The Texas State Teacher's Association has filed a grievance against SAISD on converting Stewart Elementary into an in-district charter school.
SAISD has enlisted New York-based charter operator Democracy Prep to take over chronically failing Stewart Elementary. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Representatives from statewide and local teachers’ associations filed a complaint Monday against San Antonio ISD for a partnership the district is negotiating with charter operator Democracy Prep.

In January, the SAISD board of trustees voted to advance the application to convert Stewart Elementary School, a chronically failing campus, to an in-district charter run by New York-based Democracy Prep, beginning in the fall of 2018. The agreement still needs final approval by the board.

In the complaint filed with SAISD Monday, Texas State Teacher’s Association and San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel members wrote their grievance is based on board action from the Jan. 22 meeting.

“This action will have a detrimental effect on the members of the Texas State Teachers Association and the students of the San Antonio ISD community,” the complaint reads, listing a number of alleged violations the SAISD board committed in initially approving the contract.

The complaint lists three alleged Open Meetings Act violations and a number of additional alleged infractions of the Texas Education code.

“We have said through this entire process that there has been a lack of transparency,” Alliance President Shelley Potter said.

SAISD denies the board violated the Open Meetings Act, district spokeswoman Leslie Price wrote in an e-mail to the Rivard Report

The district “believes that our process in working toward the charter application with Democracy Prep is in accordance with Texas law,” the e-mail states.

Price said the specific provision of the education code cited in the grievance does not apply to the board’s action to authorize the in-district charter. She said SAISD used a different element of the code through an alternative authorization process.

Since the idea of an agreement between Democracy Prep and SAISD surfaced, Alliance members have complained that current Stewart employees would have to reapply to become Democracy Prep employees to retain their jobs.

Price said the district has told Stewart employees that if they do not wish to become Democracy Prep employees, they will be placed elsewhere within SAISD.

SAISD board policy stipulates that complaints filed against the school district fall into one of three categories: Levels One, Two, or Three. The complaint filed on Monday ranks as Level One and will be directed to the Stewart Elementary School Principal Kathleen St. Clair, Potter said.

“Unless otherwise agreed between the parties, the Level One meeting shall be conducted within ten days of receipt of the written complaint,” board policy reads. After the grievance is addressed in a meeting, an SAISD administrator is required to write to the complainant. The complainant then has 10 days to appeal to the next level, if they wish.

Potter said she has yet to hear from the district.

Level Two complaints go to the superintendent, and Level Three complaints go to the board of trustees, with the opportunity to appeal decisions following the grievance meetings.

A TSTA press release said the complainants could appeal to the Texas Education Agency or a state district court if it does not receive its desired outcome, which is nullifying the Jan. 22 board vote and ensuring that all Stewart teacher contracts and other employee rights will remain unchanged.

Potter said she doesn’t know if the Alliance’s complaint will truly start as a Level One grievance, because the Stewart principal doesn’t have the power to grant the desired outcome of nullifying board action.

Potter and other Alliance members plan to be at a March 19 board meeting to elaborate on their issues with the Democracy Prep agreement.

The SAISD board plans to take up the official contract between the district and Democracy Prep at a March meeting. Potter said she has not seen a copy of the contract, but has heard rumors about the length of the contract and other elements that might be included.

“We think it is a very solid grievance or we wouldn’t have filed it,” Potter said.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.