Petition Drive Could Push Waco ISD Into Uncharted Territory

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WACO (May 22, 2014) Michael Parker, who’s frustrated over the election of school board candidate Colbert Murphy, 42, who owes more than $45,000 in back child support, is launching a petition drive that could transform the Waco ISD into a home-rule district, a nearly 20-year-old option that has never before been exercised in Texas.

Michael Parker with the petition that could transform the Waco Independent School District. (Photo by Matt Howerton)

Murphy officially joined the board Thursday evening after defeating Jezelle Cooper by a 17 vote margin, 187-170, on May 10 to succeed longtime District 2 Trustee Alex Williams.

Revelations about the unpaid child support didn’t surface until after the election.

Parker, who runs a paralegal business, remains frustrated that Murphy’s debt wasn’t a red flag when he filed for the office.

He originally planned to push to recall Murphy, but then discovered no mechanism exists for recalling an independent school district board member, so he launched the home-rule charter petition drive Thursday.

A similar effort is underway in Dallas, where a petition drive drew enough signatures to require the Dallas School Board to appoint a 15-member commission to draft a proposed charter for a home-rule district.

Under the nearly 20-year-old provision created by the Texas Legislature, if 5 percent of the Waco ISD’s more than 58,000 registered voters sign the petitions, and the signatures are verified, the Waco School Board would have to take the same step; naming a diverse cross-section of residents to a 15-member charter commission, most of whom would be parents of students attending Waco public schools and at least 25 percent of whom are classroom teachers.

The commission would then have a year to draft a proposed home-rule charter, which would next be submitted to the state education commissioner for review.

The charter would have to include certain rules specified in the law, which otherwise gives such a commission some latitude in writing the rules under which the district would function.

If the proposed charter passes muster, the Waco School Board would then be required to schedule a charter election.

The proposed charter can’t be adopted unless it’s approved in an election in which at least 25 percent of the district’s registered voters actually vote.

"I always appreciate Mr Parker's ideas and advice. I look forward to learning more details about his home-rule proposal,” Waco School Superintendent Dr. Bonny Cain said Thursday evening.