IDEA Public Schools had a pilot on the payroll in 2019 and 2020.
The pilot — Flyder DeCastro, 49, of McAllen — worked for IPS Enterprises, a nonprofit organization created and controlled by IDEA.
“Mr. DeCastro was employed from June 2019 until March 2020 by IPS Enterprises, Inc., the nonprofit entity that supports the establishment of IDEA schools outside of Texas,” according to a statement released by IDEA. “Prior leadership at IPS Enterprises hired Mr. DeCastro to provide air transportation within and beyond Texas.”
How much IPS Enterprises paid DeCastro remains unclear. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
“In 2020, IDEA’s national board of directors adopted a policy that prohibits the organization’s resources from being used for private air travel,” according to the statement released by IDEA. “While IPS Enterprises is not an entity subject to the Public Information Act, please know that IPS Enterprises has adopted the same policies that IDEA has adopted.”
Questions about IDEA and IPS Enterprises prompted state Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, to author House Bill 2451 in March.
“If the legislation would have passed, it would have ensured the public had a way to find out if IPS Enterprises hired a private pilot and how much they were paid,” Canales said in a statement. “Texans are demanding open and accountable government. When the public can’t access records, it prevents us from knowing if taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly and in a way that reflects our values and priorities. We cannot ensure that our government is spending our money appropriately and fairly if we do not have access to information about these expenditures. It is in the best interest of Texas taxpayers that IDEA Public Schools releases information about the hiring of a pilot, whether Texas law compels them to or not.”
IPS Enterprises hired DeCastro in 2019, when the IDEA board discussed plans to lease a private jet.
While based in Weslaco, the charter school system operates campuses in Texas, Louisiana and Florida. It also plans to open schools in Ohio.
The sprawling network of charter schools created problems for executives, who needed to supervise administrators hundreds of miles away.
According to a former senior executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the IDEA policy on private air travel was modeled on a policy adopted by the Texas A&M University System.
IDEA originally planned to buy a Beechcraft King Air plane, according to the former senior executive. After discussing the plan, however, the board decided to lease a Cessna Citation jet instead.
The board approved an eight-year lease agreement for the Cessna jet in December 2019.
IDEA agreed to pay $57,000 per month for the jet, which didn’t include the cost of fuel or paying the pilot. The board also voted to buy a hangar at the Weslaco airport for about $528,000.
During the board meeting, an executive assured the board that all costs would be covered by private funds.
News that a charter school planned to buy a jet, however, caused an uproar. IDEA abandoned the plan.
DeCastro stopped working for IPS Enterprises in March 2020, according to IDEA.
That April, though, DeCastro posted a photo on Facebook that showed people standing in front of a jet.
The jet was parked next to a floor mat with the IDEA logo.