The East Texas Advanced Academies board approved a partnership Wednesday that officials said will help the relationship with Longview ISD run smoother — but not everyone was allowed to watch the vote.
ETAA, the nonprofit organization running six Longview ISD campuses as public charter schools, held the virtual meeting using the Google Hangouts software. The meeting was not otherwise livestreamed and was only accessible to people with a district email address. A reporter had to use a borrowed district email to watch the noon meeting.
The board appears to have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by limiting access, and the News-Journal plans to file an official complaint with the Texas Attorney General's Office.
While Gov. Greg Abbott suspended part of the Texas Open Meetings Act that requires a physical gathering space during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual meetings of governmental bodies must still have 72-hour written notice online with a public toll-free, dial-in number or a free-of-charge video conference link, an online copy of agendas, a way for public participation — two-way audio or video — and public access to recordings of the meetings, according to The Texas Tribune.
The Longview ISD board held a virtual town hall this past week focused on districtwide charter schools. The town hall was held through the Google Hangouts software but also broadcast through Facebook Live. The district initially said only those with a district email would be able to participate through Google Hangouts but reversed that decision the afternoon of the meeting.
ETAA Board President Alan Amos did not return phone calls for questions about why the meeting wasn't accessible to everyone or to answer a request seeking the board book, which is made up of documents the board receives for the meeting and is public information.
The ETAA board unanimously approved a partnership with the organization Empower Schools, which has an office in Austin. Texas Director of Empower Schools Alyssa Morton said the organization is approved by the Texas Education Agency and helps Senate Bill 1882 schools facilitate partnerships with public school districts.
SB 1882 is legislation that provides financial incentive to districts that allow nonprofit entities to take over campuses as charter schools. ETAA is a SB 1882 partner with Longview ISD.
The partnership with Empower Schools will help everything "work smoothly" between the district and ETAA, Morton told board members.
The group has worked with SB 1882 partnerships in Fort Worth, Lubbock and Midland ISDs, she said.
It was unclear Wednesday how much, if anything, the new partnership with Empower Texas will cost ETAA.
The board also tabled an action item on amending its certificate of formation.
During the meeting, ETAA CEO Cynthia Wise said the ETAA certificate of formation needs to be amended to comply with IRS rules.
Board member Jud Murray said he wanted to table the item because he wanted more information on the changes, how many other changes will be needed and how much ETAA is spending on legal fees.
Sam Satterwhite, another board member, said his understanding is the changes were needed a year or so ago, and they were "grossly overlooked."