HISD Lowers Tax Rate, Goes Ahead With its District of Innovation Plans and Tosses a Teacher From its Board Meeting

A cadre of HISD officers ushered Susan Espinoza out of Thursday's board meeting.
A cadre of HISD officers ushered Susan Espinoza out of Thursday's board meeting. Photo by Margaret Downing

Some speakers were overcome by tears, one woman was thrown out, and the divide between what Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles sees when he looks at how HISD is working and how parents, students and teachers describe it at board meetings continues to widen as evidenced once again Thursday night.

Miles' blue sky report followed a litany of complaints from the public speakers. Teacher Susan Espinoza began by telling the board and Miles “What is a CEO of a charter school network doing running a public school district?” The reason, she charged is so Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath can turn HISD into a charter school district. "so it will be a profit-making machine."

When Espinosa refused to relinquish her time at the mic, after two warnings from Board President Audrey Momanaee she got a personal escort from HISD police at Momanaee's direction. The board and Miles briefly retreated into a back room following the outburst and departure of Espinoza.

In a press conference after the board meeting, Miles said once again that the teachers and students he talks to during tours of the campuses uniformly convey their excitement about and engagement with the new curriculum at the New Education System and NES-Affiliated Schools.

As expected, the board went ahead with the steps to becomes a District of Innovation which will allow HISD to extend its school year as Miles has said is needed to make the kind of improvements that he wants to see in student achievement. There are more than 60 exemptions allowed if the DOI designation is allowed, something Miles has declined to go into much detail about. Critics have said this gives Miles and the board too much power although most districts in the Houston area have applied for and received this designation without the kind of controversy HISD's proposal has attracted.

In regards to this, the Board of Managers announced the names of the District of Innovation committee members, without giving out any information about who these people are. Other than board member Janette Garza Lindner and HISD deputy chief of staff Jessica Morffi, the other names include Edgardo Colon, Lauren Fontaine, Bill Horwath, Uche Ndefo and Theresa Tran.  The HISD press office said they would be getting more information out about these people Friday.

The committee will be meeting to come up with a plan for the next steps in the application process.

The board also voted approval of a tax rate cut to $0.8683 per $100 of taxable value for 2023, amid concerns from several speakers about how the district was going to pay its bills given its decline in enrollment, the state-ordered increase in homestead exemption allowances and HISD’s own decision to lower the tax rate.

Of equal if not more concern than the District of Innovation application was the new curriculum. More than one speaker said their students who are in a dual language program weren’t getting hardly any Spanish work in what they said is supposed to be a 50-50 split of English and Spanish.

The main complaint that several parents and students described as what they said is the tension caused by the constant timed testing that students undergo and the teachers dispense. Although Miles had described the typical teacher day as one walk in the door a few minutes before the kids and hit the door a few minutes after the last bell, several speakers described long days for teachers with extra training sessions tacked on to their days.

As a result many teachers are not able to attend the start of the HISD board meetings – which is when the board hears from public speakers – because they are still in Thursday mandated afterschool sessions.

Speakers once again challenged the board and Miles about what was being done for students who need more time to complete their assignments and tests.

One woman broke into tears about Miles’ dictum that poor readers should not be reading aloud in class. Asked about this after the meeting, Miles acknowledge that he'd said this, but this was to avoid "embarrassment" on the part of poor speakers in front of an entire class. He said, however, these students would still have a chance to read aloud in smaller groups such as with a partner. 
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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