HISD approves Dr. Grier as superintendent

September 11, 2009 6:09:26 AM PDT
The Houston Independent School District, the largest school district in Texas, has a new leader, but a powerful local legislator is leading the charge saying he's not too happy about it.Dr. Terry Grier comes to Houston from the San Diego Unified School District. His three-year contract pays him a base salary of $300,000 per year and he's eligible for bonuses ranging from $30,000 to $80,000.

Dr. Grier's employment as HISD's new superintendent was unanimously approved by the school board. It did not go uncontested by the audience.

HISD has a new leader in education. School board members unanimously approved the three-year contract of Dr. Grier.

"I commend to you and promise you it will not be a vote wasted," said Dr. Grier.

Dr. Grier comes from the San Diego Unified School District.

"Everyone continues to talk about the need to cut that dropout rate, increase the graduation rate and close the achievement gap," said Dr. Grier.

However, Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos, who is on the Senate Education Committee, is raising questions about the new leader of the state's largest school district.

"I'm asking you to delay the hiring of Terry Grier. Not only do I have questions about Dr. Grier and these school districts, but also the process," said Sen. Gallegos.

The senator claims there were negotiations going on through email that should have been public and has requested documents from the district through the Freedom of Information Act.

"You do not confirm a superintendent nominee with a tainted process. As I see it the process is tainted," said Sen. Gallegos.

Board members say they support Dr. Grier.

"It's all hearsay until he proves that here or has some personnel that reflects that. I don't know if it's true or not," said HISD Board Member Carol Mims Galloway.

Dr. Grier was in the room as Sen. Gallegos questioned him and the process.

"That's between him and the school board. He also raised some issues about test scores and dropout rates wherever I've worked and that's easily validated," said Dr. Grier.

Sen. Gallegos says he is prepared to go to court or the District Attorney. As for Dr. Grier, he will begin work immediately and is scheduled to tour Bellaire High School on Friday.

Dr. Grier replaces Dr. Abe Saavedra who led HISD for the past five years. It is not clear what is next for Dr. Saavedra.

Eyewitness News poured through Dr. Grier's 40-page contract. In addition to his salary, Dr. Grier receives $1,200 a month for a vehicle allowance, and $400 a month for a cellular phone and PDA allowance.

Sen. Gallegos' allegations

There are accusations some negotiations violated the state's open meetings act. State Senator Mario Gallegos said he's prepared to ask the Harris County District Attorney's Office to investigate the HISD school board for possible violations of the state's open meetings law.

Senator Galllegos hoped to see the vote delayed, but the board pushed the vote through.

The board announced Dr. Grier, who came from the San Diego school district, as their lone finalist last month, and as a matter of state law, had to wait 21 days to offer him the position.

But Gallegos says it's possible the state's open meetings laws were broken by board members during the search for a new superintendent, claiming he has seen what appears to be an email exchange between a board member, the search firm, and Dr. Grier. Gallegos says the alleged email concerns negotiating details of a contract, and implies the board member went to other trustees, but possibly without posting the meeting to the public.

Gallegos says he has filed an open records request with the district, hoping to obtain a bona fide copy of the memo, but has not yet gotten the information.

"I have asked them to not act on Dr. Grier until I get all my documents, give me three days to read them," he said. "Then I can act on them."

HISD board attorney David Thompson spoke to Eyewitness News and said he had no knowledge of any open meetings laws being broken throughout the entire search process. He says he has watched the process carefully and has told board members repeatedly what the law is and that they must follow it.

''We are absolutely confident that the board of trustees followed the open meetings act," said Thompson.

HISD stands by their negotiations process as valid and meeting legal standards. Our legal expert says the allegations are serious but questions whether there is enough evidence to hold up in court.

"I'm sure they do it all the time. This is like speeding. Everyone does it, but only a select few get caught," said Joel Androphy, KTRK Legal Analyst.

In terms of the request for information, HISD says the first broad request by Sen. Gallegos included about 100,000 documents. The senator says he has narrowed that request. HISD says they are working on it and they have no intent of trying to block that request by asking for an opinion from the attorney general.

In the midst of all of this, Sen. Gallegos says until he can see those documents, he wanted the board to delay the vote. Since the board chose not to delay the vote, he plans to go to the district attorney and ask for an investigation.

Other items on meeting agenda

Also on the agenda was another big issue from this summer concerning school improvements. Many parents say improvements had been promised to them by former superintendent Dr. Abe Saavedra, but had yet to come about for the schools.

At a recent meeting, many parents and activists spoke on behalf of schools, such as Bellaire, Sam Houston and Worthing High Schools, as well as Lockhart, Grady and Bellfort, spurring board trustees to move the improvements forward.

Each trustee will vote this evening to receive $13.5 million for their district to make improvements at those campuses and others.

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