SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez (left) speaks with school board trustees.
The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel have filed a lawsuit against SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez (left) and each of the district's trustees. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel filed a lawsuit Friday against San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez and district trustees seeking to halt an agreement with a charter school operator.

The lawsuit asks for a temporary injunction against what it calls “the takeover” of Stewart Elementary School by New York-based charter school operator Democracy Prep, according to a press release from the Texas State Teachers Association.

The lawsuit alleges that SAISD violated state law by entering into a contract with Democracy Prep “without consulting with the campus staff about the provisions of the contract.”

“We have not seen the lawsuit,” SAISD spokeswoman Leslie Price said Friday afternoon. “We believe that the process the District followed in entering into the agreement with Democracy Prep was in accordance with Texas law.”

In March, SAISD trustees approved a partnership with Democracy Prep to operate Stewart in order to delay the threat of campus closure. When it was approved, SAISD began to plan for Democracy Prep to take over operations at Stewart starting in the 2018-19 school year.

The state’s accountability system mandates that at the end of 2017-18, if a campus has received five or more consecutive failing or “improvement required” grades, the Texas Education Agency must either close the campus or install a board of managers to govern a district.

The partnership with Stewart allows SAISD to pause the accountability timeline for two years while Democracy Prep attempts to obtain a passing “met standard” grade from the state.

“It is regrettable that adult concerns are getting in the way of the best interest of students,” Trustee Steve Lecholop (D1) said of the lawsuit.

The Alliance has been critical of the partnership, especially the part of the agreement that allows Democracy Prep to make all hiring decisions about campus staff. SAISD teachers who want to continue to work at Stewart must reapply to become a Democracy Prep employee. Martinez said any teachers not re-hired at Stewart or who wish to remain SAISD employees would be placed elsewhere in the district.

This lawsuit is the Alliance’s latest move against the Democracy Prep partnership. In early March, the Alliance filed a formal complaint with the district.

Early last week, posters began appearing around the district, questioning Martinez’s work experience and the district’s decision to hand over operations to Democracy Prep.

“School superintendents and school boards are not above the law, which is designed to protect the best interests of school employees as well as students and parents,” Alliance President Shelley Potter said in a prepared statement. “School teachers, staff, our students’ parents and the community were ignored in the district’s haste to turn over a neighborhood campus to a New York charter company with no ties to our community.”

Board President Patti Radle said SAISD is in a “very awkward position” and that the district had limited options to begin with when thinking about how to save Stewart from campus closure.

Radle said she was disappointed to see the Alliance didn’t understand the district tried to made the best of the situation at Stewart. Going forward, she said the district will try to leave the door open to the Alliance to work together in other ways, but maintaining a good relationship with the teacher’s group might be difficult.

Radle said the board and district have publicly acknowledged it could have done better communicating prior to the Stewart partnership deal, but that acknowledgement doesn’t seem to have made a difference.

“If [the Alliance] can’t hear us say, ‘yes, we should have done better,’ then they can’t hear us say anything,” she said. “It makes it difficult to work together.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.