North Forest ISD ordered to close

HOUSTON - A troubled northeast Houston school district has been ordered to shut down.

The Texas Education Agency notified the North Forest Independent School District Thursday that it will close and be annexed into the Houston Independent School district effective July 1.

"The decision to close a school district is a tough decision for all involved, but we can no longer be tolerant of chronic underperformance," Commissioner of Education Michael L. Williams said. "My recommendation is based on the district's poor performance over the past year, which is reflective of a familiar pattern of failing to meet student needs over decades."

NFISD attorney Chris Tritrico Thursday night said the district would challenge the decision.

"It's a shame that the commissioner chose to share his decision with HISD and the media before sending it to North Forest ISD. North Forest has tried for two months to get a meeting with the commissioner to resolve the issues," said Tritrico. "The Texas A&M partnership was first proposed by the commissioner and torpedoed by individuals outside of North Forest control. North Forest will fight this wrongful closure in both state and federal courts."

In May 2012, North Forest ISD appealed a decision to revoke its accreditation. That was denied, but the school district's closure was abated a year to allow it to improve, but the conditions set were not met, state officials said.

"I fully recognize that there have been people in North Forest ISD working hard to turn things around for a very long time, but we can no longer afford to wait," Williams said.

North Forest ISD has about 6,000 students. All of the students come from low-income families.

"While we did not seek this action, HISD stands ready to welcome North Forest into our family," Superintendent Terry Grier said. "We will immediately begin making plans to make this a smooth transition for North Forest students and their parents."

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said the community should fight to keep North Forest ISD open.

"The State of Texas should focus more on enhancing its state funding for education in order to improve the resources for state school districts and match with our federal funding in order to better prepare our children and our teachers - rather than being in the business of shutting down school districts," Jackson-Lee said. "Funding for education comes from state and local property tax revenue, and NFISD is considered a property-poor district.  As a result, it receives far less than some of its surrounding districts which consist of neighborhoods with higher property values."

Jackson-Lee said she will host a town hall meeting on Saturday to discuss the issue.

North Forest ISD has 10 days to request the state to re-review its compliance with the conditions that were set.

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