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Bid To Temporarily Halt Charter School Takeover Fails; Lawsuit From Teachers Union Continues

Stewart Elementary on San Antonio's east side is being managed by charter operator Democracy Prep starting with the 2018-2019 school year.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Stewart Elementary on San Antonio's east side is slated to become Democracy Prep at P.F. Stewart School in the 2018-2019 school year.

Bexar County Judge Karen Pozza Monday denied a request from the San Antonio Alliance teachers union for an emergency injunction to block charter operator Democracy Prep from taking over Stewart Elementary.

The contract between the San Antonio Independent School District and Democracy Prep is slated to go into effect July 1.The judge also denied the district’s motion to dismiss the case, leaving the union a narrow pathway to prevail.

At a hearing on Friday, union attorney Martha Owen argued that SAISD broke the law by failing to consult with Stewart teachers before approving the contract with Democracy Prep.

Lawyers representing the district and the charter operator said the law doesn’t require consultation, but the superintendent met with teachers anyways.

At issue is whether a January meeting between the superintendent and Stewart teachers counts as consultation. Union members also spoke to trustees during public comments at board meetings.

“By any common sense definition, consult was done. Input was given, taken, considered and the campus was consulted,” said Darin Darby, one of the attorneys representing SAISD. “With all due respect to opposing counsel, consult does not mean consent.

“Whether the members of the opposing Alliance like the contract is another issue.”

During testimony, Alliance President Shelley Potter agreed with Darby that consult does not mean consent.

However, the union argued that consultation has not taken place because there hasn’t been a two-way conversation between district officials and Stewart teachers and staff.

Stewart Elementary teacher Alejandra Lopez testifies during a hearing for an emergency injunction against Democracy Prep's contract with San Antonio ISD June1, 2018.
Credit Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
Stewart Elementary teacher Alejandra Lopez testifies during a hearing for an emergency injunction against Democracy Prep's contract with San Antonio ISD Friday.

“Making a PowerPoint presentation about what’s going to happen is not the same as consulting with the staff about the provisions that are going to be and should be in the contract,” said Owen, adding that the fact that the superintendent answered questions at the January meeting on the Stewart campus was insufficient because “it is the opposite of asking questions.”

Potter said the union’s overall goal in filing the lawsuit is for the court “to declare the contract (with Democracy Prep) null and void.”

However, there’s nothing preventing the district from updating its contract and continuing its partnership with the charter operator, even if the court ultimately agrees with the union’s interpretation of the law.

Potter said Monday in a statement that the union will consult with its attorney before deciding what to do next.

“Democracy Prep doesn’t have a stake in our community and doesn’t know the needs of Stewart’s students. We do, and we will continue to fight for their best interests,” Potter said.

District spokeswoman Leslie Price said SAISD “continues to believe that it met all the requirements under Texas law in entering into the agreement with Democracy Prep” and chose to work with the charter operator because “they have such a strong track record of academic performance in their schools, including graduation and college-going rates.”

SAISD contracted with Democracy Prep to take over Stewart in order to avoid stiff state sanctions taking effect this year. By law, districts get a two-year reprieve from school closure or board takeover if they let a charter operator or other nonprofit manage a failing school.

But because the judge is allowing the contract to continue during court proceedings, those sanctions cannot take effect, even if Stewart receives a failing grade on state accountability ratings this August.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.