HISD claims TEA Commissioner Mike Morath does not have the legal authority to appoint a district-level conservator in place of a superintendent and replace the Houston ISD board with a board of managers.
HISD has come under serious scrutiny in the past five years. In 2019, the TEA released a report that showed the HISD Board of Trustees had violated the Texas Open Meetings Law and that many members had exceeded the bounds of their authority.
Wheatley High School in Houston has also received consistently failing TEA performance ratings.
A trial and appeals court sided with HISD, enjoining Morath and the TEA from replacing the school board. Following this decision, the Texas Legislature intervened and passed Senate Bill (SB) 1365. This bill clarified the authority of the TEA commissioner in the appointment of conservators and a board of managers, the core issues in this lawsuit.
Texas Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), an author of the bill, directly referenced the “twisted Third Court of Appeals ruling” as the legislation’s inspiration.
The law also clarified the threshold in which the commissioner could intervene, changing it from consistent “F” ratings to the zone between “D” and “F,” where many HISD schools lie.
Another issue in question was whether Dr. Doris Delaney, the appointed conservator, had the authority to oversee the entire district rather than just Kashmere High School, the position to which she was originally appointed in 2016. Following the scathing report of misconduct in HISD, Delaney was promoted to oversee the entire district.
During Delaney’s conservatorship, Wheatley High School received a “C” grade in the latest round of performance ratings. This is the first passing grade the school has received in almost a decade.
SB 1365 also clarified this aspect of the case, giving the appointed conservator full authority over the district rather than the individual school. Delaney still serves in this role, a fact that went undisputed by both parties during the hearing.
During his argument, TEA attorney Kyle Highful addressed how SB 1365 “greatly simplifies” the issues in the lawsuit, stating, “The first question is, ‘can the commissioner appoint a board of managers?’”
Highful affirmed that under the new law, Morath has the authority to appoint a new board.
“The court [also] does not need to address HISD’s rule challenge. The reason is, the only possible relevance of the rule challenge in this litigation is that it goes to whether the commissioner had the authority to appoint a board of managers [under the old law],” Highful continued.
He asserted that even though HISD may have had merit to their case prior to SB 1365’s passage, the new law clarifies the legality of the commissioner to appoint a board of managers and a district-level conservator, making HISD’s previous points moot.
HISD’s attorney David Campell disagreed with this notion: “[K]eep in mind, this was an injunction that was entered almost three years ago in January 2020, based upon the facts and the law that applied at the time. It is that temporary injunction that is before the court.”
Campbell claimed that the TEA should file a new motion to reconsider the changes in the law that would apply to the existing temporary injunction, but that the new law had no standing in the current matter.
“The trial court at the time was applying the law a year and a half before the new law went into effect,” Campbell continued.
“Right, but if events overtake the trial court’s ruling in a pending case, then aren’t we obliged when the new law is in effect to apply the new law?” asked Justice Jane Bland.
The arguments concluded over questions from the justices of whether TEA indeed needed to file a new motion to reconsider the case in a trial court.
The court did not render a decision at the end of this hearing.
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Hudson Callender is a reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of San Antonio, Texas. Hudson recently graduated cum laude from Trinity University with majors in Economics and Political Science, and loves to study ancient history. Hudson is also an avid mountaineer, backpacker, and paddler, often leading trips to remote wilderness areas. Outside of his love for nature, history, and Lone Star beer, Hudson spends his weekends arguing with his friends about football, and will always stick up for the Baylor Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and San Antonio Spurs.