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North Forest Independent School District (NFISD) was a school district based in northeast Houston, Texas. The district has had a history of financial and academic issues since the late 1980s until 2013, when the state proceeded to have the district closed. The district officially closed on July 1, 2013 and it was absorbed into the Houston Independent School District.
The district was established sometime around 1923. The district was originally named Northeast Houston Independent School District. The district originated as a single school in Harris County. It was also named the East and Mount Houston Independent School District.
The district originally had a low income rural White population. Schools were segregated until the late 1960s. By the 1970s the State of Texas required its schools to racially integrate. At that time NFISD was a mostly White suburban area. African-American families moved to North Forest for the acclaimed schools. After desegregation, many White families moved to other communities along U.S. Highway 59 such as Aldine, Humble, and Porter. NHISD was a mostly white district throughout the 1970s. The current NFISD was formed out of Northeast Houston ISD. After White families left, African-American families became the majority and gained political control of NFISD. By the late 1970s black people took control of the school board, making it one of the largest black-run school districts in the state.
Billy Reagan, a former superintendent of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), said that he observed NFISD around the 1970s and considered bringing the district into HISD. In the late 1970s he sent people to the TEA to gather information on the viability of the merger attempt. The response to Reagan stated that desegregation laws made it illegal to have the merger of two minority-population school districts. Area residents stated that they were not annexed by HISD because they wanted to maintain political control over their own schools. Reagan asked the superintendent of the Humble Independent School District to check if the state would allow his district to annex North Forest. According to Reagan, the Humble ISD superintendent did not take any actions to acquire NFISD and no other school districts neighboring NFISD seemed to be interested in acquiring it.
In 1979 NFISD area residents discovered that a company had lied to them about a development; it claimed that houses were being developed on a site, when in reality a landfill was being placed there. The proposed landfill was about 1,400 feet (430 m) from the NFISD administration building, an NFISD high school, the NFISD sports stadium, and an NFISD track field. At the time the NFISD high school did not have air conditioning. Seven NFISD schools were within a 2-mile (3.2 km) radius of the landfill. In 1979 the area residents sued the landfill company in federal court. In 1985 the residents lost the suit in federal court. Due to the political efforts against the landfill, remedies were passed at the state and municipal levels.
In 1981 the NFISD Police Department was established.
As of October 12, 1989, NFISD was the largest school district in the State of Texas managed by African-Americans.
In 1991 voters approved an about $40 million NFISD bond.
In 1997 voters approved a bond in an election, leading to the construction of four schools. On March 1, 1998, the district issued $46.9 million worth of the approved bonds. The district used $5 million to refund older bonds at an interest rate that favored NFISD. The remaining funds were used to construct B. C. Elmore Middle School, East Houston Intermediate School (now Hilliard Elementary School), Keahey Intermediate School (was Marshall Early Childhood Center at the time of NFISD closure), and Shadydale Elementary School. In 1999 voters approved another about $40 million NFISD bond.
In June 2001 Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston, damaging six NFISD schools. Forest Brook High School sustained heavy damage after the storm; Forest Brook, Lakewood Elementary School, and the NFISD district administration building were closed due to storm damages. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that it would pay 75% of the damage costs sustained as a result of Allison. FEMA planned to give NFISD $1.4 million as its first installment of payments in November 2001.
On March 18, 2003 it had a budget of $65 million during that year; about $50 million came from the state and the rest came from property taxes.
On July 20, 2007, some teenagers vandalized Forest Brook High School with a water hose. Students at Forest Brook began the 2007-2008 school year at nearby M. B. Smiley High School. Forest Brook re-opened in the spring. After the vandalism of Forest Brook High School, North Forest ISD decided to merge Forest Brook's population into Smiley until Forest Brook is repaired. Some parents and observers criticized the decision, fearing territorial rivalries would cause tension between Forest Brook and Smiley students. School officials states that the repair would take at least four months.
In March 2008 North Forest ISD announced that it would consolidate its two high schools and close Tidwell Elementary School, merging it into Hilliard. Pupils formerly zoned to Tidwell started being a part of the Hilliard zone in August 2008.
