The La Joya Independent School District is “extremely overpaying” for health insurance, according to a consultant who briefed the school board last month.
La Joya ISD asked Fort Worth-based Higginbotham, which provides insurance and financial services, to review the school district’s contract with Ruth Villarreal Insurance.
“Based on what we see in the marketplace, it is our opinion that the district is in the position of extremely overpaying for the services provided,” said Tommy Taylor, a vice president at Higginbotham, when he briefed the school board on Oct. 21. “Additionally, because of the lack of transparency and communication, the district is at a coverage and contract risk in several areas.”
Taylor said renegotiating medical and pharmacy agreements could reduce costs by roughly $1.7 million.
“Overall, there is significant opportunity for improvement if there is that desire within the district,” Taylor said.
After discussing the contract in executive session and asking Taylor to read his findings for the record, trustees authorized Superintendent Gisela Saenz and the district’s attorneys to renegotiate the contract.
La Joya ISD approved the contract with Mission-based Ruth Villarreal Insurance to settle a long-running lawsuit.
In 2012, the school board approved a three-year contract with Ruth Villarreal Insurance.
After the November 2012 school board election, however, trustees voted to break the contract and switch to Pharr-based Bob Treviño Insurance.
Ruth Villarreal Insurance filed a lawsuit against La Joya ISD, members of the school board and Bob Treviño Insurance, claiming they cost her $2,160,000 in commissions. She also claimed that Bob Treviño Insurance paid school board Trustee Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza to secure the contract.
Delayed by appeals, the case remained pending for years. La Joya ISD settled in 2017.
The district agreed to pay $300,000 to Villarreal and $1.5 million to her attorneys.
“It is acknowledged by the parties that Villarreal has chosen to forgo the remaining $3,300,000.00 she claims as actual damages against the Defendants identified herein only in order for the opportunity to enter into the exclusive agent/consultant of record contract to be paid for services to be performed in the future,” according to the settlement agreement.
Along with the settlement agreement, La Joya ISD approved an eight-year contract with Ruth Villarreal Insurance.
“In consideration of the services, agreements, and settlement of prior litigation between the parties, in the event that the District terminates this agreement prior to its expiration on December 15, 2024, for any reason, the District shall pay liquidated damages to Agent in the amount of $68,375.00 per month, for each month remaining on the original term of this agreement at the time of termination,” according to the contract.
A state district judge dismissed the remaining claims against Bob Treviño Insurance in 2018.
Attorney Javier Peña, who represents Ruth Villarreal, called the Higginbotham report one-sided.
For example, Taylor called the eight-year contract and provision allowing liquidated damages “outside the industry norms and best practices” without mentioning the settlement agreement.
“The consultant never contacted Ruth and hasn’t spoken to Ruth at all, which is, I believe, problematic,” Peña said.
Peña said he believed the school board’s decision to review the contract was politically motivated.
Ruth Villarreal’s husband, Everardo “Ever” Villarreal, is running against Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores in the March 2020 Democratic Party primary.
“It’s just, coincidentally, something that happened to come up before a contested political race,” Peña said.
This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 1, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.