Reports by the Texas Education Agency conservator assigned to the Marlin Independent School District reveal administrative issues that have continued to hamper the district’s turnaround, along with ongoing efforts to address them.
In her first four months on duty, conservator Jean Bahney has charged the district $30,000, according to the reports, obtained through public information requests.
State Education Commissioner Mike Morath assigned Bahney to serve as conservator for Marlin ISD in February, when he revoked the district’s accreditation status because it had failed state accountability ratings based on standardized exam scores for the past seven years, according to a letter from Morath to the district.
At the same time, Morath warned that the district faces closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state intervention in the form of a state-installed board of managers. The district faced the possibility of closure the past three school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA.
In the February letter, Morath states he is appointing Bahney because of “ongoing and longstanding deficiencies and because such intervention is necessary to prevent substandard or imminent harm to the welfare of the district’s students.”
Morath has the authority to appoint a conservator to oversee the operations of a “low-performing” school district, according to the Texas Education Code.
Bahney’s job in Marlin includes overseeing the academic performance, financial management and governance of the district to ensure it complies with state and federal law. She also must attend board meetings, including closed sessions, and direct the board “as necessary,” according to Morath’s letter. The district must pay her $85 per hour, plus any necessary travel expenses.
From March through June, Bahney charged Marlin ISD about $31,084, according to her reports.
If Marlin ISD does not pay Bahney in a timely manner, that money may be deducted from the state revenue the district receives, according to Morath’s letter.
Bahney did not return a call requesting comment Monday.
When Bahney started in March, the district had an accountability rating of F, and she was working with district staff to “identify a plan to improve the academic outcomes,” according to her first report for Marlin ISD. The district was labeled “off track” under “progress toward academic accountability.”
Her first day in Marlin was March 8, which she spent introducing herself around the district, observing elementary instruction and reviewing data. Bahney began monitoring instruction at Marlin Primary School Academy, which has failed state accountability ratings for the past six years, right away to determine where teachers needed professional development to meet students’ needs. She also reviewed the district’s finances to “align finances to student academic needs,” according to her March report.
She charged Marlin ISD roughly $5,673 for March, not including travel expenses.
In April, Bahney reported the district was still “off track” and working toward implementing a plan to improve instruction.
“Progress has been inconsistent with the roles of the administrators supporting the elementary school changing,” she wrote in her April report. “No district-level personnel has stepped in to shepherd the process of transition until the new principal is in place.”
Bahney continued to monitor elementary-level instruction and met with the primary school principal about student scores data. Her April charges total $9,780, excluding travel expenses.
In May, Bahney again reported the district “off track,” according to the report.
“Leadership has been slow to consistently change the processes in use,” she wrote in her May report.
The school board hired a new elementary school principal in May, after Bahney helped line up interviews for the position, according to her report. But apparently Superintendent Michael Seabolt, who is now suspended, closed the hiring process of the new elementary school principal and reinstated the current principal. Bahney discussed the matter with Seabolt on May 15. She noted under “next steps” in her report that the hiring process would resume and that the “response to reinstatement needs to be addressed; change needs to be supported.”
Bahney repeats “change needs to be supported” in her notes twice more. She also wrote that she needed to “reopen communication options after (superintendent) limited conservator access in district.”
The board hired the new principal May 29, the same night it first considered placing Seabolt on paid administrative leave, but the motion to suspend Seabolt that night failed. On June 5, the board successfully voted to suspend Seabolt and launch an investigation into his performance and the district after receiving a directive from Bahney to suspend Seabolt.
Bahney gave a directive to the president of the board of managers, Billy Johnson, on May 26, three days before the first motion to suspend Seabolt failed.
For May, Bahney charged the district $8,001, excluding travel expenses.
After the board suspended Seabolt, Bahney spent several hours helping acting superintendent Remy Godfrey with her new duties, according to her June report. Godfrey was the assistant superintendent under Seabolt.
Bahney also logged many hours in June assisting with the process of recruiting elementary school teachers and monitoring the passage of the upcoming school year’s budget. Her report states the recruitment and interviewing of elementary school teachers “has been hampered by the fact that there was no administrator assigned to the elementary” school and the outgoing principal had not interviewed teachers during the spring.
“Neither the superintendent nor the assistant superintendent (now acting superintendent) stepped in to ensure that teacher positions were filled,” Bahney wrote in her June report. “As of June 26, there are potentially seven teacher positions that are yet unfilled.”
She added that neither Seabolt nor Godfrey assigned an administrator to a new summer program for kindergarten through fourth grade students.
“Additionally, the board of managers had to cancel one planned meeting due to inappropriate posting of the agenda by the acting superintendent,” Bahney wrote in her report. “Board training was not held in June due to its omission from the agenda of the regular meeting, an omission by the acting superintendent. The development of the budget was left entirely to the CFO without input from the campuses or campus academic plans. (The conservator stepped in to try and mediate the concern.)”
Bahney also wrote in her report that there is no district improvement plan or campus improvements planned for the upcoming school year “to use to set up the year or guide the July 1 budget.” The development of these plans was Godfrey’s responsibility, Bahney wrote.
She still labeled the district “off track,” after four months under her conservatorship, and charged Marlin ISD $7,628 in June.