The Case For, and Against, Closing North Forest ISD

Shadydale Elementary students
Today marks do or die for the North Forest Independent School District. Attorneys for North Forest and the Texas Education Agency will each present their case: Why the long troubled school district should stay open and why it's time to close it down.

The hearing for North Forest is like a trial. Each side has four hours to present their case and question witnesses.

North Forest wants the hearing officer to step aside because they think she’s prejudiced against the district.

It’s very rare and certainly not popular to shut down an entire school district. It’s happened only four times in nearly twenty years in Texas.

Last year North Forest Independent School District avoided the axe. Now it’s desperately trying to stay alive again.

“This district is on the right path and the right track to becoming a quality school district in Texas. Closure today is not the right remedy.”

That’s Chris Tritico the attorney for North Forest ISD. He says the district has come a long way in a short time.

“This year we turned in our audit report timely and with a four and half million dollar fund balance and it was unchallenged. We have made great strides in our educational output and we still have work to do. But we’ve improved our completion rate 12 percent in the last school year and that’s greater than any district in the state of Texas that I’ve been able to find.”

The Texas Education Commissioner views it differently.

For decades North Forest has struggled with poor academics and financial mismanagement. It has gotten a failing grade from the state for three years in a row.

The state wants to close North Forest in what would be the largest school district ever shuttered in Texas.

Students from North Forest– plus the tax-dollars and buildings – would go to the Houston Independent School District.

James Troutman is an administrator with North Forest. He says that won’t help because the nearby Houston high schools are also failing.

“It’s really not just a North Forest problem.  It’s a challenge with poor minority communities in Northeast Houston. And it just takes time to really make change.”

Time is really the question. How long does the state give a district to turn itself around? And when is it time to start over?

“I think we’ve waited way too long on North Forest, there’s a district that’s really performing a disservice to the children of the district.”

Bob Sanborn is with the advocacy group Children at Risk.

“For only this year the proposal to be made about working with Texas A&M [University] or only this year the proposal being made about working with the charter schools, it’s like they’re waiting for the hatchet to fall before any interesting proposals are being made. This is a school district that needs to move beyond where they are.”

Sanborn says if the state were tougher on failing schools they would try to get better faster.

And Texas has more than 70 districts that are failing and need to improve, just like North Forest.

From the KUHF Education Desk, I’m Laura Isensee.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...