Shelley Potter walks out of Karen Pozza's courtroom for a quick break.
Shelley Potter, San Antonio Alliance president, walks out of Bexar County District Judge Karen Pozza's courtroom during a hearing Friday. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Bexar County District Judge Karen Pozza on Monday denied the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel’s request for a temporary injunction that would have stopped New York-based charter operator Democracy Prep from taking over operations at Stewart Elementary.

Pozza also denied a motion by San Antonio Independent School District and Democracy Prep to dismiss the suit. The Alliance filed the lawsuit last month alleging that SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez and the district’s board of trustees violated state law by entering into a contract with Democracy Prep “without consulting with the campus staff about the provisions of the contract.”

Following the decision denying the temporary injunction, Alliance President Shelley Potter said she needs to consult with her attorney, but still plans to continue the suit.

“The lawsuit itself is still alive, and we will still have the opportunity to make our arguments,” Potter told the Rivard Report. “We still believe that the district violated the law. …”

The Alliance sought the temporary injunction to halt an agreement that would have allowed Democracy Prep to operate Stewart Elementary as an in-district charter starting July 1. SAISD entered into the agreement with the charter operator because Stewart had repeatedly received failing grades under the state’s accountability system.

Under Texas law, after a certain amount of consecutive failing grades, the Texas Education Agency will either close the campus or appoint a board of managers to govern the district in the place of the elected board of trustees. A new law allows school districts to partner with nonprofits, charter operators, government agencies, or higher education institutions to convert chronically failing campuses into in-district charters and pause the accountability system for two years.

The Alliance has opposed the partnership because SAISD teachers who want to continue to work at Stewart must reapply to become Democracy Prep employees. Martinez has said that teachers not re-hired at Stewart who wish to remain SAISD employees would be placed elsewhere in the district.

The Alliance argued in court Friday that SAISD had not met a specific requirement of the Texas Education Code that mandates a school district “consult” with the staff of a school before entering into a charter partnership.

“We continue to believe that this is what the superintendent wanted to do all along and it was too much of a bother for him to consult with the teachers, with the community, with the parents,” Potter said Monday.

In court on Friday, SAISD attorney Darin Darby said that the district had in fact consulted with Stewart staff at a meeting on Jan. 18, the week before the district’s board of trustees took initial action to approve the Democracy Prep agreement.

“Consult does not mean consent,” Darby said on Friday.

Darby also argued that the specific statute the Alliance cited only applied to “open-enrollment charters,” not Democracy Prep, which for the purpose of the new charter partnership law, qualifies as a nonprofit.

SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said the district continues to assert it did not violate any laws.

“We are pleased to be moving forward in implementing this partnership for Stewart Elementary,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Rivard Report. “The District continues to believe that it met all the requirements under Texas law in entering into the agreement with Democracy Prep.”

The Alliance also is engaged in a grievance process through the district after the group filed an official complaint about the charter partnership in March. Potter told reporters on Friday that the Alliance had one grievance meeting with Deputy Superintendent Pauline Dow. In the grievance, the Alliance contends that converting Stewart to a charter would be harmful to teachers and the school’s students.

If the grievance process proceeds, it can culminate in a meeting with Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, but Potter said that could take eight months, which would be long after Democracy Prep takes over operations at Stewart.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.