grenita Lathan the lone finalist for a three-year contract worth millions of (taxpayer) dollars. (B1)

Why now, and why with so little advance notice? This is not a responsible way to make a choice of this magnitude. Once again, HISD is making huge decisions without including teachers, parents, students and community members in the process. 

Shouldn’t the board conduct a national search for the best-qualified candidate?  Houston ISD is the seventh-largest school district in the country.  Dr. Lathan’s tenure has been marked by federal investigations of HISD contracts and massive payouts to charter school networks. Houston deserves to see what other choices are out there. (agenda item B2)

What happens if TEA takes over HISD in January? The Texas Supreme Court is currently considering whether to put the district under state control. Shouldn't the outcome of this case be known before a contract is offered? Would taxpayers be saddled with the full cost of a contract, even if Dr. Lathan was not performing the role? 

HISD continues to inadequately respond to COVID-19. While the governor is to blame for his mangled response to the global pandemic, HISD must share responsibility. Under Dr. Lathan’s leadership, HISD weekly changes its standards for the health and safety of students and staff. After stating schools would close if there was one COVID case, and then changing it to two, the district has now removed any standardized metrics for determining whether schools should close. The positivity rate is up to 11% and COVID cases are on the rise in HISD schools and in other districts. Teachers and parents deserve real answers, not empty promises. 

Tell HISD that this is NOT the way to make this decision. Sign up to comment at the board meeting on Thursday (agenda item B1 and B2) and ask the trustees to conduct a national superintendent search. 

The HISD Board will also be voting to give the interim superintendent the “authority to execute 5 year contracts for charters including all five Energized for Excellence charter schools at the Thursday Board meeting. This is a five-year, $380 million item, affecting the education of thousands of our students (agenda item F1.)

In  2019, the HISD board voted 5-4 to renew these in-district charter contracts despite an exposé in the Chronicle that began ‘A trio of intertwined charter school networks operating within Houston ISD have paid or lent at least $17 million during the last five years to a company owned by their highest-ranking employee.’  Despite the Chronicle exposé, HISD renewed Bullock’s contracts in 2019. HISD did not even place the schools on probation. Emboldened, Bullock charged the schools $12 million in fees and rent in 2019 in a single year."

The HISD Board awarded a contract yet again to Energized in May 2020 in a 5-4 split vote. The dissenting board members (Allen, Sung, Santos, Villaseca) added local policy EL(LOCAL) requiring any subsequent reauthorization to include a thorough “application process” that you can read here.

Where are the applications for each of these schools, as outlined in the revised EL(LOCAL)?  Who has reviewed and approved them?  Why have neither the board nor the public seen them?  It seems like Dr. Lathan has skipped a step.

Thursday’s agenda item promises that the contract will align with the requirements of the revised EL(LOCAL).  How is that guaranteed to the board?  Would it not be better to propose contract language and allow the board to review this first before the vote (F1)?  What is the remedy available to the board and the public if the contract is not in compliance with the detailed terms of EL(LOCAL)?  Whatever is put into these first contracts becomes the standard, so this step should not be overlooked or performed off-line with no oversight.

HISD Administration believes the board should take its word on every phase of the decision, with no documentation supplied at all:  no application, and no proposed contract language.  

Speakers must sign up by 9:30 am on Thursday. Registered speakers to agenda items speak at the beginning of the meeting and will probably be limited to 1 minute (150 words.) You will receive a call between 5pm-6:30 to your phone from a 646 area code. You will be muted and when it is your turn to speak, they will say your name into the phone and tell you to begin. If you are watching the board meeting, mute the volume since there is a 30 second delay.  If you need assistance, email houstoncvpe@gmail.com.


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