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La Joya ISD backs away from plan to shut down two elementary schools

Faced with an outpouring of concern from parents and withering criticism from teachers, the La Joya Independent School District all but abandoned a plan to shut down two elementary schools on Wednesday.

Trustees voted to shut down Leo J. Leo Elementary School and Rosendo Benavides Elementary School in January, when they approved a “staffing adjustment plan.” Both campuses suffered from low enrollment, but the decision to shut them down caught many parents by surprise.

“And, pretty much, they said: ‘Well, if we knew ahead of time, maybe you could have given us the opportunity to help the district. But we didn’t know. It was from one day to the other that we got the notice,” said board President Alex Cantu.

During an impromptu discussion on Wednesday afternoon, the school board appeared to reach a consensus that La Joya ISD needed to re-evaluate the decision.

“The community spoke,” Cantu said. “And we’re here to listen to their concerns.”

La Joya ISD decided to shut down the schools amid concerns about enrollment.


Trustees discussed the staffing adjustment plan during a school board meeting on Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times.)


The district, which serves western Hidalgo County, had 29,500 students in October 2016, according to data published by the Texas Education Agency. By October 2021, the number of students at La Joya ISD had fallen to less than 24,200.

“La Joya ISD has seen a 9.7 percent decline in student enrollment from the 2016-2017 school year to the 2020-2021 school year,” according to a report prepared by the Texas Association of School Boards. “Total personnel decreased by approximately 4.3 percent during the same period.”

The school board, though, refused to shut down campuses with low enrollment and continued to create jobs for people with political connections.

In 2022, when the school board went through a major shakeup, several trustees pushed La Joya ISD to address the problem.

Administrators presented the board with a staffing adjustment plan, which proposed that La Joya ISD shut down the elementary schools and eliminate 139 positions.

Trustees discussed the plan in January, but the conversations happened behind closed doors. Key details, including the number of positions La Joya ISD planned to eliminate and the fact that two elementary schools would be closed, didn’t become public until after the board had already approved the plan.

Trustee Alda T. Benavides and Trustee Roberto Zamora — two former superintendents who serve on the school board — said they had concerns about the process.

“The way it was included in the staffing adjustment plan was not being totally transparent,” Benavides said.

Benavides said the school board should “bring it back for another vote for both schools to remain open for the 2023-2024 school year.”

Trustee Anthony Uresti agreed.

“I think they should have more time to improve enrollment,” Uresti said. “What I’m very, very happy about — what I’ve seen from the community — is that they put so much passion into not closing these schools that I’m really, really hoping the same passion goes into bringing kids back to La Joya ISD and, specifically, to those campuses.”

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