Interlocal Transportation Agreement Denial By Flour Bluff ISD Board of Trustees Raises More Serious Scrutiny

Flour Bluff ISD Board of Trustees President Shirley Thornton
overseeing a recent Board meeting (Brady Chandler, Southside Light)

Brady Chandler
Southside Light News
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Flour Bluff—Back in July an agenda item showed up on for the Flour Bluff ISD Board of Trustees that did not create much cause for alarm. The item specifically dealt with creating an interlocal transportation agreement between the Flour Bluff and Port Aransas School Districts which would have allowed for a Port Aransas ISD school bus to travel into the Flour Bluff ISD boundaries to pick up students on the island—something had been going on for at least some time prior. However, as the stakes continued to rise at both the state and local level in the education sector, students are increasingly more and more valuable to districts financially and that is where the topic becomes increasingly complicated. 

The state Attorney General issued an opinion last year that interpreted a rule that in order for the practice to continue there would have to be an interlocal transport agreement in place between the districts. It sounds sensible and like it might be a good practice in general, at least until money gets involved—and at the heart of the issue, money is the root problem. 

In recent years families and students who live out on North Padre Island have been complaining about the direction, vision and motivation of the Flour Bluff ISD Board of Trustees. In an even broader approach, residents of North Padre Island have been increasingly concerned about fair representation of their neighborhood and interests on the Board of Trustees itself. The outrage was in fact so strong that as many as 100 or more families decided to jump ship and send their students over to Port Aransas where they believe their educationally philosophy is more in line with those of the parents. So, when the item came up for a review back in July before the Board of Trustees, the request was shot down 5-1 in what many believe was an attempt to force Island based students to remain in the Flour Bluff School District. 

To make matters worse and create greater friction between the District and Island residents the District did not seem to publicly announce the measure properly once they made the decision. In fact, many parents only learned about the move when a week before the start of Flour Bluff classes were to start a social media post began gathering attention and creating a stir among concerned parents and stakeholders. 

Back in July media outlets began questioning why the item was on the agenda in the first place? In a response to the Southside Light, Flour Bluff ISD Spokesperson Kim Sneed provided information regarding the Attorney General’s opinion. However, the item went largely unchecked by local media outlets (including this one) until the issue was brought back into attention some weeks later by the social media post that had been circulating widely around the area. 

Only when people started seriously questioning the ruling and the Board’s motives did the school district actually respond to the denial of the agreement. The Island Moon News, reported that newly hired Flour Bluff Superintendent Dr. David Freeman had indicated that the move was economical and that he was not sure that any district would permit such an agreement to be in place. However, even though it does seem that as the topic of individual freedoms within education services becomes an increasingly serious conversation at the state level, many districts are presenting parents with options and are allowing these agreements to be put into place. 

Jacob Kobersky, a spokesperson with the Texas Education Agency says that agency does not keep records of exactly how many districts actually have these operating agreements in place since it is a local control issue. 

“Interlocal transportation agreements fall under local purview since they’re between districts”, Kobersky said. “Because of that, we don’t keep statewide data on them here at the agency.” 

So in the end it boils down to taking the word of the District and so far, it doesn’t seem like many at least out on North Padre are willing to extend that olive branch just yet. 

“What you have here are two very, very different groups of people all facing off,” says Michael Stone an educational leadership analyst who has over 30 years experience working with school district leadership around the country. “One group feels that they are being mistreated and misrepresented while the other is legislating with complete autocracy.” 

What Stone is saying certainly does seem to be the truth, at least on the surface. Dirty tricks from Bluff based local bureaucrats like having a member of the board step down ahead of a possibly heated election so they can appoint a handpicked replacement to run as an incumbent is just one noteworthy item that has people concerned. Another thing is that while everybody seems to want what’s best for the children, it largely seems that the vision of what exactly that is remains divided in Flour Bluff, and the stink stems directly from the Board of Trustees itself. 

“There is not a unified front in this district,” says Karen Rodriguez who lives just off of Waldron and whose children attend Flour Bluff Schools. “You get great communication from the teachers and coaches but the administrators stay hidden like they are always trying to hide something.” 

Rodriguez isn’t alone. In fact, it’s the Board of Trustees and high level administrators in Flour Bluff that have people watching and taking notes—even as far away as Austin. 

Officials with the ACLU say that they have noticed an uptick in complaints stemming from the district in recent years and they are watching closely how this current Board of Trustees conducts itself when it comes to truly equal representation across all socioeconomic and class lines. 

“If those parents want their kids to go to Port Aransas ISD then they certainly have the right to drive them over,” says Dana Alexander. “Stop trying to cater to those people who can afford a bit of inconvenience for their kids.” 

But for parents it isn’t all about that at all—it’s about arrogant, autocratic ways that are holding things back.

“I thought we in Corpus Christi had been making some great moves forward in that department,” said area resident Jessica Scofield. “I guess not everywhere.” 

But what is it about the decision and the Board of Trustees that is creating such a riff? It’s the idea of things being done the way that they always were that is causing the problem. 

“You have a bunch of people in positions who get elected on name alone and that doesn’t do a damn thing for us or our kids,” says Scofield. “And why not offer up some money to our teachers instead of using the 30% required by the state to recoup raises that you were already going to put into place anyway? This district has a serious “people problem” at the top and until that changes the kids and the teachers will suffer and that is just wrong.” 

What Scofield hits on is another topic of debate that is likely to be formally addressed the coming days. But until then, folks from around the area and around the state are watching Flour Bluff administrators fairly closely and when former administrators start taking allegations up the chain of command, that is when things get sticky. Until then, it’s only a matter of wait and see what happens.