The Texas education commissioner will replace the Marlin Independent School District board of trustees with a state-appointed board of managers and promote the district’s Texas Education Agency monitor to a conservator who will advise trustees, according to a letter from Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
Morath will announce appointments to the board of managers and superintendent position, though it remains unclear when. TEA monitor Rose Cameron’s promotion to conservator is in effect, according to the letter. Cameron was brought on in June to replace a previous monitor and to move the district toward better accountability.
The commissioner’s letter comes after the state announced in August that Marlin had failed preliminary academic accountability ratings for the fifth year in a row. Marlin had signed an agreement last year saying the state could appoint the board of managers if it didn’t meet academic accountability ratings this year.
“I was not surprised at all,” Marlin Superintendent Michael Seabolt said in an email Tuesday morning. “The process is slow, however, and that creates instability.”
Seabolt, who has been with the district for about a year and was brought on to turn the district around, is unsure of what will happen to his job, he said in the email.
Seabolt said the board appointments and superintendent announcement could come as soon as December.
In his email Tuesday, Seabolt said failures on the TEA’s part led to Marlin’s standing and also said other school districts should be wary of TEA monitors and officials.
“The Marlin ISD board of trustees was given some very bad advice and false reports from the former TEA monitor,” Seabolt wrote, referring to the monitor before Cameron. “The district worked on almost nothing meaningful, at least as far as classroom instruction goes, for years. When I got here last year, I read the reports, observed instruction myself and told the board the monitor’s reports were not consistent with classroom performance or testing data.
“Had the board not been deceived by someone the board considered an expert, the kids would not have lost years worth of quality instruction. Warning to other schools: Some TEA monitors are excellent, some have no clue how to improve a school. It’s a roll of the dice with TEA. Be warned,” he wrote.
TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson said previously the TEA would not comment on those allegations about the district’s previous monitor, who was replaced by Cameron.
Cameron, the conservator appointed by Morath, will oversee the district until the board can be “cobbled together,” Seabolt said.
Morath stated in his letter that Cameron’s responsibilities include, but are not limited to:
• Attending board meetings, including executive session, and directing the board as necessary.
• Ensuring that a comprehensive needs assessment of the district is performed.
• Overseeing general administration of the district.
• Overseeing financial management and governance of the district to ensure that it complies with state and federal law.
The district will pay Cameron $85 an hour, plus necessary travel expenses not to exceed the state’s per diem rate, the letter states. Though the district waived its rights to challenge the appointment of a board, it still has the right to request an informal review regarding the appointment of a conservator by Oct. 3.
‘Escalating the role’
“I am escalating the role of the current monitor to a conservator . . . due to the ongoing and long-standing deficiencies and because such intervention is necessary to prevent substantial or imminent harm to the welfare of the district’s students or the public interest,” Morath wrote in his letter.
Marlin entered an abatement agreement with the Texas Education Agency last year that held off the district’s closure after it received ratings of improvement required or academically unacceptable for four years in a row. Texas law states that school districts with failing financial or academic accountability scores for four straight years can be closed.
The abatement agreement states that if the district failed preliminary 2016 academic accountability ratings, the commissioner would appoint a board of directors.
The abatement agreement also states that the commissioner could close the district if it fails final academic accountability ratings for the year. The commissioner also has broad discretion under the agreement to close the district at any time if he decides its performance is unacceptable.
Potentially complicating the district’s fate, Morath’s letter came three days after Marlin ISD trustees voted Sept. 20 to appeal this year’s STAAR ratings. The same day, the board decided to become the first school district to join a Travis County lawsuit against the commissioner, which argues the 2015-16 assessments were illegal.
District officials have until Friday to file the paperwork to appeal the ratings to the TEA, but as of Tuesday, the district had yet to submit the appeal, Culbertson said. The district filed a notice Aug. 30 stating its intention to appeal.
Once the appeal is submitted, the district will have to wait on another final decision from the commissioner in December, Culbertson said. Appeal documents are not public until the commissioner issues a final decision, she said.
Seabolt said Tuesday he wants parents and teachers to know he is still hopeful about how the rest of the school year will go.
“We are still teaching kids,” Seabolt said in his email. “We had some great improvements last year with the instructional systems we put in place. We will do even better this year as we were able to attract and retain some quality teachers due to the salary increases.”