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Legislators hope to create ‘emergency room’ for Texas school districts
By Stephen Green
Two state lawmakers are again trying to create a statewide agency to fix broken schools.
State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. and state Sen. Royce West have filed bills to form the Texas Opportunity School District (TOSD).
The TOSD would take schools deemed unacceptable and consolidate them into a statewide network.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said he would support this type of legislation if it were to pass as part of his education plan he released during his campaign.
“The (achievement school district model) would be intended to create a swift, automatic process under which the very worst schools would be removed from the control of their local school districts each year and placed under management of the (state school system), which specializes in the task of improving failing schools,” Abbott writes.
Abbott’s plan does differ from the bills currently before the Legislature. Abbott would only take the 15 lowest performing elementary schools. Dutton and West’s bills open it up to all schools in the state.
Abbott also put in his plan that the TOSD superintendent should not be affiliated in any way with charter school companies. The superintendent would be an employee of the Texas Education Agency. Although Dutton and West’s bills don’t differ from this, it doesn’t prevent charter school faculty or administration from running the campus under TOSD control.
In 2013, Dutton told the Texas Tribune that the current state law basically waits for the campus to die before taking any action.
“We let a school get so sick we basically take it to the cemetery,” he said on the House floor in 2013. “Let's take it to the emergency room, where we can diagnose it and then fix it. Because I think that will make a difference.”
Other states, most notably Louisiana and Tennessee, have adopted similar strategies.
The state would have the ability to re-staff the entire campus, or retain the talent already there. Education Commissioner Michael Williams will select the superintendent for the district, which will operate through a contract.
If a campus has been labeled “unacceptable” by the state two years in a row, Williams would then determine the best way to change the campus, which would now include the TOSD. If the campus maintains poor performance for three years, the commissioner would reevaluate the status of the campus again.
The district does not have the power to tax, but has the right to use all existing campus facilities. Funding for the district would come from the average daily attendance of the schools. The TOSD would have to reimburse the local district for any expenses they incur supporting the TOSD campus that was once in their district.
Previously, the state’s options for intervention were repurposing the campus, changing management or shutting it down altogether. This bill would add the fourth option of adding the campus into the statewide district.
The TOSD would have control of the campus until the commissioner gives the campus back to its previous district, or not later than the campus’s eighth-consecutive school year under TOSD jurisdiction. The campus would automatically go back to its previous district if it scores acceptable ratings for three consecutive years.
The TOSD superintendent and school district the campus originally belonged to would develop a transition plan once TEA relinquishes control. It would include provisions for individuals that were employed by the TOSD.
No Conroe ISD campuses would be affected by the law as of now. Two campuses, Austin and Birnham Woods Elementary schools were listed as “Improvement Needed” in 2014. They would have to score similarly in 2015 to fall under this law as it stands, although both campuses barely missed being ranked “Met Standard.”
Dutton and West filed the same legislation last year, but both failed due to a variety of bipartisan opposition. School board and teachers groups also fought the legislation in 2013.