EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The Houston Independent School District has officially been taken over by the Texas Education Agency, now the largest district the agency has taken over with over 200 schools.

Previously, the El Paso Independent School District was the largest with over 85 schools, were the TEA had to step in back in 2012.

EPISD’s takeover was due to an alleged cheating scandal stemming from schools like El Paso High, Bowie High School and Austin High Schools. It was alleged that EPISD had students removed to raise test scores on the state mandated accountability test to avoid federal sanctions.

Throughout the Department of Education’s investigation then Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was arrested by the FBI while at EPISD headquarters and accused of steering a $450,000 no-bid contract to his mistress. Garcia was later sentenced to prison for 3 1/2 years.

The TEA had Dee Margo step in as president of the board of manager, tasked with bringing EPISD back to their standards. After two years, the agency felt like their criteria was met, including raising the test scores, and the district was released back to the school board.

It has been a different situation for HISD. Instead of a group of schools causing the takeover, its only Phillis Wheatley High School that is causing the issue. The TEA commissioner Mike Morath said this is in response to a poor academic performance from the school as well as allegations of misconduct.

In 2015 Texas passed a law mandating a state takeover if a school district or one of its campuses receives failing grades from the TEA for five consecutive years. In 2019 the agency gave the school a grade of F based on their academic achievement.

However last year, Phillis Wheatley, did improve to a C grade and Houston as a whole received a B. While there was improvement, the HISD superintendent said it does not change that the school has received failing grades in the accountability rating which is enough for the TEA to intervene.

The district will also have a board of managers come in to improve the school along with the district, but State Representative from Missouri City Ron Reynolds does not believe they would not have HISD’s best interest.

“The board of managers could come in and they’re only accountable to the TEA they’re not accountable to the community, there’s no real accountability to the parent or the stakeholders.” said Reynolds.

However, Dee Margo reflected on his time as the President of the Board of member of EPISD and explained that the board does face accountability due to them being independent.

“I thought it worked better at large because we can sit back and look at the entire district without being too parochial about our own respective districts and see what’s needed, what’s important and we prioritized accordingly on that.” said Margo.

It is unclear exactly how long the TEA will remain in Houston as the TEA commissioner decides how long a board will remain in place. Currently a takeover does last a minimum of two years.

Margo does want to urge the community to understand that the prosperity of a district relies heavily on its elected officials. He wants people to understand that when electing certain officials to a district they should want to meet their same goals.

“We need to elect good people that are confident and care about the community as trustees and that it’s probably the most important race that can be run in this community more important than city council more important than mayor more important than anything else.” said Margo.

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