Since the late 1980s, and by 2011, the district has experienced reoccurring financial and academic problems. Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle said "The story has been the same for years in this small, poor, mostly black school district in northeast Houston: Financial problems, shoddy recordkeeping and low test scores prompt sanctions from the state. Employees get indicted on criminal charges. The school board fires the superintendent. The district might improve some but then falls again." Joshua Benton of The Dallas Morning News said "[i]n many ways, its schools are to Houston what the since-closed Wilmer-Hutchins schools were to Dallas: the ones that were always in trouble."
Because of the issues, many parents in the NFISD area enrolled their children in state charter schools or moved out of the district area. John Sawyer, the head of the Harris County Department of Education, said in 2007 "The Wilmer-Hutchins school district had a history that sounded like a reflection of North Forest in many, many ways, and they were ultimately closed." The State of Texas had monitored the district in the late 1980s and 2001 mostly due to financial issues.
The district had the highest March 10, 1986 TECAT (Texas Examination of Current Administrators and Teachers) failure rate of any large school district. 25% of the district's administrators and teachers did not pass. In 1997 there was an editorial with the title "Clouds hover over northeast Houston district again." In 1988 the TEA assigned a monitor to NFISD to deal with the school board and the finances; Ericka Mellon of the Houston Chronicle said that the school board was "meddling." On October 12, 1989, the Houston Chronicle printed an article, "North Forest district shows off its `other' side in tour," about the district trying to create a positive impression in the media.
In 1988 Carrol Thomas became the superintendent. Thomas said that the TEA supported his efforts to improve the district and that he had an improvement plan for NFISD. Under his term, the graduation rates and test scores increased. The financial record-keeping was improved several years after he took office. State records indicate that he won awards for his actions. In 1996 he became the superintendent of the Beaumont Independent School District. After Thomas left, the district began to decline again. Senfronia Thompson, a Texas House of Representatives member serving portions of the NFISD area, said in 2013 that in the early 2000s state laws had been changed, making it easier for the state to close poorly performing school districts. The Wilmer Hutchins Independent School District and the Kendleton Independent School District, two predominately black school districts, were closed. Chris Tritico, a lawyer representing North Forest, accused the state of only trying to annex black-populated school districts.
In a 2006 article Todd Spivak of the Houston Chronicle, described NFISD as "a prime example of how inconsistency can wreak havoc on schools." In the five years before 2006 NFISD had four superintendents. In the years leading to 2006 the Texas Education Agency had indicated financial and governance problems at NFISD. Dr. Robert Sanborn, the president and CEO of the organization Children at Risk, analyzed North Forest ISD during that year. He describes the state of affairs as "inexcusable" as the district managed two high schools at the time; both posted state test scores considered to be poor and SAT scores considered to be the lowest in the Houston area. During the same year Dan Feldstein of the Houston Chronicle said "By many measures, North Forest, which would serve the subdivision, is a troubled district. Not only is it last in Harris County in SAT scores and passing rates on the TAKS test, but it ranks among the worst in the state." In late 2006 the TEA assigned two teachers to monitor two NFISD campuses that were rated "unacceptable" by the TEA.
Around 2007, the school district's average SAT scores for its high school students, 748 of 1600, was among the lowest in the state. Eight of the district's 11 schools received the TEA rating "unacceptable." Patty Pinkley, a teacher of "technology applications," did not receive any working computers until March in the school year.
A February 2007 report by the Texas Education Agency, based on data from 2005, said that Forest Brook High School had no cheating, mainly based on the testimony of school officials, who said that cheating did not occur. A statistical analysis of the Forest Brook scores by The Dallas Morning News in June 2007 which examined two years of scores from Forest Brook declared that over 250 answer sheets of the TAKS had answer patterns that the DMN considered to be suspicious. In Spring 2007 state monitors supervised TAKS tests at Forest Brook. The passing rate for the 11th grade mathematics test decreased from 80% in 2006 to 44% in 2007. The 11th grade science scores decreased from 89% to 39%. The social studies test scores decreased from 100% to 72%; historically social studies is the easiest TAKS test. In light of the DMN findings, the TEA said that it stood by its report.
