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La Joya ISD plans to audit how the district spent federal COVID-19 funds

The La Joya Independent School District plans to audit how millions in federal COVID-19 funds were spent.

During a meeting on Dec. 14, the school board directed attorneys to audit how La Joya ISD spent the money — with a special emphasis on playground equipment and heating, ventilation and air conditioning projects.

The school board is frequently asked to approve payments for HVAC projects, said board President Alex Cantu, and trustees want to know more about them.

“It seems like every board meeting,” said Cantu, who added that agendas list one HVAC project after another. “And I don’t see any complaints in the community that the HVAC is broken.”


The La Joya Independent School District boardroom. (Photo courtesy of La Joya ISD.)


The lack of complaints is a good sign, but Cantu said he wants to know how many buildings apparently need HVAC work.

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 — the third round of federal COVID-19 relief — Texas received about $12.4 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds. The Texas Education Agency allocated nearly $147.4 million to La Joya ISD.

After conducting an assessment of HVAC systems, La Joya ISD earmarked about $42 million for upgrades and repairs, according to Executive Director for Facilities Jose L. Villarreal.

“It was a very extensive study,” Villarreal said. “We pretty much looked at every single mechanical equipment at every single campus, every single building.”

Based on the assessment, La Joya ISD identified campuses that needed upgrades.

“Most of these units either were not working, they were older equipment or it was part of indoor air quality upgrades — that we wanted to improve at these campuses,” Villarreal said.

La Joya ISD split the project into phases and hired engineers to supervise the work.

Phase II included about $14.8 million worth of HVAC repairs and upgrades at William J. Clinton Elementary School, E.B. Reyna Elementary School, Jose De Escandon Elementary School, Emiliano Zapata Elementary School, Sam Fordyce Elementary School, J.D. Salinas Middle School, Jimmy Carter Early College High School, Juarez-Lincoln High School, the Alejandro “Alex” H. Saenz Performing Arts Center and the La Joya ISD natatorium, according to minutes from the April 13, 2022, school board meeting. Four engineering firms received contracts to monitor the projects.

Questions about the HVAC upgrades and other projects funded with COVID-19 money surfaced after two new trustees joined the school board in November.

“I just have a concern as to why we have so many HVAC either upgrades or repairs on a lot of our schools,” said Trustee Esmeralda Solis.

To address the concerns, trustees directed La Joya ISD’s attorneys to audit the expenses.

As part of the audit, the attorneys will provide the board with information on all contractors and subcontractors paid for playground equipment and HVAC projects within the past six years. They’ll conduct a similar review of all projects funded with federal COVID-19 money.

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