Mayor Says 'Enough on Carranza.' Let's Move On and Take Care of Those Kids in HISD

Texas Rep. Alma Alen, Mayor Sylvester Turner, School Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee backed by other members of the HISD school board presenting a united front.
Texas Rep. Alma Alen, Mayor Sylvester Turner, School Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee backed by other members of the HISD school board presenting a united front. Photo by Margaret Downing
Did you ever have that one true love in high school? The one that you thought you'd be with forever? The one you were so in sync with until he called you up one day and said it was over and all you could do was stare at that cold hard phone in your hand?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it but that's about the way Houston Independent School District Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones must have felt this week when she got that phone call from about to be former Superintendent Richard Carranza that hey he was in New York City and he was taking the chancellor of public schools job there. Had already said yes.

Actually, both of them probably knew it wouldn't be a forever kind of relationship. But more than a year short of a three-year contract? In the middle of a new academic initiative? In the middle of talk of a district takeover and millions of dollars of deficit?  Now?

Tuesday, at a hurriedly-called press conference, Skillern-Jones was nothing but gracious about thanking Carranza for his service and wishing him well. She did say before she got off the phone with him Monday she asked him to call all the other board members and tell them. According to her, they had no idea this was about to happen. "He informed me that he had taken the job. I was surprised."

Her main message, however, was that the business of education would continue in HISD. "The district vision is the same. It does not change," she said.  She was joined in this by Mayor Sylvester Turner who pointed out that the success of any venture does not rest on one particular person. Also in a show of strength with school board members were Texas Representative Alma Allen and U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.

Technically, trustees could refuse to release Carranza from his HISD contract, but no one thinks that's going to happen. Why try to hold on to someone who's already gone? Instead they are set to work on finding his successor.

"We have three options," Skillern-Jones said. "We can choose a short term interim and do a search immediately. We can choose a long term interim and postpone the search. Or we can post the position and hire immediately. Those discussions have not taken place . We were just given the options today. Because we have a board member who is absent we did not go any further into conversations because the full board needs to be present for that and she's on a plane right now. In Thursday we will be in closed session to discuss those possibilities."

The choice of bringing someone in from the outside right away probably isn't viable.  HISD has some immense and pressing problems including its $115 million deficit for the 2018-19 school year, the possibility of a state takeover  because of some persistently failing schools it has and the usual mess whenever an administration proposes overhauling the magnet school system (the unslain dragon of countless HISD administrations and boards.)  Bringing someone up to speed quickly on all that would be tough.

Jackson Lee brought up a number of proposals she is ready to make. Because of the aftereffects of Hurricane Harvey displacing so many Houstonians including children, she wants the U.S. Department of Education to tell the Texas Education Agency to grant a waiver for this year for third grade state testing.

She wants a suspension of the possible sanctions against the failing schools. "That ability will allow our children to breathe and to feel loved."

She wants the Houston business community to come up the the $115 million shortfall on a draw down basis for HISD students. She said the president's tax cuts have meant a lot of money for many businesses and they could give back to the community. "The flush of dollars in corporate America is enormous. We are calculating it as we speak. So I think a very good use of these dollars would be this one time infusion of dollars."

Turner was in turn practical and inspiring. "Yesterday we were surprised; I know I was surprised by Superintendent Richard Carranza's decision to resign. I wish him well. But we are certainly not going to let the abrupt departure create chaos for the state's largest school district. Our focus today is the district's 215,000 children.

"I encourage the school board to name an interim leader or whomever they so desire to navigate the challenges that the district is facing  We are not going backwards we are going forwards. We are going to do it together."

"There are things that you can't prevent from happening. And there are things that will happen. The question is how you manage what has happened and move forward. The message that I think we all want to convey to the 215,000 kids is that we are standing together, shoulder to shoulder, to make sure they continue to receive the quality education that they rightfully deserve."

"So, you hate to see people go. But people come and go all the time. The reality is, there are processes and systems in place that will choose the next interim or permanent and the district will move on,

"Enough on Carranza. We wish him well. But now the focus is on the 215,000 kids that are still here, depending on the rest of us to come together like never before."

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing