Marlin Independent School District faces possible closure — though district officials hope to avoid that fate — after it received an unsatisfactory rating for the fifth consecutive year on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.
The state released the final district ratings Monday, and now district officials must decide whether to file an appeal by Sept. 30 to the Texas Education Agency commissioner to see whether it can keep its doors open, TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.
“First, the district has the chance to appeal their ratings, and based on the outcome of that appeal, we’ll determine the next steps,” Culbertson said.
The district had not yet filed an appeal with the TEA by Monday afternoon, Culbertson said.
But such an appeal is likely a “remote possibility,” said Marlin ISD Superintendent Michael Seabolt, who has been with the district a year and was brought in to save the foundering district.
“We started this last year with somebody else’s team and somebody else’s game plan and we showed improvement,” Seabolt said. “I feel pretty confident that progress was made, and that’s what was expected.”
Earlier this year, Seabolt said he was 75 percent sure his district would remain open because of improvements to district scores this year.
Almost every grade level saw progress in reading, which was the biggest weakness the district had in standardized testing, Seabolt said. In fact, eighth-graders passed the state standard score for the first time in years, Seabolt said, adding the district met student progress and post-secondary readiness standards.
“We have work to do, but our kids are leaving the district prepared,” he said.
The district has already been saved from closure once, Culbertson said. Last November, district officials signed an abatement agreement with the TEA commissioner to keep its doors open for another year, pending several conditions. But the agreement is only valid for the year, Culbertson said.
The district’s accreditation was revoked Sept. 23, 2015, and the commissioner ordered Marlin ISD to close July 1 of this year, but Marlin ISD requested an informal review of the commissioner’s proposed order.
That review was conducted Oct. 22, 2015. Since then, the commissioner hasn’t issued a final decision in response to the review, and the district and commissioner agreed to hold off on further discussion until preliminary academic and financial accountability ratings were released by the TEA.
Some of the conditions listed in the agreement:
• If Marlin ISD received “improvement required” in its 2016 ratings, the commissioner would appoint a board of managers to the district. The board of managers would exercise all of the powers and duties assigned to the Marlin ISD board of trustees by law, rule or regulation and would govern in the same manner.
• Those powers and duties of the trustees would be suspended for whatever time period the board of managers was appointed, and the commissioner would name the managers. The commissioners would also appoint a superintendent during the term of the board of managers.
• Marlin ISD would agree that the commissioner’s decision about the board of managers would be final and not appealable.
• The commissioner would ultimately revoke the district’s accreditation status.
• Marlin ISD officials would agree that the commissioner’s decision about the informal review would be final and not appealable, waiving its rights as a district to challenge the commissioner’s decision before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
• Marlin ISD officials understand the TEA may take action at any time to determine whether the district complied with the abatement agreement, identify additional compliance issues, address threats to the health, safety and welfare of Marlin ISD students, implement sanctions and interventions, and otherwise ensure compliance with state law.
Texas law states school districts with failing financial and academic accountability scores for four straight years will be closed. Marlin ISD has failed five consecutive years since 2011.
The district still has the option to appeal Monday’s preliminary rating, even with the abatement agreement, TEA spokeswoman Lauren Callahan said.
As of Monday afternoon, Seabolt said he didn’t see anything to appeal, adding the state is aware of issues with STAAR testing and saying he knows testing issues are a topic that will be at the forefront of the upcoming legislative session.
Now, the district is in waiting mode to see what action the commissioner may take, which could be a couple of weeks, he said.
“The possibility of Marlin ISD being shut down is very remote,” he said, adding the conditions attached to last year’s agreement are more likely to be enacted. “Progress is what was expected, and progress is what they got.”
What’s currently in place is a new TEA monitor, brought on in June to help guide the district toward better accountability ratings, he said.
Prior to his leadership, Seabolt said, the district had the guidance of the same TEA monitor for the previous five years. Though he said he didn’t want to get into specifics, he said the district was “extremely misquided” by the monitor and the monitor was “unqualified to do what they were doing.”
“We wouldn’t be here where we are now had the TEA oversight been effective,” he said.
TEA officials would not comment on the situation involving the monitor, Callahan said.
If the district does file an appeal, a decision would be made by the commissioner in December, Culbertson said. The district may appeal for any reason, but typically the basis for an appeal would be if data errors or calculation errors were made by the TEA, the Education Services Center or the testing contractors, she said.
If the district wanted to highlight testing improvements or work done to become better, those are elements the district can include in its appeal, but it’s unclear if those elements would have any weight on the outcome of an appeal like this, she said.
Once the appeal is in the commissioner’s hands, by law the commissioner could do anything from closing the district, merging it with another, or put in place a conservator or board of managers, Culbertson said.
“There’s really not a gaurantee on the outcome,” Culbertson said. “Every appeal is evaluated on that unique situation.”