District loses 3 appeals, vacates buildings
NORTH FOREST – Last week was the final week in the existence of North Forest ISD, as the district’s attorneys lost 3 appeals and the Supreme Court invalidated part of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was the last chance NFISD had for a favorable ruling on their existence.
The district spent almost $600,000 trying to save itself from being annexed into the adjoining Houston ISD. The Texas Education Agency had ordered the annexation over a year ago, but delayed it due to updating test scores and other technicalities, as well as numerous legal challenges by NFISD.
TEA had set July 1st as the date for HISD to annex the North Forest District. The determination by Education Commissioner Michael Williams was based on a long history of financial mismangement and inadequate student test scores and completion rates at the high school.
Therefore on Monday, July 1 the Houston ISD will officially occupy all of the buildings, schools, buses, and other aspects of the now defunct NFISD.
In preparation for this changeover, HISD has had police occupying the buildings last week, and on Thursday the TEA conservator ordered all North Forest personnel evicted from the premises with less than two hours notice.
Leading up to the defeat of the NF district were a series of legal maneuvers and court appeals by the district’s attorneys, Chris Tritico and Ron Raney.
The first appeal was to the Administrative Hearing judge in Austin, which was refused last May 24th. Tritico then got a TRO, or Temporary Restraining Order, from the Appeals Court in Austin. This was to gain time for a full appeal, or to hear from the Department of Justice on a preclearance that was needed to affect voting changes. The hearing in 53rd Judicial court that followed, denied the appeal on grounds of no jurisdiction.
Next, they took an appeal to the federal court in Houston, and Judge Hittner issued a ruling on Wednesday, June 26 denying the request. In his sharply worded ruling, Judge Hittner noted that it was too late to stop the huge effort at changeover, and “considering the above-referenced logistical burdens as part of the public’s interest, NFISD’s well documented educational struggles are also relevant. The Plaintiffs have not shown that it is in the best interests of the children– the most relevant subsection of the public in this analysis– to maintain the status quo at NFISD.”
On June 25th, a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, and so NFISD’s hope for this avenue became moot.
The final legal effort was to the Texas Supreme Court. The attorneys petitioned for an emergency hearing on a TRO, but this was denied on Friday. This led Tritico to comment “It’s Over.”
HISD had said they will conduct summer school for North Forest students from July 8th to August 1st. Parents should contact their local school for details.
HISD has promised in a letter from superintendent Terry Grier, that NF homeowners will have a reduction in their tax rates due to HISD’s financial strength.