Marlin Independent School District officials approved an agreement Tuesday with the Texas Education Agency that could seal the fate of the district if it fails state accountability ratings this year, for the sixth year in a row.

But Superintendent Michael Seabolt said the agreement is just something the TEA is required by law to do and that the state agency does not expect the district to do well this year. It will be the district’s second abatement agreement in the past two years, and its state-appointed board of managers approved it during its meeting Tuesday.

“TEA does not expect Marlin ISD to make standard this year, but they do expect progress,” Seabolt wrote in an email to the Tribune-Herald on Monday. “My meeting with TEA officials led me to understand TEA has no plan or intentions of closing Marlin ISD. TEA does intend for the instruction to improve. We are under no pressure regarding the abatement agreement. We are under pressure to improve academically, and we will.”

The agreement allows Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to close the district if it fails 2017 academic or financial accountability ratings. If Marlin ISD again receives an improvement required rating or a substandard financial accountability rating, Morath will revoke the district’s accreditation status again and order its closure, the agreement states.

But if the district meets standards, Morath will re-evaluate the 2016-17 accreditation status and notify the district at a later date. The agreement also states that the board would waive its right to appeal a closure decision.

Though the document doesn’t give a specific date for potential closure, the TEA typically releases preliminary accountability ratings for a given year during the fall semester of the subsequent school year.

This could put a kink in the state-appointed board of managers’ efforts to help turn around the district within the next two years, which is how long state-appointed boards of managers typically serve.

Seabolt wrote that his efforts are focused on improvement, and he anticipates that will happen this year. Last year, Marlin High School met standard for state accountability, but Marlin Junior Academy, Marlin Primary Academy and the district as a whole did not, according to TEA records.

“It would not surprise me and other officials in the state that the junior high might make state standard this year,” Seabolt wrote. “If that happens, and the high school stays strong like it has for the past two years, the district will likely make it. I think that’s a real possibility.”

The state-appointed board also voted Tuesday to pull the district out of a lawsuit the elected school board joined last year that challenges state standardized test scores.

“The lawsuit was part of the effort to keep Marlin ISD open,” Seabolt wrote. “As I said, my understanding is TEA has no intention of closing Marlin ISD, not now, not next year. Spending money on a lawsuit that will take a lot of time and effort doesn’t make sense at this point in time.”

From here, the district will focus on classroom instruction, Seabolt wrote. Higher teacher salaries mean the district is able to hire and retain “the kind of educators we need in Marlin,” he wrote.

“That effort is paying off. Instruction in the classrooms has improved. The junior high has improved in a remarkable manner. We keep working the plan. Unfortunately, the plan is expensive, hence the RIF (reduction in force),” Seabolt wrote.

“You will not find better instruction at the junior academy or high school anywhere in the state. The elementary is just a step behind but is making progress in instructional quality. In the end, that’s what it comes down to: high-quality educators engaging students with high-quality instruction.”

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