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Houston ISD community members will have less time to digest proposed district policy changes and publicly share their opinions with school board members before key votes under a new practice quietly implemented by the state-appointed board.

HISD’s board of managers has replaced their traditional agenda review meetings with workshop meetings, where members will now undergo training or receive presentations, Board President Audrey Momanaee confirmed to the Abdelraoufsinno.

Historically, the board has held an agenda review on the first Thursday of each month, giving the public and board members an opportunity to consider proposed changes to the district and voice their thoughts ahead of votes set for the second Thursday of the month.

Under the new procedure, district officials will now post the monthly list of proposed changes 72 hours before the meeting where votes are taken. The public also will not be able to address board members publicly or hear board members discuss policy changes until hours before they are considered for passage by the board.

Community members can still communicate privately with board members ahead of votes. The district also will release monthly written “Q&A” documents on its website, in which board members pose questions related to items on the agenda that Superintendent Mike Miles’ team answers. HISD’s elected board used the same tactic before Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath replaced them with nine appointed members on June 1 as part of sanctions against the district.

Momanaee said Thursday the change, which was first implemented in November, will make board operations more efficient.

Houston ISD Board President Audrey Momanaee speaks during an interview June 3. (Abdelraoufsinno file photo / Marie D. De Jesús)

“What was happening before is that … you would have an agenda meeting where you're talking about the agenda and then you have another meeting where either you do or you don't talk about the agenda again,” Momanaee said.

“So to try to streamline that and use our time more effectively to do trainings and other things that we need to be doing, it just made more sense to switch to this process.”

District policy states that agenda review meetings are “normally held” before meetings where votes are taken, primarily so that trustees can preview items up for vote the following week. However, the policy does not state that board members must hold an agenda review meeting.

The change follows months of complaints from community members about the board’s lack of transparency, inadequate responses to emails from the public and limited pushback against Miles’ overhaul of HISD.

The change caused confusion for at least one community member who addressed the board at Thursday’s workshop meeting. HISD educator Maria Benzon said she was unclear why she couldn’t access the agenda packet. Benzon said she did not receive a response from HISD’s board services team, which she described as usually attentive, when she inquired about the issue.

“It's peculiar that no agenda packet was ever posted and that no reply was given,” Benzon said. “Please post agenda packet materials prior to future meetings.”

Momanaee acknowledged that she was fuzzy on how the district communicated the ending of agenda review meetings to the HISD community. The move is a change in practice, not a written change in HISD policy that required a board vote, Momanaee said.

“I feel like I said something about it during our meeting, but I can't remember,” she said.

The board is expected to vote Thursday on taking the final step to becoming a District of Innovation, a move that includes fundamental changes to the district such as starting the school year earlier and increasing the number of academic days. A full agenda detailing what else will be considered Thursday hasn’t been posted.

Momanaee said HISD’s previous practice of holding an agenda preview meeting followed by an official meeting a week later is not a tactic that all other districts in the state employ. State law gives school boards discretion over how to organize board meetings.

Three of the other largest districts in the Houston area — Cypress-Fairbanks, Katy and Fort Bend independent school districts — hold agenda review meetings the week before their official board meetings. Aldine Independent School District holds a “study session” the day before board meetings.

Momanaee said board members will still have a chance to listen to community members’ feedback during public comment before votes are taken.

“I hear what you're saying about the timing, but the end result is the same at the end of the day,” Momanaee said. “Because we are sitting there on the day of the meeting making the decisions. We're not making the decisions beforehand.”

Asher Lehrer-Small covers Houston ISD for the Landing and would love to hear your tips, questions and story ideas. Reach him at [email protected].

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Asher Lehrer-Small is a K-12 education reporter for the Abdelraoufsinno. He previously spent three years covering schools for The 74 where he was recognized by the Education Writers Association as one...