TEA Takeover: Tensions rise at first community meeting as congresswoman addresses crowd, questions go unanswered

HOUSTON – The first of four Texas Education Agency community meetings about the Houston ISD takeover turned heated and chaotic Tuesday night as the crowd demanded answers they weren’t getting from the state agency.

Just 13 minutes into the meeting, the crowd began yelling at TEA Deputy Commissioner Alejandro Delgado and disrupted the meeting from continuing orderly.

“This meeting was rodeo-grade B.S.,” HISD parent Travis McGee said.

Parents and educators who showed up wanting specifics of the state’s plan were required to submit questions online or fill out a notecard. Questions were then read by a state employee on stage.

“It was a sham… they didn’t come to answer real questions,” HISD teacher Larry McKinzie said.

Several people in the crowd also questioned where Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath was for the conversation, as he’s the selector of HISD’s new leaders.

Tuesday’s meeting at Westbury High School started at 6:30 p.m. and was set to run for one hour.

About 40 minutes into the meeting, the crowd’s yelling turned into chants of “Sheila!” as Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee showed up and took a seat in the front row. She soon took the microphone and spoke to the crowd in a seemingly campaign rally-style manner, expiring the meeting’s remaining time.

“You are owed answers about the takeover,” Rep. Jackson Lee said.

She told the crowd that she planned to call Morath afterward to let him know it was no way to run a meeting.

The intention of the meeting, according to the TEA, was an opportunity to learn more about the board of managers’ appointment process.

The application for the new board of managers is open through April 6. Nine appointed individuals will temporarily take over the power and duties of the current elected HISD board members as the TEA works to improve chronic low achievement in various schools across Houston.

The requirements to sit on the board of managers include being an eligible voter within the Houston ISD boundaries, not being a convicted felon, passing a background check and filling out a conflict of interest form twice annually.

The state is also looking for a new superintendent to replace Millard House II.

Morath told KPRC 2 last week that the state law requires him to take action when a campus, like HISD’s Wheatley High School, goes five years in a row with unacceptable accountability ratings. His options under the law are to close a campus or appoint a board of managers to govern the district, he said.

It’s a law that parents like McGee call plain bad.

“Would you vote for a bill saying your neighbors’ house is out of compliance, we get to take your house and the rest of the neighborhood too?” he asked.

Some teachers have expressed concern about what it means for their jobs and day-to-day in their classrooms.

“Once we found out we were just devastated as teachers,” HISD special education teacher Arnetta Murray said. “It’s about our students, but don’t forget the teachers, the bus drivers, they matter.”

New leaders for the district are expected to be in place by June 1, but some community members don’t see the likelihood of being able to work together.

“You can’t compromise with dictatorship, we’re getting this stuffed down our throat,” McGee said.

TEA has three remaining community meetings planned on the takeover. KPRC 2 asked if the remaining meetings will be run the same way or if any changes are planned, but have not received an answer.

Here are the additional community meetings:

March 22, 2023 | 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Chavez High School | Auditorium

8501 Howard, Houston 77017

March 29, 2023 | 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Hattie Mae White | Board Auditorium

Educational Support Center

4400 West 18th St., Houston 77092

March 30, 2023 | 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Kashmere High School | Auditorium

6900 Wileyvale, Houston 77028

More on the TEA takeover:

About the Author:

Bryce Newberry joined KPRC 2 in July 2022. He loves the thrill of breaking news and digging deep on a story that gets people talking.