In a 5-2 vote at the May 15 Lewisville ISD board meeting, trustees narrowly passed the plan to add the district to a growing list of the state’s District of Innovation participants.  

House bill 1842, passed by the 2015 Texas Legislature, created the system that allows districts to create an innovation plan with community input and then identify certain approved sections of the Texas Education Code that it deems to impede those plans.

Districts whose boards approve the DOI designation become exempt from the identified requirements for a period of five years.  Districts may come back during that period to identify more sections of the code that they need to be exempted from.

The Texas Education Commissioner has the authority to terminate or modify DOI districts’ participation if the districts fail to meet academic standards or financial integrity ratings.

Under state law, the plan required a two-thirds majority vote of the school board. With seven members on the board, five were needed to pass.

That passage seemed in doubt when Assistant Superintendent Dr. Beth Brockman spoke about the agenda item.  Brockman thanked the district’s 30-member District Innovation Plan Committee — composed of parents, teachers, district administrators and community members — for their time and efforts, then recommended a vote against it.

“Given the ongoing concerns and questions that remain with District of Innovation, it is the administrative recommendation that we not move forward with DOI at this time,” Brockman said.

There was some discussion in which trustee Trisha Sheffield questioned Brockman and Superintendent Dr. Kevin Rogers. Rogers said the decision had been extremely disruptive and that he felt like it was time to move on.

Trustee Jenny Proznik spoke of a third option, to send the plan back to the committee with instructions, and bring the plan back to the board at a future date.  Brockman said that was possible, but Board Member Tracy Miller noted that the board had previously voted against that option at a workshop session.

Sheffield inquired of member Kristi Hassett whether there was any state legislation pending related to DOI, and Hassett said she thought it all had died, and that none of the bills related to it had gotten much interest.

Miller moved to cease pursuing DOI designation.  Newly-selected board President Angie Cox seconded the item.  She said that she did not see anything in the plan that she thought would have direct benefit to students.

Cox then called the vote, getting votes only from herself and Miller to kill the plan.

Miller then moved passage, and when the vote was taken, only Miller and Cox voted no.  Members Kristi Hassett, Proznik, Katherine Sells, Kronda Thimesch, and Sheffield voted in favor, making the supermajority needed.

The district’s plan is a copy of the district’s Strategic Design plan, with the added designation of five items the district intends to opt out of.

The first item listed is the uniform start date for the district’s academic calendar.  It identifies Texas Education Code 25.0811(a) which requires schools to start the school year after the fourth Monday in August.  The district’s plan says this limits the amount of instructional time before state and advanced placement tests, and inhibits alignment with colleges that offer dual credit in the district.

The district also wants exemption from TEC 25.081, which requires districts to provide at least 75,600 minutes of instruction per school year.  

LISD wants exemption from TEC 37.0012, which requires a single person be designated as each campus’ behavior coordinator.  They instead prefer to use a team approach to school discipline which would allow campus principals to divide or delegate those duties.

For teachers who are hired with prior experience, but on probationary contracts, the district would like exemption from TEC 21.102(b) which currently limits those probationary contracts to one year.  The district says that may not be enough time to evaluate a teacher’s effectiveness, since contracts have to be renewed prior to “availability of end-of-year classroom and student data.”  This could mean student passing rates on local assessments or possibly for state assessments.

The district also wants the ability to hire non-certified teachers for certain career, technology and foreign language classes when the district finds those positions difficult to fill.  The district would offer its own local teaching permit which would not be transferable to another district.

In its plan the district notes that through its review process, further exemptions may be needed.

Proponents of DOI designation generally say that the provisions grant more local control and flexibility.  Texas Association of School Boards executive director James B. Crow encouraged school districts to try the program in an article for Texas Lone Star.  

“For years, Texas school board members and administrators have complained about the ever-increasing number of state mandates and prescriptive laws and bemoaned the continual erosion of local control,” Crow wrote. “Now there is a realistic process for districts to do something about this. Take advantage. Investigate the possibilities and the potential of becoming a district of innovation.”

Some opponents, notably unions like Texas AFT, the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, argue that these exemptions may weaken important protections for students, parents, and teachers.  The safe schools act and class-size limitations are two examples of things that Texas AFT says could be exempted by districts.

In a prior interview from March, Miller told The Lewisville Texan Journal that he believed the DOI legislation was an attempt by the legislature not to deal with the tough things needed to ensure parity between public school districts and charter schools.

“What I focused on simply is for me to support district of innovation, it would have to be that I see where it drives student achievement, that’s got to be quantifiable, where it allows us to measure learners, that’s part of our job — where it allows us to make sure that we get kids to come to school because kids who are hungry or tired or not healthy or not safe or not at school at all are not going to graduate,” Miller said.  “So where does it help us on that spectrum and then … why is this good for teachers?”

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