Marlin charter

Marlin Primary Academy students walk to class in this 2015 file photo. The school district has failed state accountability ratings for the past 10 years and faces potential closure by the state again this year. The city is considering a charter school if that happens.

The Marlin City Council on Tuesday will consider hiring a consultant to study the possibility of applying with the state for a city-operated charter school in case the embattled Marlin Independent School District is closed.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Marlin City Council Chambers, 101 Fortune St.

Mayor Carolyn Lofton said any such charter school would not be run by the city, though the agenda item states that council members will “review and interview consultants for the city-run charter school” in closed session.

When state Education Commissioner Mike Morath visited Marlin in early December, Lofton said, she and other city officials met with the commissioner, who told them the Marlin Independent School District should have been closed by now because it has failed state academic accountability ratings for the past 10 years.

That lit a fire under the mayor’s feet.

“He couldn’t give us a 2020-2021 plan,” she said.

The fate of Marlin ISD has been hanging in the balance for years. The district has not met state academic standards based on standardized exam scores since 2010, longer than any other Texas school district.

Since then, the district’s student population has shrunk by more than 200 students, as more students transfer out of the district each year. The Texas Education Agency intervened in an effort to improve student academic performance, beginning in 2015 with an agreement between the agency and the district to keep Marlin ISD open, despite failing standardized test scores.

On Nov. 20, the state-appointed board of managers that replaced the elected board of trustees in 2017 unanimously approved another abatement agreement to keep Marlin schools open for at least one more school year.

Lofton said the commissioner would make a decision by March whether to keep Marlin ISD open but that “it was not looking promising.”

Lofton and City Manager Cedric Davis floated the idea of a charter school when speaking with the commissioner, they said. They want to ensure that they have a fail-safe in case the commissioner decides to close the school district. By hiring a consultant, the city can file an application with the state to open a charter school or work with an existing charter school.

“We’re just trying to be proactive,” Lofton said. “We’re trying to be prepared so we don’t have to close our school district because we have too many students for that.”

Marlin ISD has 880 students, 56% of whom are black and 33.6% are Latino. Almost all students are economically disadvantaged, according to the TEA.

Davis said there is only one municipal school district in Texas: Stafford Municipal School District in Fort Bend County. It is unclear if Marlin would be able to establish a similar district, a charter school or a partnership with the school district.

Marlin ISD interim superintendent Jean Bahney said the charter school is a “city council-generated initiative,” not something the school district is pursuing.

Stafford MSD has 3,586 students, of whom 41.3% are black and 46.5% are Latino. About 73% are economically disadvantaged, according to the TEA. The district scored a B in the state’s A-F accountability ratings system the past two years, while Marlin ISD scored an F. The state implemented the A-F system during the 2017-2018 school year.

“It’s just a backup plan,” Davis said. “It’s an option. Because if it closes, we have zero options.”

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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