Houston ISD takeover: Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt explains why he supports HISD state takeover

It was officially confirmed on Wednesday the Texas Education Agency will take over the Houston Independent School District.

A board of managers who will govern the district will be selected over the next few months according to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

"This action is necessitated because of the conditions of the schools in Houston ISD. Houston has many schools that are outstanding, some of the best schools in the state, and in fact, large numbers of kids in Houston are truly flourishing. But there’s also a number of students in Houston ISD who the district is simply not provided adequate supports for those students to be successful, and in some cases, for extended periods of time," Morath told FOX 26.

HOUSTON ISD TAKEOVER: Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath confirms takeover of Houston ISD

Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt is in favor of a state takeover of the district and spoke with FOX 26's José Griñan on why he believes a state takeover is a good decision.

José Griñan: Okay. All right. Senator, regarding the decision made by the TEA today, you're in favor of it?

Texas Senator Paul Bettencourt: Yes, I am. And I'm in favor of the decision because as the author of Senate Bill 1365 that restored the eighth-rep accountability system in the state of Texas, the commissioner only has two choices at this point: he either close Wheatley High School or he can bring in a board of managers. And the problem is not Wheatley High School, the problem has been long-term board governance at HISD. So he's making the right decision for the students, the parents, the staff, and the community long term.

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Griñan: You know, but Senator, you're talking about a board that was elected, and now the democratic process just seems to be thrown out the window. 

Sen. Bettencourt: Well, this has been an amendment since Harold Dutton put this possibility into school education code in 2015. And as the second-longest serving member on the Senate Education Committee, I've seen testimony year after year, where board trustees came up and said, No one will help me with a Kashmere high school. Kashmere High School was on the closure list for the better part of a decade. The board wouldn't help. You know, we've had problems at Wheatley High School, but more importantly, there was a very critical TEA report in 2019 that really showed severe problems with eight out of nine trustees. And the only trustee who didn't have a problem was State Representative Jolanda Jones. Everybody else was and had severe issues in that report. So HISD sued to prevent a takeover. And when they proactively said, I'm not we can't be taken over, that triggered a third court of appeals ruling, that triggered the passes of the senate bill 1365 that triggered the Supreme Court ruling, that cleared the way for the commissioner to make the decision he made. And again, the choice between closing one high school or doing the work that needs to be done by putting in a board of managers. He's making the right decision.

Griñan: But the board itself has improved. HISD has improved. Wheatley high school, which went from an F rating, is now a C, which is passable, and the board went from basically an F rating to a C plus right now.

Sen. Bettencourt: Well, and José you have to remember, the board was so bad that they fired Grenita Latham, hired Abe Saveedra at a Mexican restaurant on a Sunday, and then turned around and fired Abe Saveedra at a press conference on Tuesday and rehired, and you know, Grenita Latham. It's preposterously bad behavior and that's what the takeover fight began in 2019, after nearly a decade of problems at a couple of the major high schools. And remember, it's not just high schools that have got this issue right now. It's the fact that we're looking at the feeder schools there and other schools that are not making a passing grade, too. And there's already been a conservator responsible for Wheatley. And that's part of the reason why it's a TEA conservator that's helped raise the grade at Wheatley. So I'm very strongly supporting the TEA Commissioner's rash decision because they will get a better education product due to board governance issues long term.

Griñan: Now your colleague, Representative Ron Reynolds, says that this is racially motivated by white Republicans. How do you respond to that?

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Sen. Bettencourt: Well, it's political hyperbole. It's nonsense. Nobody cares how Harris County voted. That was another rumor I just responded to. Nobody cares how people vote in HISD. This all about the kids. This is about a board of trustees that's had problems in the state's largest school district for a decade. That's how long it took to get here. And we have to do the right thing for the future of the children that are coming on the process now. Because, quite frankly, if you went to Kashmere High School for the better part of a decade, you might not have even met a certified math teacher. You went to Wheatley High School, until recently, you might not have met even a certified English teacher. These are things that are symptoms of a problem because HISD can't fail at that level. It just can't do it because it's too big to ignore. The state's largest school district is too big to ignore. And that's what it's about. It's about public policy. It's not about politics.

Griñan: Moving forward, what is next now? 

Sen. Bettencourt: Well, what comes now is that there's going to be a board of managers period, that can be two to six years depending upon the progress and the milestones. Commissioner Morath has to put together his board of managers and announce those. But none of that will happen until June. So my message to the students and the parents and everyone else is just, do your best. Get the best education you can because there will be improvements coming from the board of directors and I'm sure of that. And also I think that some of these systemic corruption issues like the FBI charging the chief operating officer and a trustee taking a plea deal on a lawn contract, those two people didn't, couldn't possibly have made all the things that happen to have a $7 million taxpayer scam happen and all that corruption is going to be rooted out of the system. And I think that's going to be a positive benefit for everyone.