On March 9, 2007, the board voted 4-3 to terminate Dr. James Simpson, the superintendent. In May, the state ordered the district to reinstate Simpson, citing that Simpson was denied due process.
In November 2007 the Texas Education Agency appointed an academic overseer to monitor NFISD; the TEA had sent a financial overseer in March 2007.
On January 23, 2008 the trustees voted to rehire Simpson.
On January 31, 2008 the Houston Chronicle stated that Texas Education Agency officials investigated the district, checking to see if the district violated laws by using construction funds for general purposes.
On February 4, 2008 Tobie B. Ross, Jr., a trustee, requested to change his "Yes" vote for re-instating Simpson to a "No." The Texas Education Agency denied the district's decision to reinstate Simpson.
On March 20, 2008 the Northeast Education First community group asked for the state to fire the school board. Governor of Texas Rick Perry did not remove the NFISD school board. On March 26 the district stated that it would lay off 90 teachers to try to reduce its budget crisis.
Outside monitors stated that NFISD had poor management and "security violations" related to TAKS testing.
On July 31, 2008, Wayne Dolcefino of ABC 13 KTRK, a primary news station, based in Houston, reported on an investigation he had conducted regarding North Forest ISD, for possible finance and election malfeasance and misconduct committed by officials of NFISD leadership. Dolcefino investigated for several months prior to the release of his facts and findings. This investigation could lead to possible criminal indictments, in the future. Also, misconduct concerns from parents of NFISD enrolled children and investigating government officials may lead to petitions for new leadership. Special Education Director, Dr. Ruth Watson, has been removed from her position and given a new one within the district. The move in job position was reported as lateral, in which Dr. Ruth Watson maintained her current salary, despite not being Director of Special Education. Dr. Watson approved and forwarded more than five special federal government grants which were received, for her own family members. These grants are meant for the most seriously disabled special children. It was also exposed that one of the Special Education specialists, in question, had a child with Vice President of the Board of Education for NFISD, Allen Provost. When Dolcefino asked Provost if the board member ignored election laws, Provost shoved a business card in Dolcefino's shirt pocket, while telling the reporter(Dolcefino) to contact Provost's lawyer. The TEA dismissed the NFISD school board on July 31, 2008.
On Wednesday October 15, 2008 the state approved the removal of the board. The board members decided to appeal to federal courts. The TEA stated that in the year leading to July 2008 the district did not meet payroll and that several banks denied the district short-term bridge loans.
On Friday, July 8, 2011 the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced that it would not order the immediate closure of North Forest High School. The TEA also announced that North Forest High School and North Forest ISD would receive an "Academically Unacceptable" rating and the district assigned a "Non-Accredited-Revoked" accreditation for the school year 2011-2012 and to close the district effectively by July 1, 2012. The school district said that it was going to try to oppose the closure order. The state said that the Houston Independent School District (HISD) would absorb the NFISD territory. Paula Harris, president of the HISD board, said that HISD did not advocate for the outcome, but that it would be willing to accommodate the students. The NFISD closing date is July 1, 2012. Some media reports stated that NFISD was a "historically black" school district, and some said that it would be the largest such district in the state to be closed. Kimberly Reeves of the Houston Press said that if the criterion for "historically black" was that the district was predominately African-American in the segregation era and that it remained predominately African-American since desegregation, then NFISD would not be "historically black."
Sheila Jackson Lee, a local congressperson, expressed an opposition to closing the district. Paul Bettencourt, the Harris County tax assessor-collector and later a member of the Texas State Senate, said that a handover to HISD would be beneficial for the NFISD students. George McShan, who served as the head of the TEA-appointed committee overlooking NFISD before the current board returned to power, stated that he is not surprised that the TEA is trying to close the district. Harold Dutton, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, said that the TEA did not do enough to save the district, while Debbie Ratcliffe, the spokesperson of the TEA, said that the TEA could not get NFISD to make sufficient progress. Under McShan a Ninth Grade Center for North Forest High School was established.
