Improvement, but not enough: HISD facing near certain state takeover on multiple fronts

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Despite incredibly hard work by HISD students, teachers, administrators and parents to raise accountability ratings, it was not enough.

The chronic low scores at HISD's Wheatley High School leave the Texas Education Commissioner with no choice under state law but to close the campus or overturn an election, kick out the entire Houston school board and appoint a new one.

RELATED: 21 HISD schools receive 'F' from Texas Education Agency

According to state education leaders who spoke with 13 Investigates, that takeover now seems increasingly likely.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican from Houston and member of the State Senate Education Committee, told ABC13, "I've never had any criticism for the interim superintendent (Dr. Grenita Lathan) and will not, because she's not the problem. The problem is the board of trustees and everybody out there knows it, and that's what needs to be replaced."

State Rep. Dan Huberty, also a Houston Republican and chair of the Texas House Education Committee, echoed Bettencourt's assessment.

"If you have leadership problems at the top, uh, governance issues at the top, sooner or later, you've got to fix it and you can't let it go on forever," Huberty said.

SEE ALSO: State investigators push for replacement of HISD school board

It could be late fall before the official decision comes down. State accountability ratings aren't finalized until November, but HISD does not appear to be fighting the accountability ratings.

According to district sources, HISD has elected not to appeal. Even if the district did, the accountability ratings are just one avenue the state could take to kick out HISD's board.

A recently released special investigation described so much board dysfunction, mismanagement and potential law violations that investigators recommended a takeover on that alone.

"It's time to stop pointing fingers," Bettencourt said, "(It's) time to get the best team we can, and let's make HISD not just the biggest school district in the state, but with this type of analytics, they can be the best."

Even in the midst of a Thursday morning celebration of rising test scores at Houston's Kashmere High School, current HISD board member Jolanda Jones said given the level of board dysfunction, a state takeover may be the lesser of two evils.

"I never thought I would ever say that I believe that elected board needed to be replaced, but the alternative is worse," Jones told the crowd.

She's not alone. The Houston business community, through the Greater Houston Partnership, is pushing for takeover too. The board's president wrote recently in a Houston Chronicle op-ed that "HISD needs a fresh start."

Education sources tell ABC13 the state education agency likely won't announce a decision on board takeover until late fall.

SCHOOL RATINGS: What grade did the TEA give your school district?

As for the man who will make the decision, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath was proud of how open his agency is being with student achievement or lack of it during a Thursday afternoon news conference in Aldine.

"We don't want to hide anything from anybody," Morath told reporters. He then hid from everyone leaving the room down a hallway away from reporters.

For the latest investigations, follow Ted on Facebook and Twitter.

Have a tip for Ted Oberg? A problem to solve? Get in touch with us on our tip page, or send a tip below. (On mobile? You can open our form by tapping here.)
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.