The Texas Education Code tells us that if both districts involved in a detachment/annexation petition turn it down, the matter cannot be appealed to T.E.A. Now we know that there is an exception to that rule. If the person seeking detachment/annexation did not get a “fair hearing” before the local school boards, she can appeal to T.E.A.
Crystal Harris, the Petitioner, wanted out of Rio Vista ISD and into Grandview ISD. She filed for a detachment of her property from Rio Vista with attachment to Grandview. Both boards considered the matter. Both conducted public hearings, as required by the statute. Both adopted resolutions explaining their decision. Both boards rejected the petition.
That’s supposed to be the end of it. When Ms. Harris appealed to T.E.A., the districts cited the Education Code and asked the Commissioner to toss the appeal out. The Commissioner did not do that. Instead, he ruled that the local hearings did not comport with the law, and therefore, did not provide the petitioner with the “fair hearing” to which she was entitled. The Commissioner did not approve the detachment and annexation, but he sent the case back to the two districts with orders that they were to conduct a proper hearing. Key Quote:
Although the proper remedy for an unfair hearing is a fair hearing, a board may not revisit a valid vote on a detachment and annexation. However, because Respondents’ initial resolutions are invalid due to improper findings, a second hearing, vote and resolution is allowed to occur.
The problem was that the resolutions adopted at the local level, which were virtually identical, included factors that are not supposed to be considered. The Education Code calls for the boards to consider and make findings regarding four things and four things only: 1) the educational interests of the students; 2) social effects; 3) economic effects; and 4) educational effects of the proposed boundary change.
And that’s all that can be considered. The districts goofed by considering other factors. For example, the resolutions adopted by both boards stated that “the business, social and collegial professional relationship between [the two districts] will be adversely affected by approving the petition.”
The Commissioner found fault in the consideration of the “collegial” relationships:
Nothing in the clear language of the statute suggests that the relationship between the districts is relevant in any respect. Further, the Texas Supreme Court guidelines for statutory interpretation are eminently clear that there is to be no ad-libbing to the words of the Legislature.
The Commissioner also cited as error the consideration of “business.” The districts argued that “business” is pretty much the same as “economic” which is the word in the statute. The Commissioner noted that “Respondents do not cite to any dictionary or thesaurus for this definition.” Picky. Picky. Picky.
So the lesson is pretty clear. Stick with the exact words in the statute. Don’t add. Don’t subtract. Don’t explain. Don’t get creative. Don’t ad-lib.
One other issue came up in this case: was it OK that both districts were represented by the same law firm? (Not Walsh Gallegos). In an earlier D&A case the Commissioner considered this issue and found that it was permissible because there was evidence in the record that both districts gave “informed consent” to the law firm to represent both of them. Thornwood v. Spring Branch ISD, Docket No. 002-R6-09-2015 (Comm’r Educ. 2016). In this case there was no mention of informed consent, but the Commissioner brushed the issue off, noting that “this case can be resolved on other issues.”
So it was. The case is Harris v. Rio Vista ISD and Grandview ISD, decided by the Commissioner on December 21, 2018. It’s Docket No. 053-R6-05-2018.
DAWG BONE: WHEN CONSIDERING A D&A PETITION, STICK TO THE EXACT WORDS OF THE STATUTE.
Tomorrow: an unforgiving statute.