The La Joya Independent School District approved new policies Wednesday designed to prevent businesses from improperly influencing members of the school board.
Under the new policies, businesses are prohibited from contacting members of the school board with unsolicited proposals. Members of the school board, meanwhile, must notify the superintendent about conversations with people who do business with the district.
“We need to be more transparent,” said school board Trustee Espie Ochoa. “And to let our community know that we’re doing as much as we can to make things right.”
The policy changes approved on Wednesday included:
Prohibiting Trustees from Recommending Businesses
The school board amended a policy on purchasing and acquisition to clarify the role trustees play in the process.
“Individual Board Members do not have the authority to make recommendations of vendors or contractors for any District goods or services being solicited,” according to the amended policy. “Board Members are also prohibited from contacting any District staff member, other than the Superintendent, to express concerns or suggestions about any proposed recommendation from Administration.”
Disclosure Requirements for Businesses
For contracts worth $1 million or more, contracts that involve lobbying services and contracts that require board approval, businesses must disclose any communication with school board trustees.
If the business had any communication with a trustee, the business must submit “a written narrative of the nature of the conversation, and the specific Board Member that the communication was had with.”
If the business didn’t communicate with any trustees, the business must submit a sworn statement that it had no “communication with any Board Member regarding any matter about the contract for goods and/or services being considered.”
The information must be submitted at least 72 hours before the contract is considered by the school board.
La Joya ISD could void contracts with businesses that don’t comply.
Disclosure Requirements for Trustees
Another policy approved Wednesday requires trustees to report contacts with businesses to the superintendent.
“Individual Board members who are contacted by persons conducting business with the District shall refer such persons to the Office of the Superintendent for the appropriate administrative response,” according to the policy. “The Superintendent or designee shall provide a response to the full Board of any matters referred to the Superintendent under this policy.”
The policy also directs businesses not to “contact or influence individual Board members or District officials in preparing or presenting unsolicited proposals.”
The policy changes are designed to increase transparency, said board President Alda T. Benavides, not hinder businesses.
“It’s like I used to tell the board all the time: They could do business with the district. You just have to fill out a disclosure form — and let people know that you or your family member is benefitting as a result of that contract,” said Benavides, who served as superintendent before she joined the board. “That’s it. It doesn’t tell you that you can’t do it. It just tells you: Disclose it.”