Houston ISD is not being allowed to proceed with its superintendent search process as the Texas Education Agency expands an investigation that has been underway since January—a decision that came down just as the district was days away from potentially selecting its sole finalist for the role, Board President Diana Davila told Community Impact Newspaper.
“The timing is horrible. We have candidates who have shown interest, and now there is a pause and we don’t know when we will get the green light,” Davila said.
The board had scheduled interviews on March 25 and March 26 and hoped to announce a sole finalist by March 28, she said. Instead, she said a meeting with the board attorney has been set to provide clarity and determine options around the suspension moving forward.
The suspension comes a little over a month after the board voted 5-3 to move forward with the search process. Trustees voting against the measure cited the TEA investigation as a reason to hold off on making a leadership change.
“Quite frankly we should be focused on getting our act together,” District 2 Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones told the board ahead of the Feb. 14 vote. “I doubt that this board could successfully even onboard a superintendent.”
A state-appointed conservator, who was assigned to the district in 2016, notified the board on March 25 that the TEA would be expanding the scope of its investigation to look into potential improprieties in the district’s contracts and procurement process. In a separate notice the same day, the conservator directed the board to immediately halt its interviews and delay any further progress in hiring a new superintendent until the investigation is finalized.
The board came under investigation in January after an attempt to oust interim Superintendent Grenita Latham in October came under scrutiny as board members were accused of improperly discussing the decision outside of board meetings, a potential violation of state open meetings law. That investigation has since uncovered other items of concern, Davila said, leading to an expanded scope.
Both HISD and the TEA declined requests to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
According to the agency’s own procedures document, obtained by Community Impact Newspaper, the investigation “may be revised at any time, as new information is received.”
An investigation team has the authority to obtain records, conduct interviews and visit on-site with officials and board members.
The investigation into the meetings law violation is collecting information as far back as three years ago, Davila said, with officials sifting through more than 12,000 emails, as well as text messages, phone records and interviews with district cabinet members.
According to the investigation process, a preliminary report will be produced for the state’s education commissioner, which would contain the initial findings of fact, assessment of wrongdoing or lack thereof, and suggested corrective action. If violations are found, the district is notified and receives a copy of the preliminary report, and a final report is ultimately sent to the governor and relevant committees and agencies. If no faults are found, the investigation can be closed, but new complaints can trigger it to reopen.
However, Davila has not been provided a timetable for when this investigation could wrap up.
“It could be weeks or months,” she said.