HISD Trustees Vote Against Taking a Break, the Superintendent Search Continues

Trustee Sue Deigaard opts out of the fray.
Trustee Sue Deigaard opts out of the fray. Screen grab from HISD-TV

Probably the only surprise in last night's Houston School Board vote on whether to suspend the search for a new superintendent — they didn't by the way — was that trustee Sue Deigaard abstained, saying she wasn't going to be part of the racial divide that has developed on the contentious board on this issue.

"This board in any form no matter who is sitting here, needs to be working towards build stronger bridges across the racial divides and not digging deeper chasms," she said. "If the nine of us cannot get our act together then the students deserve different board members."

Her announcement followed a presentation by Hank Gmitro, president of HYA & Associates who have been hired to conduct the superintendent search. Responding to a question from Deigaard, Gitmo acknowledged that superintendent candidates his firm has talked with, express reservations about leaving a present job to come to Houston and maybe see their job here disappear within two or three months if the state takes over the district.

As expected, trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Wanda Adams and Jolanda Jones, all supporters of Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, argued to suspend — not cancel — the search for now given all the considerable questions HISD faces.

In addition to the possibility of a state takeover because of four HISD schools continually unable to meet state standards, the district is under investigation by the Texas Education Agency for a possible violation of the state's Open Meetings Law. Five trustees talked to Abe Saavedra about returning to HISD to becomes superintendent again without the knowledge of other board members. Their October vote to hire him became moot when Saavedra withdrew citing board dysfunction.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones recounted all the ways that the board is underwater. At the same time, a report delivered earlier in the evening shows that student achievement in HISD is increasing despite the challenges. She argued that a disruption in the present leadership would only cause harm to the students. "Why are we attempting to fix something that's not broken?" The former board president also questioned how sane or rational any superintendent candidate would be to consider coming to Houston right now.

Skillern-Jones said the board needs to focus on its budget now and to fix its own dysfunction before bringing anyone new in. The dysfunction was in full evidence in short order as she, Adams and Jones referred to the possible Open Meetings violations, saying that if they were proven, how could the public trust those same violators (their fellow board members) to conduct a good-faith superintendent search going forward. Jones also announced she would vote against any candidate that was not Lathan — so much for any chance of a united board hire if it's anyone other than Lathan. And Jones and board president Diana Davila felt compelled to state separately that each of them is not a racist.

Davila said she'd promised her constituency the search would continue and when the vote was taken, she was joined by Elizabeth Santos, Sergio Lira, Holly Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung in doing so. 
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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.
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