An editorial in the Houston Chronicle argued that the district ought to be shut down, and that parents in the NFISD region should try to enroll their children in HISD schools, as HISD allows children living in neighboring districts to attend HISD schools tuition free. The editorial stated that once HISD absorbs the NFISD territory, it ought to begin offering school bus services between the NFISD area and the current HISD territory.
The district began the 2011-2012 school year, while the possibility of annexation was present. In November 2011 Robert Scott, the TEA commissioner, announced that he was officially closing the district and revoking accreditation. The United States Department of Justice still had to approve the closure. The USDOJ has approved similar closures in Texas. Jackson Lee said that she would continue to advocate against the closure. Ivory Mayhorn, the head of a group campaigning for the salvation of the district, accused the TEA of discriminating against North Forest. Dianna Wray of the Houston Press wrote that "the remarks by members of the HISD school board were polite and innocuous."
In February 2012, Scott reconsidered a proposed closure of the Premont Independent School District and decided to let Premont ISD stay open for one more year. In light of the Premont reconsideration, NFISD officials asked for the TEA to reconsider its closing. The TEA said that so far the closure is still scheduled. A hearing was scheduled to occur in Austin, Texas on February 15, 2012.
In March 2012, Scott said he would give NFISD another year to fix itself, and it will not be closed in the year 2012. Edna Forte, the superintendent at the time, said that even though she was told that she had one year to fix NFISD, state officials had already made up their minds to have the district closed no matter what gains she made.
In February 2013, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams said that the one-year reprieve was over and ordered the closure of North Forest ISD and recommended its annexation by Houston Independent School District by July 1, 2013. The district and members of the community vowed to fight the closure. Once the 2013 closure announcement came, Houston Independent School District board members held a discussion on how a takeover may occur. Dianna Wray of the Houston Press wrote that "It seemed as if all nine of them were choosing their words carefully, making it clear they were only following state orders." Gayle Fallon, the Houston Federation of Teachers president, stated that the district could not publicly accept the district since it would appear greedy nor could it publicly reject NFISD since it would appear to be racist against black people. Fallon argued that HISD saw an economic advantage to absorbing NFISD.
In March 2013 Harmony Public Schools, KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), and Yes Prep together presented a plan to have all NFISD schools be charter managed instead of having NFISD merged into HISD. Michael Feinberg, the creator of KIPP, had created this plan. Jackson Lee voiced approval, while Senfronia Thompson, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, and Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire, members of the Texas Senate, stated reservations against the proposal. Feinberg stated that the TEA did not accept the idea. He said "It seemed the state had a priority in getting rid of a dysfunctional school system at all costs. The state was in Nightmare on Elm Street X, and they didn't want to see Freddy Krueger come back to life again."
On April 29, 2013, the North Forest ISD school board defied a TEA order to fire its teachers in anticipation of its absorption by HISD. Texas Rangers were sent from Austin to investigate. In May 2013 the Justice Department asked HISD for information on how it would integrate NFISD into its school board boundaries; it requested this information before making a decision on whether NFISD may be closed. On June 13, 2013 the HISD board voted unanimously to absorb NFISD. In June 2013, during a hearing in a court in Travis County, Texas, the judge dismissed an NFISD lawsuit against the TEA.
On Tuesday June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned several portions of the Voting Rights Act, so that the State of Texas no longer was required to get preclearance from the USDOJ in order to shut down North Forest and make it a part of HISD. On Wednesday June 26, U.S. District Judge David Hittner stated a rejection against a claim that allowing the closure of NFISD would violate the rights, under federal law, of voters from racial and ethnic minority groups. On June 28, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court declined to stop the merger, ending the district's final appeal against closure. NFISD officially closed on July 1, 2013.
Michael Williams, the TEA commissioner, said that the NFISD consolidation was the best possible outcome. Wray wrote that "This despite the fact that HISD has had its share of challenges — critics would call them scandals — in the past few years."
