Fate of underperforming Houston ISD schools unclear after trustees vote

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — In a narrow vote on Thursday night, the Houston Independent School District board of trustees voted 5-4 against seeking private partnerships with companies to intervene at underperforming schools in the district, leaving the fate of those schools undecided.

There are currently four underperforming schools in Houston ISD at risk of possibly shutting down if they do not meet the state's academic requirements in 2019 for the fifth consecutive year. Those four schools are Wheatley High School, Kashmere High School, Henry Middle School and Highland Heights Elementary.

By law, the Texas Education Agency would be forced to intervene, either by shutting down these schools or replacing the entire Houston ISD board with new members.

Houston ISD trustee Sue Deigaard is one of the four board members who voted in favor of potentially partnering with private companies to operate underperforming schools. On Friday, Deigaard defended her minority vote from the tough criticism it received.

"What I hear a lot is we don't want charter schools taking over our schools and that isn't what we have to do," said Deigaard. She also said her key reasoning for the vote is simply to have the option to explore alternatives.

However, the majority vote on Thursday night leaves the board of trustees' positions in jeopardy and underperforming schools at risk of a TEA takeover.

"I don’t believe that TEA wants to takeover HISD," said Deigaard. "And I believe that if this board could engage in good governance and function, and in a constructive way together, we could do that as a  body corporate, which is what we’re assigned to do in state policy. I think we could achieve great things for our kids and I think we could avoid a state takeover that way,"

Although parents who attended the meeting on Thursday appeared to strongly oppose the board members who voted in favor of the intervention, some parents, like Natalie Bailey, seem to think differently.

"A third party would be great to pick up the school instead of closing the school down because it would make it very difficult for parents and kids to get to school," said Bailey. 

The fate of what happens to these underperforming schools stretch beyond the concerns of parents. Homeowners in nearby neighborhoods said they too have a vested interest.

"It’s an unfortunate thing if the school would close because it definitely would affect the entire neighborhood," said Patrica Davis.

The Houston ISD board has faced tough criticism in recent months. The board also voted 8-0 to postpone a decision on whether or not to engage in an executive coach of governance to the school board. That measure will instead be considered at the next board meeting in January 2019.