A Waller County businessman is questioning the fitness of Royal ISD Superintendent Nathaniel Richardson to run the beleaguered school district and asking why school trustees have allowed him to remain on the job even after his failure to pass the state’s superintendent certification test despite seven attempts.
Local developer John Thuman said the school district’s poor reputation is hurting not only home sales, but economic growth in Brookshire and southern Waller County.
Thuman said Royal ISD schools are a major factor in the area’s inability to prosper despite adjacent high-growth areas such as Katy and Fulshear.
“Nobody wants to buy a home in Royal ISD because of the poor reputation of the district; businesses don’t want to come here for the same reason – their employees’ children would be stuck in a school district with one of the worst rating in the state,” Thuman said.
Royal ISD is one of only 30 school districts in the state to receive an “academically unacceptable” ranking from the Texas Education Agency. Academically unacceptable is the lowest ranking the TEA can assign a district.
Thuman said he is also puzzled why the school board continues to keep Richardson at the helm when “he’s clearly not qualified to make the changes needed in this district.”
“You have a school district that’s failing and the man in charge of turning it around can’t even pass the state superintendent’s test. Even through he’s obligated by his contract to have his superintendent’s certificate, he hasn’t passed the test and the school board hasn’t done anything about it,” Thuman said. “It makes no sense to see the Royal ISD schools going down the drain and the school board doing nothing about it. It’s like they’re more interested in protecting Richardson than in seeing we have decent schools for our kids.”
Thuman also said the school board recently voted to keep Richardson even after he offered to resign over his failure to pass the superintendent’s exam for a seventh time.
“In December, I was told that an agreement had been written up and signed by the board and the superintendent that he had one final chance to take the certification test and if he failed it for the seventh time he would then resign as superintendent. Well, he failed it,” Thuman said. “On March 7, there was a board meeting and after discussion in executive session, a motion was made to accept the resignation of the superintendent and the motion failed by a vote of 4 to 3.”
Documents obtained from the Texas Education Agency confirmed Richardson’s repeated failure to pass the superintendent certification exam. Records show he tested at least seven times at Prairie View A&M University and failed on each occasion.
A copy of Richardson’s contract obtained by InstantNewsKaty confirmed he is required hold a superintendent’s certificate as a requirement of his employment.
Article 5 of Richardson’s contacts reads, “The superintendent shall furnish throughout the term of this contract a valid and appropriate certificate as defined in the Texas Education Code to act as superintendent in this state.”
Although he has not passed the test to receive the permanent’s superintendent certification, TEA records show Richardson does hold a one-year “probationary” certificate valid through Oct. 14 of this year.
Before that, Richardson held a non-renewable permit for superintendent that expired in October of last year. Such permits are typically issued by the TEA to give newly-appointed superintendents a period of time to obtain their permanent certificate.
Richardson is out of the office for spring break this week and could not be contacted for comment on this story.
Efforts to reach Royal ISD Board President Emily Hilsman have also been unsuccessful; however, e-mails obtained by InstantNewsKaty suggest at least one board member has become frustrated with Richardson’s inability to obtain his superintendent’s certification.
In an e-mail to Hilsman in October, Royal ISD Trustee Christopher Cardiff accused Richardson of “behind the scene dealings” with regard to the certificate.
“I think Mr. Richardson is up to behind the scene dealings regarding his superintendent certificate. He has been grated a probationary certificate that will expire in October 2011,” Cardiff wrote. “I understand he used the Superintendent’s Academy…to apply for the probationary certificate. Why would you need to do that if you passed the test?”
Cardiff also said Richardson previously “surprised” the board with the earlier non-renewable certificate.
Thuman said he hoped his questioning of the board’s actions and Richardson’s ability to lead the school district would spur change, not only in the superintendent’s office but also with a renewed effort to improve Royal ISD schools.
“The district is failing, the superintendent is failing and the school board is sitting idly by. That is a recipe for disaster,” he said. “Something has to be done to turn this ship around, and that responsibility is with the school board.”
Thuman also released an open letter to Royal ISD taxpayers entitled “A Failure of Leadership.” He sent copies to area media outlets, including InstantNewsKaty. That letter, unedited and in its entirety, is as follows:
“A few years ago we the taxpayers were told by the RISD Board of Trustees and a public committee that we, the taxpayers, needed to spend 63 million dollar in much needed improvements to the school district. There were many meetings about this matter. Costs were discussed. We were told to build today for tomorrow. The demographic study ordered by the school district showed that growth in the area was at our doorstep. We needed to build this now before it is too late. We will be overrun with modular buildings and where will the children eat lunch. We were told that the community could afford this money with the growth in tax base that would result from this investment. This issue was settled by the voters in a bond issue and it passed.