Portions of the NFISD attendance zone were added to the Houston Independent School District trustee zones 2 and 8. The next scheduled board election for those two districts was in 2015. Dianna Wray of the Houston Press wrote that "the voters of North Forest have gone from having an entire board elected directly by them to a situation in which they won't have any say in who represents them for the next three years." Silvia Brooks Williams, a former NFISD board member, said that HISD ignored an effort to add two board seats for North Forest and to give NFISD residents their own HISD representatives. HISD assumed control all facilities, debts, and liabilities of NFISD. This includes $60 million in maintenance tax and general onligation debt. Senfronia Thompson stated that the assets included a high school and athletic facility scheduled to be built with $80 million in State of Texas funds. Jason Spencer, a spokesperson for HISD, said that the district will likely sell any unused property. Debbie Ratcliffe, a TEA spokesperson, said that the state officials will ensure that HISD does not have too high of a burden placed on it.
That month Terry Grier, the superintendent of HISD, said that the district safety issues at North Forest will require HISD to spend $3 million. The district used TEA funding to renovate the campuses. Isa Dadoush, the former HISD general construction manager, said that HISD had, as paraphrased by Dianna Wray of the Houston Press, "aging schools in similar states of disrepair", and that HISD stated that the poor shape of the NFISD campuses was proof that the takeover was the best outcome.
As of July 1, 2013 the district has retained 25 NFISD teachers and stated that it is still considering the applications of 39 other NFISD teachers. HISD offered bonuses of $5,000 for experienced teachers who are willing to teach at former NFISD schools. Greg Groogan of KRIV-TV said "There will almost certainly be massive teacher turnover as a consequence of the merger." Spencer said that ultimately 74 of about 500 NFISD teachers were rehired into HISD.
HISD also began holding summer school for NFISD students. During mid-day on July 1, 2013, Grier posted a message on Twitter stating that "75 percent of North Forest's school buses were unsafe to drive" and therefore the district was required to tow these buses to a maintenance barn. HISD extended the coverage of its summer free meals program to North Forest, and North Forest area residents are allowed to participate from July 8 through August 1. As of July 1, 2013 HISD did not state how much money it is receiving from the state for absorbing NFISD. In July 2013 the district started a 45-day cleanup effort of NFISD campuses.
For the 2013-2014 school year, Fonwood Elementary School was repurposed as an early childhood center, Thurgood Marshall Early Childhood Center was repurposed as an elementary school, and Elmore Middle School was repurposed as an elementary school. Hilliard and Shadydale elementaries were also annexed into HISD. Lakewood Elementary School was not scheduled to re-open for the 2013-2014 school year. In addition, the proposed attendance boundaries for the 2013-2014 school year state that the existing HISD campuses Felix Cook Elementary, Kashmere Gardens Elementary, Ernest McGowen Elementary (formerly Houston Gardens Elementary), and Rod Paige Elementary would have attendance zone changes as a result of the NFISD merger. According to the proposed boundaries, Cook and McGowen would begin serving portions of the NFISD area.
The proposed attendance boundaries for the 2013-2014 school year divide the NFISD zone between Forest Brook Middle School and the existing HISD middle school Key Middle School, and between North Forest High School and the existing HISD high school Kashmere High School. HISD plans to allow YES Prep Public Schools to continue leasing the school facility at 6602 Winfield Road.
Classes at HISD-operated NFISD schools began on Monday August 26, 2013. DeEtta Culbertson, a spokesperson for the TEA, said that if North Forest schools do score poorly under HISD administration, it would have little effect on overall district scores. As of October 2013, according to Spencer, HISD spent $25 million in costs to cover the sudden annexation and renovation costs. Spencer said that the State of Texas plans to give funds to HISD to cover those costs and $35 million in addition to that for at least the following five years.
The HISD furniture service department planned to start an auction from Monday May 12, 2014 to May 25, 2014. This auction will include items from NFISD schools no longer operating, and the beginning bid prices ranged from $1 to $10. Veronica Ruiz, the HISD furniture services department manager, stated that the intention was so those who wanted to own property from defunct NFISD schools could do so.
The NFISD territory covered 33 square miles (85 km2) of land in northeast Harris County. The NFISD area is about 20 miles (32 km) from Downtown Houston, and south of George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Jan Jarboe, who wrote for Texas Monthly stated in 1986 that the district "clings to isolation" despite its proximity to Downtown. Helen Wheatley, who served as the Houston Federation for Teachers staff representative for NFISD, said in 1986 that while the community was an "urban area," the NFISD zone "has a country feeling to it."
