North Forest ISD received word last Friday that the state Texas Education Agency had agreed to “abate” their closure order for one year. This means that instead of forcing North Forest to merge with Houston ISD on July 1, 2012, the district will have a new deadline, July 1, 2013.
However, in a lengthy legalistic “Record Review” report ongoing for 36 pages, the TEA Commissioner Robert Scott gave the district some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that TEA rejected all the arguments presented by North Forest and their attorneys in a Record Review meeting held in Austin in February.
But the good news was that in spite of that, and perhaps with an ear to the politics of the situation, Scott said that his appointed Conservator Kay Karr had reported progress in the three areas of deficiencies, and he felt there was a possibility that the district might solve its problems and allow TEA to vacate the closure order in 2013.
Scott’s earlier decision, in November 2011, to close the district and merge it with HISD, had been under heavy criticism by Congresswoman Jackson-Lee, other local state representatives, and the North Forest community.
Other legal problems existed for the TEA, too. In their statement on Friday, spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe said:
Commissioner of Education Robert Scott issued the attached order in the North Forest revocation case this afternoon. The commissioner abated the accreditation rating of “Not Accredited–Revoked” for one year due to legal technicalities and the uncertainty of swift preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice. While North Forest will remain an independent school district and will not be merged with Houston ISD this summer, the abatement requires North Forest to comply with a number of academic and financial requirements, which are spelled out in the order.
The 36 page TEA order continually cites, in legal terms, the deficiencies of the district over the last four years:
— Academic Accountability, or the low completion rate of graduating or continuing students
— Financial Accountability, with poor reporting and fiscal controls
— Accreditation Status, with low test scores for students, especially at the high school.
North Forest answered the news with a statement from Superintendent Forté and the Board of Trustees, as follows:
“The Board of Trustees for the North Forest Independent School District is pleased with the decision announced today by the Texas Education Agency to allow NFISD another year to demonstrate it can sustain recent improvements that are already in progress. This is an opportunity for the Board and Superintendent to continue their work improving the district’s academic and financial accountability. The TEA noted that while the district has experienced problems in the past, it is making steady progress now toward solving them. The agency’s order says that if NFISD continues its progress, the order to merge it with the Houston School District will be withdrawn. This is a remarkable victory for the students, parents, teachers and the community of North Forest.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee commended the decision, saying “you never give up on children and the new commitment of the board and the superintendent, Ms. Forté.”