The SAISD board of trustees approved five management agreements that will turn the day-to-day operations at 18 campuses over to nonprofit partners.
The SAISD board of trustees considers five management agreements that will turn the day-to-day operations at 18 campuses over to nonprofit partners. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

During a school board meeting that stretched to nearly five hours, San Antonio Independent School District trustees voted unanimously Monday night to approve five management agreements that will turn the day-to-day operations at 18 campuses over to nonprofit partners. In total, the board voted to grant in-district charter status to 19 campuses.

This vote was the culmination of SAISD’s Annual Call for Quality Schools 1.0, a new process by which school leaders can apply to redesign their campuses or partner with outside organizations to run campus operations.

Per district policy, campuses had to present petitions to the district with support from more than two-thirds of classroom teachers and parents of more than two-thirds of students – a level Burbank and Jefferson high schools failed to reach. Trustees voted to approve their applications anyway. The two schools met a lesser State requirement: support from a majority of parents and a majority of teachers.

Some teachers and community members expressed concerns that the district didn’t give families and staff at the campuses enough time to review the management agreements, which were posted Friday to be voted on at Monday night’s meeting. Together, the documents were more than 1,000 pages in length.

“Almost none of the staff I’ve talked to have seen the management agreements,” said San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel President Shelley Potter. She noted that support for an in-district charter status and a management agreement are different.

“If the board approves this it will be the wholesale giving away of the operations of these schools to these managing entities.”

At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Superintendent Pedro Martinez emphasized that the partnerships wouldn’t impact the employment status of the teachers on the campuses, the enrollment zones, or the staff – all employees at the schools will remain San Antonio ISD employees.

“If you vote for these partnerships, there will be no changes to the principal, no changes to the staff, no changes to the service children receive,” Martinez said.

However, partners have the authority to select and manage the principal of each campus.

With board approval of the management agreements, all but one of the 19 schools plan to apply for additional incentives offered through Senate Bill 1882, which offers greater funding per student for schools engaging in innovative partnerships with outside organizations.

Ball Academy submitted an application to become an in-district charter but is not seeking a partnership and is not expected to apply for additional incentives through SB 1882.

The partnerships will give the schools more flexibility to “deepen the quality of the program” and provide additional support and resources at each campus, district spokesperson Leslie Price said.

The 18 schools applying for partnerships are:

  • Young Women’s Leadership Academy and Young Women’s Leadership Academy Primary at Page for a partnership with Texas-based nonprofit Young Women’s Preparatory Network
  • Carroll Early Childhood Education Center and Tynan Early Childhood Education Center for a partnership with Michigan-based nonprofit High Scope Educational Research Foundation
  • Burbank High School, Jefferson High School, Harris Middle School, Fenwick Academy, Woodlawn Academy, Briscoe Elementary, Huppertz Elementary, and Woodlawn Hills Elementary for a partnership with Texas-based nonprofit Texas Council for International Studies
  • Bowden Academy, Gates Elementary School, and Lamar Elementary School for a partnership with Texas-based nonprofit School Innovation Collaborative
  • CAST Tech High School, CAST Med High School, and Advanced Learning Academy for a partnership with Texas-based nonprofit CAST Network

Each of the five proposals will turn day-to-day operations including grade configurations, calendar, staffing structure, and budgeting over to the partner’s appointed school leadership teams and staff.

The management agreements allow for the possibility that SAISD and the partners can reserve a certain percentage of seats for students outside the district. The only specific provision exists in the CAST Network agreement, where 50 percent of enrollment at the CAST schools and 25 percent of enrollment at Advanced Learning Academy will be set aside for non-SAISD students.

Each of the contracts also stipulates a management fee paid to the partner organization of roughly $100 per student in most cases. All of the money is supposed to be paid from any extra money that comes from SB 1882.

Should the Legislature repeal or defund SB 1882, the contracts allow either SAISD or the partner to renegotiate.

For each of the contracts, the superintendent or a designee is supposed to create a rubric to evaluate each of the schools. The School Performance Framework will be used in an evaluation period that comes up every three or five years.

All but the CAST agreement are written to last 10 years, ending in June 2029. The CAST agreement ends in June 2027.

Board approval of the management agreements transfers some oversight to a governing board run by the partner organizations. The boards will be formed in collaboration with the campus principal. District officials said the governing board must meet at least three times a year and post agendas at least a week in advance.

Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury.
Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The governing boards’ role is to protect and preserve the charter agreement, while the SAISD school board will still be responsible for regulating the charter and deciding to renew, revoke, or place a charter on probation, Chief Innovation Officer Mohammed Choudhury said.

The district can terminate an agreement early with a 70 percent vote of the full board if two or more campuses fail to meet the metrics outlined in the School Performance Framework within their three- or five-year review period; fail State accountability standards or are in the bottom 5 percent of all SAISD campuses after their second school year in operation; or fail to meet generally accepted accounting standards for fiscal management.

These partnerships differ from the highly controversial partnership SAISD forged at Stewart Elementary with Democracy Prep Public Schools last year. At the time, Stewart Elementary had received several consecutive failing ratings under the State’s accountability system. Approving a partnership through Senate Bill 1882 with Democracy Prep would have given Stewart a reprieve from State sanctions should the campus have failed State ratings again.

The Stewart agreement was a “turnaround partnership,” intended to reform a failing school. None of the partnerships up for approval Monday night is “turnaround” in nature.

Ball Academy’s in-district charter status allows it to introduce a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, liberal arts, and math) focus onto campus.

“We believe that STEAM will promote our mission by adding value to our students and supporting them in the future as they choose their path for responsibly and ethically contributing to society,” the Ball Academy application states.

The application also states that Ball intends to serve students inside and outside of its Southeast San Antonio attendance zone as well as SAISD’s boundaries. With new in-district charter status, Ball Academy would have more control over its budget, school day, and curriculum.

None of the Monday proposals will change the attendance boundaries of campuses that are considered “neighborhood schools,” Price said. Students living in the boundaries of those schools will still have the first priority to attend. Should there be additional room at the campus, SAISD would then open up seats to other interested students.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.