Shiny New Busses Do Not Equal Quality Education
Now here we are two years later. We have remodeled or replaced all the schools in our district over the past seven years or so at tremendous cost to the limited and stagnant taxpayer base. We have increased our seating capacity to hold effective class sizes. We have a new bus barn with shiny new buses. We built a new field house for the sports teams. I drive by huge concrete parking lots with outdoor lighting and curbs, which I have never seen more than a quarter full on any normal school day. Tennis courts and baseball fields have been built. We have purchased computers and new signs. We have some of the newest and modern facilities in the area. We have remodeled the school in Pattison as administration offices. For the taxpayers’ investment in facilities of 70 million dollars over the past few years we have achieved failure. We have a modern failing school district. Royal Independent School District is rated as academically unacceptable overall by the TEA. This rating was achieved by only 30 districts in the state.
Highest Taxes = Lowest Scores
Adding further to the situation is the fact that Royal Independent School District has the highest tax rate of any school district contiguous to Royal school district. We are paying the most in education dollars and getting an unacceptable result in comparison to all the other districts that neighbor Royal ISD.
New Buildings Do Not Equal Academic Achievement
The leadership of the school district has decided to mothball the middle school campus, which over the summer had major renovations such as new air conditioning installed, as it will not be needed due to low enrollment. Only about 65% of the total available student capacity of all the campuses combined is currently being utilized. Was the building spree really needed? We have an overpriced and unacceptable modern school district that no one wants to attend.
Super Shows the Way
This situation as described above is based on the facts as I have ascertained them to be and has led me to ask some questions. Upon asking questions in the prescribed manner I am not surprised that the district finds itself in such a situation. I would like to remind the reader that we the taxpayers are part of the school district. The leadership of the school district has failed to provide to the community an acceptable educational system through many decisions including the selection of the superintendent of the district. The current superintendent of the district is serving as the day to day operational leader of the district under a probationary permit as issued by the Texas Education Agency, the government body that is responsible for public schools in Texas. This permit allows him to serve in the capacity of superintendent for up to 2 years while completing and passing the required testing. He has taken the test according to Texas Education Agency records a total of 6 times and has failed to pass the required certification test. This is after taking a class to prepare for the test and failing the test again. This statement is based on information I obtained under a Public Information Request to TEA and was obtained about 2 months ago. It is possible that the certification situation has changed. The unacceptable rating was according to the superintendent a clerical error. The total number of students that graduated was not properly put in to the system thus the school district did not met the graduation standard that is required to have an acceptable rating. The Texas Education Agency did not see it that way and denied the appeal that was submitted by the district to the rating. Thus the question becomes if the superintendent was certified would this mistake had been cured before submission to the state because of an understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent. The Board of Trustees is not holding the superintendent to the same standard that the students he is responsible for teaching, the passing of a competency test. An unacceptable school district rating is a deal killer in community development and takes years to overcome.
Who are the Losers?
For a moment let us take a look at what this means for our community. It means our children are less prepared for life than a child from a school district with a better rating. Parents wanting the best for their children will want the best education for their child possible. If a parent can live 4 miles down the road and be in a better rated school district, parents will chose the better school if possible. This decreases the desirability thus the value of all properties in the district across the board. This affects every property owner. Home values will appreciate at a lesser rate than otherwise. Residential construction of an appreciable scale will not happen keeping the expansion of the tax base further depressed. Businesses, which contribute a large portion of tax revenues to school districts but use the least amount of services offered by the district, will not open shop in a community that lacks a qualified workforce. A reduction in businesses means fewer convenient services. Lesser services equals less desirability, etc.,etc… The net result is no expansion of the value of the tax base and no new investment in the tax base. The result of all of this is a higher tax rate to the citizen and longer to pay it off. Additionally more funding to hire competent teachers is decreased, which contributes to the downward spiral. This continuing stigma of an unacceptable school district is a lode stone around the neck of the economy of this community.
In the past the school district has had ratings of academically acceptable and higher ratings. There was no new school building or field house or even shiny new buses. We had leadership. I call upon the Royal Independent School District Board of Trustees to meet the responsibilities that the taxpayers entrusted them with at the polls by taking a true leadership role and leading our way out of this debacle. Hire appropriate people if the skills are not presently in house to have an academically acceptable school district. The status quo does not work. This much is proven by the rating.
- John Thuman”