Last Sunday, The Daily News warned that the Texas Education Agency would be making a mistake if it appointed a monitor or conservator for the La Marque Independent School District.
It was not an influential suggestion. Within days, the state agency named Carlos Price, a former assistant superintendent in La Marque, as conservator. He was given authority to oversee parts of the district’s operations and management.
We still think that’s a mistake. The main problem with the move was that it was hopelessly late. After watching from the sidelines — for years — while the school district dug itself into a financial hole, the state acted only after the district’s finances finally began to improve. It’s hard to see that as inspirational leadership.
But given that the state has appointed a conservator, the district should make the best of it.
The district should try to regain its independence as quickly as possible and rebuild its ability to give students an adequate education.
Now’s the time for the community to be honest with itself on several points:
• First, La Marque has lost ultimate control of its district. No matter what is said to soften the blow — and a lot of sweet talking is being done — local officials are going to have to get approval from a representative of the state to do things every other school district does routinely. People in La Marque ought to get their school district back.
• Second, the problems with finances, though they have been horrific, are not the most pressing threat to the district’s survival today. The killer is the district’s academic performance. Somewhere along the way, the La Marque school district lost the ability to educate a reasonable number of its students. It’s got to regain that ability.
• Third, rebuilding the district’s reputation is going to take time. The school board made an excellent choice in its new superintendent, Terri Watkins. She’s making the right moves and is working hard to reconnect people with their public schools.
However, a turnaround on some of the state’s measures is a slow game. One key measure is completion rate. That’s a measure of the number of freshman who graduate from high school. Obviously, that’s a four-year process. The community needs to grasp the idea that this is going to take time.
• Fourth, the hard medicine is not over. The state’s measures suggest that the district still has some weak performers among its professional staff. It’s always sad when people lose their jobs. But people in the community should give the superintendent support when she decides to make the tough calls. More hard calls are going to be required of her.
• Fifth, an underlying theme in the dialogue between the state and the district has been mistrust of the board. La Marque has a narrow group of people who are willing to stand for office and take a role in trying to guide public institutions. For all the turmoil the school district has been through, there are few new candidates for school board. That has got to change.
People in the school district have some work to do to get their schools back.
A good first step would be to see the conservator and the state as partners, rather than adversaries.