As the Sept. 29 deadline approaches for Austin ISD to take up the Texas Education Agency’s offer for a district monitor, a step down from a conservatorship, community members expressed concerns that the proposal would eventually lead to a takeover of the district during a public hearing Sept. 7.

“I fear that this is the first stop on the road to an official takeover of the district, which would have catastrophic effects,” AISD parent Sharon Vein said Sept. 7. “I strongly urge an attempt to amend this, to remove the Lone Star Governance handcuffs so [the board] can continue [its] forward momentum towards improving special education.”

The proposal comes after the TEA notified AISD in March that it would seek to implement a conservatorship due to a backlog of special education evaluations and failure to complete past corrective measures.

The proposal, announced Aug. 30, will require the district to:
  • Allow a monitor appointed by the TEA to sit in on board meetings and report on the district’s progress.
  • Require the board and superintendent to attend Lone Star Governance training, which would provide “coaching and support to improve student outcomes,” according to the TEA. This includes the hiring of a Lone Star Governance coach.
  • Dedicate 50% of future board meeting time to discussing student outcomes and update special education policies and procedures.
  • Complete all outstanding evaluations and meet other deadlines and requirements established by the TEA.
A monitor recommends actions to a school district while a conservator can direct actions within a specific area of need. A takeover of AISD would mean that the elected school board’s power would be suspended and given to a state-appointed board instead.

“This is more than fixing a problem about backlogged special education evaluations,” AISD special education student Addison McKenna said Sept. 7. “There are systemic issues in special education that need to be addressed, and the TEA proposal is not the way to do it.”

The action taken

According to AISD officials, progress the district has made in regards to special education include:
  • Pending evaluations decreased by 40% since January.
  • Evaluation staff has increased from 22 to 74 licensed specialists in school psychology and diagnosticians.
  • School staff completed two days of special education professional development last spring in preparation for additional training over the summer.
  • Fifty additional special education staff were onboarded to accommodate students needing services.
  • The special education budget was increased by $30.2 million for a total district investment of $156 million.
  • Eighty percent more students were tested this summer compared to summer 2022.
“I am sorry to the families that did not get served,” Board President Arati Singh said Sept. 7. “We are doing better now, and we are committed to doing better.”

What’s next?

In response to the TEA’s initial notification in March, the district asked the state for an informal review, allowing AISD to file a petition for review with the State Office of Administrative Hearings, or SOAH. If AISD agrees to this proposal but is somehow unable to fulfill its terms, the district then waives any right to a hearing before SOAH and may be appointed a conservator instead.

If the district does not accept the proposal, the TEA could impose the same recommendations from March, and AISD could request a hearing before SOAH.

The deadline for the decision is Sept. 29.

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