La Joya ISD suggests the Texas Education Agency end ‘special investigation,’ appoint conservator
The La Joya Independent School District sent a letter to the Texas Education Agency in January, suggesting the state appoint a conservator to supervise the school board.
La Joya ISD sent the letter to Deputy Commissioner of Governance Steve Lecholop on Jan. 6.
“The Board of Trustees propose the placement of a Conservator for Governance and Finance” instead of continuing the investigation, according to the letter. “The Board currently in place is eager to correct past issues and wants to work with TEA to ensure that La Joya ISD is operating in a manner that is acceptable to Commissioner Morath and yourself. If the Agency is not amenable to placing a Conservator in lieu of closing the pending investigations, the Board would like to request the placement of a Monitor while the TEA Investigations are ongoing as an act of good will to show TEA that the Board is working towards correcting any past issues.”
The Texas Education Agency appoints conservators to oversee troubled school districts.
Conservators may veto decisions made by school boards and administrators. They remain in place until the Texas Education Agency believes a school district is ready to be independent again.
The Texas Education Agency apparently declined the invitation and decided to complete the investigation. Lecholop didn’t respond to a request for comment.
La Joya ISD decided to send the Texas Education Agency an “Offer of Settlement” in December after two former school board trustees and two former administrators pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.
They admitted to accepting kickbacks, circumventing the competitive bidding process, and improperly influencing elected officials employed by La Joya ISD.
“This was something that was long overdue for La Joya ISD,” said board President Alex Cantu.
After the former trustees and district administrators pleaded guilty, La Joya ISD took steps to address some of the problems identified during the investigation.
The school board approved corrective action plans, asked an external auditor to review the procurement process and hired a “governance coach.”
“There’s nothing to hide here at the district,” Cantu said, adding that La Joya ISD cooperated with the Texas Education Agency investigation.
A mix-up at La Joya ISD kept the letter under wraps until last week.
The Progress Times filed a public information request for communication between La Joya ISD and the Texas Education Agency on Jan. 16. La Joya ISD responded: “Information does not exist.”
The Texas Education Agency, though, said officials had communicated with La Joya ISD. It asked the Texas Attorney General’s Office for permission to withhold the letter.
“The submitted information was collected by TEA’s Division of Compliance and Inquiries in conjunction with special investigations,” according to the letter from the Texas Education Agency to the Attorney General’s Office, which cited state law. “Therefore, TEA asserts the submitted information must be withheld from public disclosure in its entirety.”
After the Progress Times asked La Joya ISD about the discrepancy, the school district released the letter.