The final community meeting for the ten schools which are at risk for state sanctions was held tonight. It was held at Worthing High School to discuss the fate of both Woodson K-8 and Worthing High School.
The meeting began as the other ones did, with a representative from the administration presenting a powerpoint with limited information about HB 1842 and the district’s options. Trustee Wanda Adams ran this particular meeting, and unlike any of the other meetings, she screened all questions by having people write their questions down on a card and then she read them aloud, versus having people ask their questions directly at a microphone (there were microphones set up for such a purpose but they went unused). AJ Crabill, the deputy commissioner for the TEA, was present. He spoke only a couple of times (more on that in a second).
Remember when these plans were rolled out in January, and then-superintendent Carranza assured us that the community would be fully apprised of all the details of these proposals at these community meetings? Well, here we are at the conclusion of the meetings and we know no more than when we started-scratch that, we know LESS. Tonight, it announced that TDS from Baltimore is no longer being considered as a parter, but Chief Academic Officer Lathan refused to release the names of the partners they are considering now. I believe this is a deliberate attempt to keep the public in the dark and to keep the public from being able to research the partners and ask questions. We know that they were in discussions with the University of Houston (although they have tried to keep that quiet) and there was discussion tonight about HCC as a potential partner as well. There is no good reason why this information should not be released given that the vote is a few weeks and the future of our schools is at stake. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep the public in the dark and therefore minimize backlash.
During one exchange, when a community member asked if the public would be able to see the charter when the partner applied for a charter to the state to operate the school, Lathan didn’t answer the question, and didn’t really seem to understand it, but she did state that the contracts would be made public before the board voted, upon release of the board’s agenda. After the meeting, I followed up with Dr. Lathan and wanted to confirm the contracts would be posted online with the agenda, as this would have been a (welcome) change from the board’s normal practice of not posting those types of contracts, even if they are on the agenda to be voted on. At that time (after the meeting was over), Lathan told me that she “misspoke” and the contract would NOT be made public. She went on to say that, in fact, the board would not be voting on the actual contracts. They would be giving the administration the authority to negotiate a contract, as is the board’s common practice. While I understand that this is common practice and have obviously seen the board give this type of authority several times in the last few years, the lack of transparency here is stunning. The details in these contracts are EXTREMELY important. There are so many important pieces of information in those contracts, including, but not limited to: how long the partnerships will last, what board policies the board will waive or not, the district’s responsibilities and the partner’s responsibilities. The fact that the board would surrender full authority for these contracts to be negotiated without more oversight is disturbing.
Speaking of how long the partnerships will last, Dr. Lathan said the administration would be recommending three year contracts, but then Mr. Crabill stood up and whispered to her. Dr. Lathan went on to say that the administration and the TEA did not agree on the length of the partnerships and that TEA was demanding they be 10 years. Lathan said the district’s lawyers disagreed with that. Spoiler alert: the TEA commissioner has final approval on every single partnership. If he says they need to be 10 years, they have to be 10 years in order for the district to receive the benefits of SB 1882 (85R) and thus stave off state closure of our schools or takeover of our school board.
A final disturbing thing that occurred was when Trustee Adams received a question which discussed taxpayer money being used for partnerships. Trustee Adams first stated that “no taxpayer money would be used for the partnerships”, and then a few seconds later had to completely backtrack on that statement. It was incredibly bizarre.
In my opinion, this community meeting was incredibly disrespectful to the community it was purporting to serve. Half-truths or outright lies were stated. Dissenting voices were not given opportunity to ask valid questions, and not all questions were asked because they were screened. These issues are complex, but it was obvious from the turnout of the crowd that this is community that cares about their school. It was incredibly frustrating to watch them not get the same respect that other communities have received. The fact that the community of the district as a whole has so little information about these partnerships/charters this late in the game is beyond disappointing. The only way forward is with transparency. Lots of it.