The latest on the District of Innovation Designation

Hopefully you caught my column two weeks ago about the HB1842, which was passed during the 2015 legislative session. A part of the bill that was tacked on in the final hours of the session is known as DOI or District of Innovation. Public school districts across the state can now become a DOI (I refer to it as “going charter”), allowing them to exempt several parts of the Texas Education Code, including:

1. Flexibility when creating a school calendar (current law prevents public school districts from starting before the fourth Monday in August)

2. The 22:1 student-to-teacher ratio for grades K-4, without notifying parents

3. Student discipline provisions

4. Teacher benefits, including minimum state salary schedule, 30-minute duty-free lunch, and guaranteed 450 minutes every two weeks for planning

5. Teacher certification—allows districts to locally certify teachers rather than requiring them to be certified through the state

(There are several other possible exemptions, but for the sake of space, I will provide links at the bottom of this column where you can find more information.)

Two weeks ago, I urged McAllen ISD parents and employees (and students!), as well as citizens of our community, to get informed on the topic and to get involved. I also shared that McAllen ISD was moving forward with the process, though few employees or community members had any idea it was happening. I didn’t even know it was happening until I received an “ALERT” email from Texas AFT.

This is what has happened since:

a. The state requires a district to move forward with the DOI process either by board resolution or by taking the idea to the district-level site-based-decision-making committee (known as LEAD in McAllen ISD), a committee with representatives from all district campuses. A majority of that committee must sign a petition for the district to proceed. McAllen ISD chose to take it to LEAD.

b. DOI was presented to LEAD for MISD to take three exemptions: Calendar flexibility so classes could begin August 21 next school year, the K-4 class size exemption, and the teacher certification exemption for career and technology teachers.. Some teachers had already left by the time it was presented and others did not feel they had enough information to sign the petition. Some signed it.

c. At the subsequent board meeting, Dr. Sylvia Ibarra, assistant superintendent for instructional services, told the board “all” members had signed the petition. The board decided that each trustee would choose one member for a DOI Advisory Committee and one alternate, providing those names at their February 13 meeting. This committee would develop the district’s plan.

d. At this point, word started to spread about all of the exemptions allowed through a DOI designation, how the plan lasts up to five years, and how the process had gotten this far along with very few employees or community members knowing anything about it. Many people began contacting board members with their concerns.

e. At the February 13 meeting, board members decided they only wanted to move forward with the calendar flexibility exemption, despite district administrators’ desire to pursue the three exemptions mentioned above. Then it was time to name the people they had chosen for the DOI Advisory Committee. Each trustee gave the name of one member and one alternate. Trustee Conrado Alvardo then asked if the alternates could instead be full members and made a motion to this effect. The motion passed 5-0. (Trustee Marco Suarez had already left, and Trustee Danny Vela voted no as he was not in favor, by this point, of the district pursuing a DOI distinction.) In the meeting, it was specifically said that these 14 individuals would BE the committee.

I was asked by Trustee Alvarado and Trustee Vela to serve on this committee; however, I declined, telling them I felt it was a conflict of interest since I wanted to report on the meeting. At the time, they didn’t know, nor did I, that the district would deny my access to the committee meeting. But that is exactly what happened.

More next week on that DOI Advisory Committee meeting February 20, why the plan was not developed that day, as planned, and what’s next.

MISD employees and parents—be on the lookout for a three-question survey that is said to be going out to help determine what’s next!! 

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.