Sen. Paul Bettencourt files bill to restructure Houston ISD

Mar 1, 2019 by

The Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees would undergo a major restructuring under a new bill filed by a top Republican in the Texas Senate.

At present, all nine members of the HISD board of trustees serve in single-member districts, elected by the residents in each of those districts. None are elected at-large.

Under SB 1385, filed by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, the board would be changed into a mix of single-member districts and at-large districts. Five trustees would serve in single-member districts, and four would be elected at-large, meaning they would be elected by all the voters who live inside the HISD boundaries.

Bettencourt said the change would ensure that more trustees have a stake in the welfare of the whole district — and not just the areas they represent.

“H-town deserves better leadership,” said Bettencourt, who is also the chair of the Texas Senate Republican Caucus.

Opponents of the bill, which Bettencourt has long pledged to file, argue it represents a state overreach that will dilute minority representation in a district where 86 percent of students are black or Hispanic. HISD Board President Diana Dávila said he believes Bettencourt is unfairly targeting the state’s largest district, particularly given that many other school districts face significant challenges.

“I’m bothered that he’s doing this, because he has not reached out to us to say, ‘What I can be doing legislatively to help the board?” Dávila said.

HISD leaders have faced significant criticism in recent months following chronically low performance of several schools and board disharmony that stifles positive work for students. The district’s entire school board could be replaced by a state-appointed Board of Managers later this year if any one of four long-struggling schools fails to meet state academic standards in August. Multiple trustees also admitted during a heated mid-October meeting that their internal acrimony — exacerbated by a covertly orchestrated effort by five trustees to replace Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan — has fomented dysfunction.

Still, HISD received a “B” rating in 2018 for academic performance under the state’s academic accountability system, among the highest scores for large, urban districts. HISD also does not face any major financial issues.

Bettencourt said he believes his bill will force better leadership and a more positive working environment to address chronically failing schools.

“There has to be changes for the betterment of the students, parents, staff, and community,” Bettencourt said. “It’s not partisan. It’s not ideological. It’s not where you live or what you look like. It’s about pure competence to lead the largest school district in the state.”

He’s far from the only Texas legislator concerned with the direction of the school district. State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., a Democrat whose district includes Kashmere, in December expressed his frustration with the trustees.

“There’s nothing wrong with the students there,” he said. “The problem here is the school board stepping up to its responsibility for improving these schools.”

It is not immediately clear whether legislators will take up Bettencourt’s bill during the ongoing Legislative session, which ends in late May. No companion bill has been filed in the Texas House of Representatives.

Bettencourt’s legislation does not specifically mention HISD, but rather states the district “with the largest student enrollment in a county with a population of 3.3 million or more” must have five single-member trustees and four at-large trustees. HISD is the only Texas district fitting that criteria.

Photo: Stephen Spillman / Stephen Spillman / For Express-News

Source: Sen. Paul Bettencourt files bill to restructure Houston ISD – Houston Chronicle

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