Austin ISD may still face conservatorship under the state's alternative special ed plan
Austin ISD has released the plan the Texas Education Agency proposed to improve special education services in the district.
Interim Superintendent Matias Segura announced Wednesday the TEA had presented the district an alternative to a special education conservatorship, but shared few specifics during a news conference.
TEA officials recommended a conservatorship after an investigation found AISD repeatedly failed to provide legally required services to students with disabilities. Under a conservatorship, the education commissioner would appoint experts to manage AISD's special education department and could compel the district to make changes.
Segura said the new proposal from TEA was a sign Austin ISD is making progress on improving longtime issues facing the district, including a backlog of special education evaluations.
"We know the breadth, depth, and seriousness of the challenges facing our Special Education program," Segura said in an email to AISD families, "and we have committed significant time and resources to improve the department and better serve our students."
Austin ISD could still get a conservator under the agreement the TEA has proposed, however.
The TEA states it will appoint one or more monitors to track whether AISD is taking steps to improve special education within a specific timeframe. Those steps include things such as:
- Completing all outstanding evaluations for special education services.
- Determining what compensatory services students who had a delayed evaluation are entitled to.
- Creating an accurate system for tracking whether the district is meeting state and federal special education requirements.
- Publishing a report on the state of Austin ISD's special education services by June 30, 2024, and making it available to the public.
If the monitor finds the district has failed to take "corrective action" — and the education commissioner agrees — TEA can then appoint either a conservator or a team of conservators.
The TEA's proposal also includes requirements the Austin ISD Board of Trustees must meet to be considered compliant. For one thing, trustees and the interim superintendent will need to participate in a two-day training for school boards, the Lone Star Governance workshop. TEA-approved coaches conduct the training.
The board would also need to get, at its own expense, a Lone Star Governance coach to "coach the board through governance-related requirements designed to create the governance conditions for Austin ISD to come into compliance with special education laws," the agreement states.
The proposal also stipulates that the school board must take actions, such as:
- Spend 50% of each board meeting on student outcomes, including where the district is making required improvements to special education.
- Report at each board meeting how much time they spent on student outcomes during the previous meeting.
- Make changes to board policies no later than Dec. 31 to "to expeditiously achieve compliance with special education laws."
One of those changes, according to the agreement, includes giving the superintendent "exclusive hiring authority on all district staff except for the internal auditor." The TEA proposal also states that the board, if it makes these policy changes, cannot significantly alter them for five years.
Austin ISD School Board President Arati Singh has said trustees and Segura will provide a public update on the TEA proposal at Thursday's board meeting before discussing next steps in closed session. The board must vote on whether to accept the new plan by Sept. 29.
But Singh said the board will likely make a decision at its Sept. 21 board meeting.
"Our goal is to minimize disruptions in Austin ISD’s work to implement sustainable, transformational improvements to special education and support for our students," she said in a statement.