North Forest ISD covered small parts of northeast Houston (including the neighborhoods of East Houston, Northwood Manor, Dorchester Place, Royal Glen, Fontaine, Scenic Woods, Melbourne Place, Kentshire, Henry Place, Baker Place, Glenwood Forest, Royal Oak Terrace, Houston Suburban Heights, Warwick Place, Chatwood Place, Townly Place, Wayside Village, and Settegast) and parts of unincorporated Harris County, including Dyersdale.
Until its dissolution NFISD was the poorest district in Harris County. During a period NFISD made $1,711 per student in property taxes. Despite having a higher tax rate than Deer Park Independent School District, that district made $7,021 per student in property taxes. As of 2003 the NFISD attendance zone had very little industry.
In 2006 the area within NFISD had the lowest property value per student ratio in Harris County. Its property value per student ratio was less than half of the average ratio in the State of Texas. Within the district, in 2006 the typical single-family house was appraised to be worth $51,106 ($59786.76 when adjusted for inflation). 42 of the 15,637 houses within the NFISD boundaries had an appraised value greater than $200,000 ($233971.61 when adjusted for inflation).
In 2007, of the school districts in urban areas in Texas NFISD had the highest concentration of ex-prison inmates.
As of 2010, NFISD had 7,410 students. 68.6% of the students were Black, 30.8% of the students were Hispanic, .5% were White, and .1% were Asian or Pacific Islander. 100% were classified as economically disadvantaged. At that time the district had over 1,050 employees.
In 1996 the enrollment at NFISD began to decline. The student body steadily declined; it had 13,132 students in the 1993-1994 school year, while it had 11,699 in the 2001-2002 school year. This was an 11% decline over a nine-year period. During the 2001-2002 school year, Both NFISD high schools had 2,837 students, while the capacities of the schools combined was 5,875, giving a classroom usage percentage of 48%. On March 18, 2003 the district had 11,217 students, fewer than the expected 11,650. From 1997 to 2007 the district student population decreased by 35%, to below 9,000 students.
In 2011 NFISD operated nine schools in northeast Harris County. Facilities within the district's supervision included one early childhood center, five elementary schools, two middle schools, one ninth grade center, one charter school, and one high school.
High schools (AAAA):
Elementary schools (K-5):
In addition to the district-operated schools listed here, area residents were also welcome to apply to YES Prep Schools's North Forest campus; only NFISD residents were allowed to apply to the school.
The previous district headquarters sustained damages in Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The previous district headquarters had opened in 1964. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts stated that the 12,000-square-foot (1,100 m2) facility was destroyed as a result of the flood. Langstead Elementary, which had been constructed in 1968, was used as a temporary administration building.
In 2002 the district had no plans on where its headquarters may be. By 2003 NFISD planned to establish its new headquarters. The district considered a 250-acre (100 ha) plot of land across from North Forest High School's main campus (formerly M. B. Smiley High School) as a location for a new headquarters. Around 2003 the board approved construction of a new administration building. In October 2007 its headquarters were at 6010 Little York while its Office of Communications was located at Langstead. The NFISD superintendent that had been handpicked by the TEA oversaw a renovation of the foyer of the headquarters, including a freshwater aquarium with a capacity of 144 gallons. The renovation had a cost of $18,000.
The school district provided transportation to any elementary, middle, or high school student living over 2 miles (3.2 km) from his or her assigned school. The district may have added .1 miles (0.16 km) to establish a reasonable boundary. It also provided transportation for AM and PM kindergarten students when the time is about 12 Noon. If students faced hazards (such as construction areas and multilane highways), preventing safe travel to the assigned schools, the Department of Transportation would decide to allow bus travel for those students.
The district had a fleet of fifty school buses. The fleet made 111 runs daily, and served about 3,300 students. Since the transportation department also had maintenance and service vehicles, it had a total of 162 vehicles in its fleet.
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