Deal with state will keep Marlin schools open another year

The Marlin Independent School District has entered into another agreement with the Texas Education Agency to keep its chronically underperforming schools open this year, while the district works to enhance student academic performance.

The Marlin ISD state-appointed board of managers unanimously approved the agreement at a meeting last week. The abatement agreement, a device employed by TEA and Marlin ISD since 2015, is intended to keep schools open while the state and district work together to get the schools back on track, interim superintendent Jean Bahney said.

“It’s a positive step in that we have an agreement to give us additional time to work on areas of concern and promote student achievement,” she said.

Bahney, herself a state appointee, worked as the district’s conservator until August, when former superintendent Michael Seabolt resigned. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed her as interim superintendent for this school year after Seabolt’s resignation.

Marlin ISD is the only Texas public school district to be on the state’s list of districts that have failed accountability requirements for eight consecutive years — longer than any other school district, according to the TEA website. Its enrollment sits at 880 students.

Marlin Elementary School has failed accountability ratings for the past four years, while Marlin Junior Academy failed last year. Marlin High School was the only campus of the three to pass accountability standards last year, but the district overall failed.

If Marlin ISD fails accountability ratings again this school year, Morath will revoke the district’s accreditation status again and order the district’s closure, according to a copy of the agreement. But if Marlin receives passing ratings, the commissioner will reevaluate the 2017-2018 accreditation status and notify the district at a later date.

The agreement also states the board would waive its right to appeal a closure decision and that the TEA can take action at any time to intervene in the district.

In February, Morath revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 school year, after the district failed state academic accountability standards based on standardized exam scores for the seventh consecutive year.

The district has faced the same possibility the past three school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA.

As part of the state’s intervention in the district, Morath also appointed Bahney as the conservator to the district to “prevent substantial or imminent harm to the welfare of the district’s students or to the public interest,” the February letter states.

In August, when Morath appointed Bahney as interim superintendent, he also assigned a new conservator, Diana Vaughn, to the district. Vaughn’s hourly fee is $85, plus any necessary travel expenses, which must be paid by the district.

In fall 2016, Morath announced he would replace the Marlin ISD elected board of trustees with a state-appointed board of managers and promote the state-assigned monitor to a conservator, after the district failed accountability standards for five consecutive years. Conservators have the power to direct the board and oversee the general administration of the district.

TEA installed the board of managers at Marlin ISD in February 2017.

In January, Morath extended the appointment of the board of managers for another two years, citing a “lack of improvement” at the district.