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This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 22, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The La Joya school board terminated a partnership with a nonprofit organization last week after trustees determined the district — not the nonprofit organization — should feed students after school.
RGV Read and Feed, a local nonprofit organization, provides free meals to students through a program funded by the Texas Department of Agriculture. After a heated discussion on Nov. 11, the board terminated the agreement.
Trustee Mary T. Hernandez, however, motioned to terminate the agreement after Child Nutrition Services Director Galina O. Reyes assured the board her department could handle the after-school meals program.
“To answer your question, we operate five programs,” Reyes said, responding to Ochoa. “So we have the experience and training to conduct those programs and to smoothly transition from program to program.”
A majority of the board sided with Hernandez and voted to end the agreement effective Dec. 31.
Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo, who works for the school district, formed RGV Read and Feed with his wife, Roxanna, and South Texas College Trustee Victoria “Vicky” Cantu, the wife of La Joya school board Trustee Alex Cantu, in March 2017.
Three months later, the school district approved a “memorandum of agreement” with RGV Read and Feed.
Under the agreement, the district allowed RGV Read and Feed to access La Joya campuses. In return, RGV Read and Feed agreed to provide free meals to students after school.
The Texas Department of Agriculture paid for the meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
To serve the school district, RGV Read and Feed opened a commercial kitchen and hired more than 50 people, Vicky Cantu said. RGV Read and Feed also provided free meals at local apartment complexes, churches, and the Mission Boys & Girls Club.
Rumors about wrongdoing and concerns about potential conflicts of interest dogged RGV Read and Feed from the start.
“People, because of politics, try to paint a perception, a negative perception, that’s not there,” Alex Cantu said.
In November 2017, just eight months after RGV Read and Feed incorporated, a deputy constable stopped a car in Peñitas.
RGV Read and Feed employees in the car had a large amount of food. Concerned the food had been stolen from schools, the Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office contacted the Texas Rangers.
“We had TDA audit us all last year. We’ve had the Texas Rangers on us. We’ve had USDA on us,” Vicky Cantu said, referring to the Texas Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “They couldn’t find anything against us. So what did they do? They took us out of the school district. The state couldn’t do it. The federal government couldn’t do it. The Texas Rangers couldn’t find anything. They had to use political propaganda and use their four majority votes to get us out.”
During the past month, attention focused on a document RGV Read and Feed filed with the IRS.
The document, called a Form 990, disclosed basic information about the nonprofit organization’s revenue and expenditures.
In 2017, RGV Read and Feed reported about $451,000 in revenue, according to a copy of the Form 990 published by ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization. Guajardo, his wife and Vicky Cantu received $63,000 apiece in compensation that year.
Their compensation more than doubled from 2017 to 2018.
In 2018, RGV Read and Feed reported nearly $1.4 million in revenue, according to a copy of the Form 990 published by ProPublica. Guajardo received nearly $138,000. His wife received $177,000. And Vicky Cantu received nearly $162,000.
RGV Read and Feed also paid nearly $137,000 to Alex Cantu for consulting.
The Form 990 showed that RGV Read and Feed spent more on compensation than food provided to La Joya ISD students.
Alex and Vicky Cantu said the Form 990, which was prepared by an accountant, is misleading.
Vicky Cantu said they paid for start-up costs, including vans and a commercial kitchen, out-of-pocket.
“We put up costs out of our own personal pocket. Do we sometimes get reimbursed for it? Of course we have to get reimbursed for it. Because it is our personal money. So we have to find ways that we get our reimbursement back,” Vicky Cantu said. “Of course. But that it’s a consulting fee? No, it’s not a consulting fee.”
Alex and Vicky Cantu said people made assumptions about the Form 990 without asking them what the information meant.
“I don’t see anything wrong in it. But since our opposition can’t find anything to tarnish us with, they’re going to do anything in their power to look for any little thing to make us look bad,” Vicky Cantu said. “Because, in all reality, what have we done wrong but help the individuals that need help, help the community, help the children?”
Editor’s Note: After this article was published the La Joya Independent School District released the following statement:
On November 11, 2019, the La Joya Independent School District terminated a memorandum of understanding with RGV Read and Feed. The district acted solely upon recommendations provided by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Based on an audit conducted in January, the TDA advised the district to either adopt the Supper program under CACFP or continue utilizing our current program which would mean less reimbursable revenue for the district. Additionally, maintaining our relationship with RGV Read and Feed would result in our students losing meals on Saturdays.
By adopting the Supper program, the district will not only guarantee meals for students on Saturdays, but will also generate three million dollars more than the previous program. The potential to generate more revenue will mean more career opportunities for our community and, most importantly, more money for our students.
As always, our goal at LJISD is to ensure our students best interest and needs are taken care of. Based upon the advice of the Texas Department of Agriculture, the board swiftly took action to make certain our students continue to have the best resources and nutrition so they may shine bright!