Nichole Reece Commentary: North East ISD Board Resistance to Efforts to Shift from “Old School” Way
Nichole Reece Commentary: North East ISD Board Resistance to Efforts to Shift from “Old School” Ways
In the span of less than two minutes, North East ISD board member David Beyer managed to dress down two trustees and seemingly impugn the role of spouses, the community and parents as relates to providing input on board policy.
Beyer’s trigger appears to be that the wife of trustee Steve Hilliard helped him work on policies that he brought to the board to consider. Hilliard, in a prior meeting, had given a presentation showing examples of gaps in the current policies, which were allowing things to fall through the cracks. He stated that improvements could, among other things, make the work of the committees more meaningful and transparent to the community.
Before the agenda item, Hilliard’s wife, Paula, spoke at the public microphone. She remarked that revisions could lead to greater diversity of viewpoints rather than hearing from a single stream of voices. She indicated changes would help teachers and parents to be heard and valued.
According to the agenda, policy revisions were proposed for BQA and BQA Local. These govern the district-level and campus-level committees at the district. At North East ISD they are rather old.
Subchapter B of Chapter 11 of the Texas Education Code lists these committees in the section regarding the organization of Independent School Districts. Sec. 11.011 states, in part:
“The board of trustees of an independent school district, the superintendent of the district, the campus administrators, and the district- and campus-level committees established under Section 11.251 shall contribute to the operation of the district.”
In legislation, they are fundamental to the structure of a school district. At the district level, the committee has elected employee representatives, mostly teachers, as well as parents and at least one community and business member. At the campus level, it is similar, but for the campus. These committees devise and revise major plans for how the district approaches student academic improvement and staff training, among other things.
“How much of this did you write versus how much of this did your spouse write?” asked Beyer, soon adding, “Your wife is not elected to this body, and my wife doesn’t help me write policy. This is the board’s policy. So I’m a little offended that is not by a fellow [board member].”
Beyer did not identify any specific policy he has independently brought forward for the board’s consideration.
Trustee Marsha Landry intervened into the uncomfortable moment to state that anyone can bring forward a policy.
Beyer snapped back saying, “his wife, has a representative on board, and he is right there next to you.”
With that, Beyer deviated from the public position of the board of North East ISD that says each board member represents the residents of the entire district.
See the moment here.
Other board members also questioned Hilliard’s motives, using similar talking points and complaining that at the last month’s presentation they were unprepared because he hadn’t transmitted to the board his full proposal.
The Texas Open Meetings Act has provisions which help ensure boards don’t do backroom deals, communicating with each other about the district outside of the eyes or knowledge of the public. Such quorum communication has to occur solely in the context of a duly-called board meeting.
At Monday’s meeting, while being challenged by Board President Shannon Grona, Hilliard read excerpts from a survey of a member of one of these committees. The statement said things like, “I felt like decisions were already made” and “we were a rubber stamp.”
It will be seen whether that input will spur any investigations, research, or consideration by staff or board members when the board revisits these policies at a later date.
During what some parents in the community called “misogynistic” and “bullying” behavior by Beyer, President Grona did not stop the inappropriate comments, instead taking a sip of water when Beyer turned his negative attention to Trustee Landry.
Members of the board are supposed to be public servants who act with proper decorum and respect of not just fellow board members but members of the community.
In an interview for this piece, Paula Hilliard stated, “The experience left me assuming that at no time in recent board history has any board member proactively presented policy improvements, or consulted community members to come up with policy. The Board policy BF local invites it, but that is little-known, it seems.” She added, “I have no explanation for why it was offensive for a husband and wife to work together to bring an idea to the district. It seems to me that shows my husband’s deep regard for my intellect, and my deep support for his public service. I enjoyed working with him and am proud of what we came up with as a first draft for the board.”
Mrs. Hilliard said, while she felt unsafe speaking on behalf of her husband, what prompted her to learn about these policies were some comments she had heard through the years where members of these committees felt they were a waste of time, and they weren’t allowed to talk.
“I can remember three specific examples of three different schools, and parents had simple and good ideas, but the CIC either didn’t meet, or wouldn’t consider the proposals. I wanted to find out who controlled the agenda, and why no one knows about these committees. I learned that they are required to have public meetings each year, and they are supposed to ask us for input and other things that would be good for our community.” “On a whim, I performed a small open records request to ask for evidence these public meetings were being held, and for minutes. Out of four schools, I found only one school with consistently good minutes, and it was a Title I school which suffers from very little parent involvement. That impressed me. If that school can do it well, I wonder what it would take to help all the schools do it better.”
Mrs. Hilliard contacted Mr. Beyer after the meeting, but has not heard back.
In the next piece, learn what else happened at that same meeting. Spoiler alert: The district halted sex education for middle and high schools. But, like anything school district-related, the story is not that simple, and parents would be wise to not let down their guard.
Mr. Beyer was asked for comment but did not reply at the time the story was submitted.