August 2009 Newsletter

Dear Fellow Educators and Friends,

At the July State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting, a number of events took place that have further alerted the public and the media that things are not as they should be in the decision-making processes exercised by the Board.  The Board voted 1) to select an under-qualified investment counsel advisor for the Permanent School Fund (PSF); 2) ignored the SBOE Charter School process; 3) killed a new Career and Technology Math course without good cause.

The obvious question is: “Why have these votes taken place?”

Since the last election in 2006, there has been a voting bloc of eight members of the Board that controls the agenda and makes decisions based more on wielding its power than considering what is best for Texas public schools.  After the actions of the July meeting, it was clear to anyone watching that the traditional process of collegiality that has characterized the SBOE for years, is no longer present and that this bloc of members is ignoring the committee process of discussing and investigating issues before bringing them to the full Board for a vote.  This has left the rest of the Board frustrated and discouraged by the railroading of agendas on such important issues.

Already, the legislature has expressed its disappointment with the Board when the SBOE narrowly escaped the passage of a number of bills that would have significantly diminished its power, if not eradicated it altogether.  One legislator said:

“We need to take all the power away, leaving the board with nothing to do except meet for coffee.”

Thankfully, these bills failed to pass, but legislators continue to voice their concerns and have promised to monitor the Board’s behavior in the interim.  In fact, the July actions of the eight member voting bloc may only serve to validate the concerns of the legislature and education community to revert back to a Governor appointed board. Now, the public and the media are coming forward with concerns of a possible violation of the open meetings law, and with questions about ethical transparency.

As we entered into the July meeting, the Board was set to select a new investment team to manage the Permanent School Fund.  The PSF is a nearly $19 billion endowment used to provide free books for Texas school children, and thus it was imperative that the firm we chose be able to maintain and grow the Fund to meet the needs of our students.  A few months ago, it came to the attention of the Board that at least one of the members on the Committee of School Finance and Permanent School Fund had previously worked with one of the three firms being considered, and that communication between that member and one of the firm’s employees took place during the procurement period.

When the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) professional staff ranked the firms under consideration, that firm was ranked third – out of three – in every area evaluated.  Nevertheless, this company was chosen by the bloc of eight, in spite of the fact that other members had serious concerns with its ability to do the job.  When the vote came before the Board, those apprehensions were raised again.  However, the voting bloc of eight members were able to cut off debate and vote in the least qualified investment team under consideration.

Similarly, the very deliberate Charter School selection process was compromised when the Committee on School Initiatives voted unanimously to delay a decision in awarding a public charter school the single open slot in the state.  However, when the discussion came up at the full Board meeting, a member (one of the eight) made a motion to ignore the Committee’s decision and vote on a school.  The charter was awarded to Koinonia Community Learning Academy in Houston, and while I have nothing against this school, the Board members could not make a well-informed decision because they did not have enough information on the schools being considered.

Finally, the Board voted to adopt a new math course into the Career and Technology TEKS.  This course was more useful for the 21st Century, as it applied math principles to current events.  However, in a rare move, a motion was made to reconsider the vote in the final minutes of the meeting because of concerns that the course was not conventional enough (specifically for the voting bloc of eight members).  Advocates for the course had already gone home, confident that they had allayed all concerns raised by the Board by making changes to the course to the apparent satisfaction of these Board members.  They were livid when they heard the news that their course had, in fact, been rejected.

Someone once told me that there is no Democrat or Republican way to educate kids, just the right way.  It has been my experience over the past 25 years that when the Board focuses on the children, then both sides generally come together and find common ground.  We were able to do that with the changes to the Science curriculum.

Now, with the consideration of the Social Studies curriculum update, we must be careful to avoid the temptation to rewrite history.  For example, in the last adoption of history textbooks, some of the publishers attempted to revise the World War II invasion of Normandy by calling it a failed effort.  Fortunately, we were able to correct that error, but similar issues will come before us in the meeting ahead, and we must be prepared to handle them.

As we look forward, I sincerely hope we can re-evaluate where we are and get back on track in order to regain the confidence of the legislature and our constituents.  The school children of Texas deserve no less!

Respectfully,

Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, SBOE, Dist. 12

Member since 1984, Chair from 2003-2007