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SAISD School Board Waives Its Own Community Voice Policy To Push Through “Community-Driven” Charters


Board again shows the hollowness of its commitment to community engagement and empowerment.


At last night’s SAISD School Board meeting, trustees voted unanimously (surprise!!) to transfer day-to-day operations at 18 district schools to charter partners.


The charter management agreements, contained in a more than 1200 page board packet, were posted on Friday, three days before the board meeting was to be held, and had never been discussed in public before.


No warning was given as to what was coming for interested parents or community members. Centrally-written management agreements which teachers had never seen, had not voted on, and, in the case of the IB schools, involved partnering with an organization teachers had never heard of, were approved before most of the “empowered” educators and community members at each campus had time to read them.


Amidst all the controversy and excitement, however, one detail should not be lost: the board had to waive its own community engagement policy to push through the charter plans for Burbank and Jefferson High schools, falling back on a lower, state threshold for community engagement, and walking-back their rhetoric on community buy-in being central to the creation of these “innovative”, “autonomous” “community partnerships”.


It’s at times like these that the mask of power slips, and we get to see what really animates the plans of the powerful.

Both schools had failed to reach the threshold set by board policy: 67% of households voting in favor of the charter. Only 54% and 57% of the Jefferson and Burbank communities voted in favor of the proposal, respectively - a full 13% and 10% below what was necessary to approve the plan according to the board’s own policy decision - much trumpeted at the time as a symbol of their commitment to community voice and ownership of neighborhood schools.


But this plan was never about community voice or ownership of their schools. This plan was not created or requested by the community of either school. And neither school effectively mustered community support for the plan, even as they told parents little more than a one-dimensional caricature of the charter (it means more money!!! Don't you want more money?!), or as they incentivized teachers to get students to return charter ballots with extra credit and jeans passes.


The plans proceeded anyway, not because to do so was the right thing to do, but because powerful people had already decided the outcome, and were happy to use whatever means necessary to get their way.


It’s at times like these that the mask of power slips, and we get to see what really animates the plans of the powerful. An embattled school board spent hours talking their way towards what everyone knew was a foregone conclusion, as so often, congratulating themselves for their courage in making such brave, innovative decisions, and listing excuses for their abject failure to consult with the communities they serve.


The plans proceeded anyway, not because to do so was the right thing to do, but because powerful people had already decided the outcome, and were happy to use whatever means necessary to get their way.

These partnerships are no more community-driven than they are innovative. They do nothing to increase teacher, student, or community autonomy, and, ironically, were written entirely, away from prying public eyes, by a centralized office of innovation. They have virtually no relationship to the charter plans that teachers voted on, were never shared with teachers, students, or community members, and even the principals at several of the schools admitted to never having seen them before they were posted on Friday.


As one teacher explained in his statement to the board - bizarrely interrupted for several minutes by a lecture on protocol from the stage - there's nothing more Orwellian than leaders like these talking about teacher or community empowerment.


Black is white. Down is up. And this school board believes in public education.