Next Monday is a big day in Edinburg CISD. It is the day their district-level Site-Based-Decision-Making (DL-SBDM) council meets to vote for or against becoming a District of Innovation (DOI), better known as “The Dreaded DOI” or “The Go-Charter Movement.”

The district-level SBDM council is made up of at least one representative from each of the district’s campuses.

Though Dr. Rene Gutierrez, ECISD superintendent, insists the district only wants the DOI designation to have flexibility in creating the district calendar (current law does not allow public school districts in Texas to begin instruction before the fourth Monday in August), the potential of a DOI designation, along with ‘red flags’ being raised across the district have resulted in a push to stop the process. Teachers and community members in McAllen ISD recently stood up against moving forward with a DOI designation and Donna ISD school board members also recently ended the pursuit of becoming a DOI.

ECISD has only two more steps before becoming a DOI. The DL-SBDM council will meet March 20. The council must pass the pursuit of DOI by a simple majority (half plus one) of the council members (not just those present) for it to go to the final stage--a two-thirds majority of the ECISD school board.

So what is the potential of DOI, which, once passed, remains in effect for up to five years? Instead of applying for a waiver to go over the state-mandated 22:1 class size for grades K-4 (which requires that parents be notified), the DOI exemption would allow K-4 classes to be larger than 22:1 without notifying parents and without state approval. DOI also allows exemptions that include taking away teachers’ 45-minute planning period and 30-minute duty-free lunch, terminating teachers without due process, hiring teachers who are not certified to teach, and adhering to the Safe Schools Act, which allows teachers to write referrals and allows districts to remove or expel students based on school safety standards for students and teachers. Interestingly enough, DOI also allows districts to exempt themselves from having a district-level SBDM council.

Again, at this time, ECISD administrators are only asking for a calendar exemption at this time; however, during the plan’s five years ‘of life,’ changes can be made by taking it to a DOI advisory committee created by district administrators, without any approval needed from the state. It would then have to pass the district-level SBDM council—if it still exists—and then go to the school board, where it must pass with a two-thirds majority.

So let’s go to the ECISD ‘red flags’ that have affected the trust of many teachers and parents in the district. Keep in mind that trust is the foundation of DOI because of the allowable exemptions.

1. There are only two ways to start the DOI process—through a simple majority vote of the district-level SBDM council or through a board resolution. Although a DOI designation has been available since the 2015 legislative session, a district-level SBDM council emergency meeting was called Jan. 5 to discuss DOI. (Emergency?) SBDM members were given a 56-page packet about DOI and were then asked to vote on the district pursuing a DOI designation, despite the fact that the January 5 SBDM minutes read, “According to sign-in sheets, quorum was not met.” The motion ‘passed’ 17-16; however, the state requires a majority of the members, not of those present.

2. Jan. 19, teachers in ECISD received an email from Dr. Gutierrez informing them that Jan. 24, the board would be voting on a resolution to pursue DOI, thereby bypassing the district-level SBDM council. That resolution passed, with DOI still under the radar of most ECISD teachers and parents.

3. A DOI advisory committee was convened Feb. 9 to develop a DOI plan for the district. A whopping 102 people were invited to sit on this committee. Seems odd that the district needed 102 people just to develop a plan to start school a week earlier.

4. TEA requires the plan to be on the district’s website for 30 days. ECISD has finally increased the font size for the link to that plan. Until questions were raised about it, the font seemed unusually small compared to everything else on the district home page.

5. I have filed two Public Information Requests, one March 3 and one March 10, seeking information on the time of the SBDM meeting March 20. The response for the first PIR read, “…no SBDM meeting has been officially scheduled.” (Strange, since teachers were being called in and told they would have a sub for an 8:00 a.m. meeting.) I did not receive the time before the district closed down for spring break. The meeting is their first day back. Seems it would be scheduled by now. Teachers on the SBDM council have told me it will be held at 4:30 p.m. now.

In the last two-to-three weeks more ECISD teachers and parents have started asking, “All of this to start school a week earlier?” The OWLS are watching, too. Let’s see what happens Monday.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at cardis1022@aol.com.