When the Texas Education Agency installed a new nine-member school board in Houston ISD in June, it rendered the elected officials previously serving in those roles effectively powerless. 

That did not stop six people from running to become trustees of the district on Tuesday.

Two incumbents, Dani Hernandez and Patricia Allen, maintained their seats Tuesday, both winning reelection easily against a sole challenger.

Meanwhile, two incoming trustees, Savant Moore and Placido Gomez, clinched their roles with no challenger after the officials currently holding the positions opted not to run again. HISD canceled the elections for the one-candidate races in September.

It remains uncertain whether the new trustees will have a chance to gain policy-making power before their four-year terms expire. By June 2025, TEA will either announce a timeline for the transition back to an elected board or extend the placement of its appointed board members, according to a state document explaining the HISD intervention.

Those who ran for the trustee roles said they hope the transition of power happens sooner rather than later and that they will be ready to serve should that happen.

“Even though there isn’t voting power for the elected trustees, somebody still needs to be in place in case TEA does decide to give power back to the elected trustees in two years,” said Hernandez, who was reelected to represent District III on Houston’s southeast side. “We are still the voice of the community and still making sure that the voice of the community is heard.”

Moore, a parent of three children attending schools that have been overhauled under new Superintendent Mike Miles’ HISD transformation, said he chose to run because he wanted to have a role in the conversation about how to steer Texas’ largest school district. The father is a preacher at a Baptist church in the Sunnyside neighborhood and began regularly attending school board meetings about a year ago. He was elected to represent District II spanning much of north Houston.

“At first … I was a parent at the meetings. Now, I’m an elected official and, one day, I’ll have the power to vote. And so, that day, policies can be changed,” Moore said. “But until that day happens, I’m going to continue to be a voice and continue to be a bridge for my community.”

Before elected trustees can return to power, the district must fulfill three exit criteria laid out by the TEA: no campus can receive two or more consecutive years of D or F ratings under the state’s accountability metrics; special education programs must be in compliance with state and federal law; and school board governance must operate in accordance with statewide standards. Problems related to each of those three areas provided the legal framework for TEA to take over the district.

This year’s school accountability ratings, widely predicted to result in lower letter grades after a tweak to the formula, have been delayed after dozens of districts sued the state.

Once the three goals are met and TEA initiates the transfer of power back to an elected board, trustees will regain control of the body gradually, replacing the appointed board of managers over three years, with three trustees serving in year one, six in year two and all nine in year three. TEA said there was no information it could share clarifying when that transition will begin.

Current District II Trustee, Kathy Blueford-Daniels, did the math about the likely upcoming timeline and decided to cede her seat.

“Because I’ve been so outspoken against the takeover and even attending the meetings, I felt that I probably would be one of the latter ones rolled on (to the board in a transition of power). And that probably will not be until another three, four years, which means it will be time to run again,” Blueford-Daniels said. “I felt like I could be more vocal from an activist perspective as opposed to a trustee.”

Kathy Blueford-Daniels, an elected Houston ISD board member, raises her fist in support as people chant during a protest outside the Houston ISD’s headquarters, Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Houston. Santos, along with the rest of the HISD board, had all powers as a trustee stripped by the state. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Current District VIII Trustee Judith Cruz also opted not to seek reelection, but for a different reason. The last four years have been exhausting, she said, so she decided to step back and spend more time with family. 

Still, Cruz said the positions, despite their current lack of official power, are important — and she worries too few people are paying attention. Any successful transition back to a locally elected board will depend on having effective people serving in those roles, she argued.

The trustee election this year largely flew under the radar. A candidate forum Cruz attended had only around 20 audience members, she estimated.

“Nobody was even paying attention to this election. At least, that’s what it felt like, and I speak to a lot of people in the community,” Cruz said. “The amount of people even last week that were like, ‘Wait, there’s trustee elections?’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”

Trustees do not draw a salary, an HISD spokesperson said.

The trustees are elected to represent one of nine geographic regions within HISD. The state-appointed board includes less geographic diversity, with members disproportionately residing in affluent areas.

Newly elected trustees will be sworn into their roles in January, though HISD said it has not finalized the exact date.

Asher Lehrer-Small covers education for the Landing and would love to hear your tips, questions and story ideas about Houston ISD. Reach him at asher@houstonlanding.org.

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