State steps in to help North Forest

July 31, 2008 4:30:17 PM PDT
There was a drastic move Thursday to help save a troubled school district. Our 13 Undercover investigations have shown the problems. Now, new leaders will be named at North Forest ISD. [READ THE LETTER: See what the TEA sent to North Forest officials]

The school board and superintendent are out. And state education leaders say they are bringing in an entire team to help students and teachers who go to North Forest ISD.

It's a long time coming. Problems have plagued this district since the mid-1990s. The students at North Forest before this move faced an uncertain future at best. In reversing North Forest's election and yanking the elected school board out, the state education agency called the district unstable, adding that effective leadership does not exist in North Forest.

It cannot be too much of a surprise. North Forest was already on academic probation, one step away from being closed by the state. Earlier this year, the state installed a conservator and academic advisor to oversee a school district losing students, funding, and academic credibility.

According to the state, North Forest could not meet payroll last year despite closing schools and laying off staff.

It will start the school district, with a budget deficit of $11.8 million dollars and a tax rate that cannot support the district. And parents have been demanding accountability for months.

"Where's all the funds going? That's all we want to know," said one parent during an story we ran back in March of 2007.

That was more than a year ago when parents were angry at the district for money woes. The district had also just fired Superintendant James Simpson, handing over $233,000 in severance pay.

Since then, North Forest's board has twice tried to rehire Simpson, moves blocked by the state and cited in Thursday's letter to the district: "We have tried every intervention at our disposal except this one. While our management team and agency employees have helped the district cut its deficit and improve its academic performance, (North Forest) remains in a precarious position."

It is accountability some in the district have waited a long time for. More than year ago, Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson warned North Forest to change its ways.

"You must change your policies. You must change your direction," he said. "Because if you don't, we will change it for you."

North Forest's students are some of the most at risk in our area. The move seems aimed at keeping the schools open and accredited. The current board, in a statement, points out this is not directed to students, but to district governance. They refused to speak on camera.

The TEA's action comes after our 13 Undercover unit first exposed serious mismanagement in North Forest"s special education department. It was money meant to go to children with special needs -- more than a million dollars in federal tax money. But we found much of it going to friends and family members of the special ed director. Many were paid thousands more than they were supposed to get, and some of them were not even qualified to teach special ed. That director has been reassigned. The district attorney's office is still investigating the whole special ed mess.

North Forest ISD Statement:

North Forest ISD Officials and administrators are aware of TEA Commissioner Robert Scott's decision to appoint a board of managers and a new superintendent in the North Forest Independent School District.

It is important to note that the Commissioner's decision deals with governance issues and does not affect North Forest ISD students or staff.

North Forest ISD has cut its deficit and improved academically during the past school year-facts that Commissioner Scott, himself, has pointed out. However, the District respects and accepts the Commissioner's authority in making this decision. Additionally, North Forest ISD's administrators and staff are committed to working with TEA to continue to stabilize and improve North Forest ISD.

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