The Devil Could Be In The Details As Flour Bluff ISD Considers The “District of Innovation” Exemption Scheme

Matt Briscoe 
Publisher and Managing Editor 
The Southside Light 
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Flour Bluff—In Flour Bluff ISD, school officials hope that earning the tilted of “District of Innovation” might allow them to hire retired petroleum engineers to teach subjects such as physics without teacher certifications. 

Several other area districts are already using the state’s 2015 Exemption designation to provide periodic half-days off to some students while hiring uncertified teachers and saving money in the long run. 

The designation would give FBISD greater flexibility in areas such as scheduling and hiring. However, the proposed designation would require one thing—parents, educators and district stakeholders would have to completely trust the Board of Trustees and their ability to make solid decisions for the good of everybody involved.

Critics of the program maintain that it is not all that innovative at all, and won't doesn’t allow educators to demonstrate flexibility. Others opponents say that the designation allows districts to skirt state law governing things like teacher contracts and classroom size. 

On Thursday at 6:00 pm at the Flour Bluff ISD administration building there will be a public meeting on the matter and the plan will go to the board for a vote. District innovation plans can include curriculum or instructional methods, modifications to the school day or year, budget provisions and anything else prescribed by a board of trustees. Those plans must also identify requirements imposed by the Texas Education Code that make it difficult for the district to achieve its goals and from which the district should be exempt. 

It isn’t clear yet exactly what Flour Bluff ISD will consider some districts are also choosing to grant themselves the ability to ignore state laws that provide basic, but very important, teacher legal protections and while Flour Bluff teachers have no direct representation, that could leave them vulnerable. 
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If the Board of Trustees really wanted too they could totally exempt themselves from Chapter 21 of the state’s education code. What that would mean is that Flour Bluff could choose to no longer be required to hire teachers under contracts, hire certified teachers, follow due process when firing a teacher, pay at least the state-required minimum salary, or provide duty-free lunch and planning and preparation periods.

Another major concern is that while Flour Bluff ISD would have to create a plan and explain how the exemptions are to be used, that explanation is not binding unless committed to policy by the board of trustees. In short, much like with bond issues, the district doesn’t have to build what they told taxpayers they would build  when they were voting. 

Though the district is required to hold a public meeting, the district does not need approval from voters to become a district of innovation nor does the state actually approve or deny the plan. 

The 2015 law was designed by former State Representative Jimmie Don Aycock of Killeen. Aycock, whose daughter is a public education lobbyist in Central Texas jumped onboard and freight trained his bill through in hopes that it would level the playing field between traditional public schools like Flour Bluff and Seashore Middle Academy. 

It’s incredibly complex and while district spin doctors will likely do a timeshare style sales pitch come Thursday night, district stakeholders might consider being ready—one way or another.