Faced with state investigation, La Joya ISD will invite the Texas Education Agency to appoint monitor or conservator
Faced with a Texas Education Agency investigation, the La Joya school board will invite the state to appoint a monitor or conservator for the district.
Trustees made the decision Thursday during a six-hour meeting that ended minutes after midnight.
“And so, as part of this action, we’d be reaching out to TEA,” said attorney Eden Ramirez of Austin-based law firm O’Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo, which represents the La Joya Independent School District. “We’d be negotiating with them to bring onboard a degree of intervention, a monitor or conservator, to join us and be able to be part of our solution, moving forward as a district.”
Trustees voted 7-0 to invite the Texas Education Agency to intervene. The decision came almost nine months after the agency started investigating complaints about corruption at La Joya ISD.
Who filed the complaints, what the complaints alleged and when the complaints were filed remains unclear.
The complaints, however, followed a federal investigation that revealed La Joya ISD administrators had bribed members of the school board and circumvented the competitive bidding process.
Two school board trustees, meanwhile, resigned after pleading guilty to bribery and extortion charges.
The remaining trustees responded to the scandal by requesting an external audit of La Joya ISD’s procurement policies, approving corrective action plans and hiring a “governance coach” for the school board.
The Texas Education Agency sent a letter to La Joya ISD on March 21, informing the district about the complaints.
“This letter serves to notify La Joya ISD (LJISD) of a Special Investigation (SI) to be conducted by the Texas Education Agency (TEA),” according to the letter, which a source provided to the Progress Times on the condition of anonymity. “The Commissioner of Education has authorized a Special Investigation in response to complaints received by the TEA’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU). This investigation will be conducted by TEA’s Special Investigation Unit.”
According to the letter, the investigation would focus on:
* Texas Education Code Chapter 11 Subchapter D: Powers and Duties of Board of Trustees of Independent School District
* Texas Education Code Chapter 44 Subchapter B: Purchases; Contracts
* Texas Local Government Code Chapter 171: Regulation of Conflicts of Interest of Officers of Municipalities, Counties, and Certain Other Local Governments
* Texas Local Government Code Chapter 176: Disclosure of Certain Relationships with Local Government Officers; Providing Public Access to Certain Information
After conducting the investigation, the Texas Education Agency plans to issue recommendations, which could include the appointment of a monitor or conservator.
A monitor would keep tabs on La Joya ISD and report back to Austin. A conservator would oversee La Joya ISD operations and could overrule the school board or superintendent.
Rather than wait for the Texas Education Agency to make a decision, trustees decided Thursday to invite the state to appoint a monitor or conservator.
“We would be reaching out to the Texas Education Agency. We would be asking them to come to La Joya ISD, join us, and be part of what we do,” Ramirez said. “To ensure that we are fully transparent with the community, and that we are completely moving forward and doing the right thing.”
The appointment of a monitor or conservator may allow La Joya ISD to avoid the appointment of a board of managers, which would sideline the school board.
Trustees want to be transparent with the community, said board President Alex Cantu, and cooperate with the Texas Education Agency investigation.
“That’s why we welcome TEA to our district. We welcome any recommendations they might have,” Cantu said. “As a district, we’re taking the necessary approach to make sure these types of actions do not happen again. Today we also took a huge step by hiring an outside entity to come and do an investigation and audit of all our projects, all the way to 6 years back. Today was a huge win for La Joya ISD. We’re definitely moving in the right direction.”