BREAKING: After investigation, Texas Education Agency says La Joya school board should be replaced with board of managers
The Texas Education Agency, troubled by corruption and conflicts of interest at La Joya ISD, released a report Tuesday that concluded the local school board should be replaced with a state-appointed board of managers.
After reviewing the findings of a federal investigation, which resulted in criminal charges against two former school board trustees and three former administrators, the Texas Education Agency concluded La Joya ISD had systemic problems — and the state needed to step in.
The report also concluded school board President Alex Cantu failed to properly disclose a conflict of interest that involved RGV Read and Feed, which paid him for consulting work.
It’s unclear whether or not the La Joya Independent School District will accept the recommendation or fight the Texas Education Agency takeover.
Trustee Anthony Uresti said the board would consult with the community before making a decision. Personally, though, Uresti said he wanted the opportunity to fix the problems identified by the Texas Education Agency.
“We’re paying for the actions of Coach Salinas and Armin Garza at this point,” Uresti said.
Trustee Roberto Zamora said he supported the Texas Education Agency recommendation.
“I trust that TEA has been very thorough in their investigation,” Zamora said. “And the decision is being made with the best interest of the district in mind.”
It’s extremely unusual for the Texas Education Agency to replace a school board with a board of managers.
In most cases, the state will appoint a monitor to keep tabs on a troubled school district or a conservator to provide more hands-on assistance.
Since 2000, just seven districts in Texas had a school board replaced with a board of managers, according to information published by the state. When a board of managers is appointed, the school board is stripped of all power and becomes an advisory body.
Fighting the Texas Education Agency would be a waste of money, Zamora said, and prevent La Joya ISD from moving forward.
“It’ll just delay us,” Zamora said. “And keep us from doing what’s right for our district.”
Adam Benthall, the director of Special Investigations for the Texas Education Agency, provided the 40-page report to Cantu and Interim Superintendent Heriberto “Beto” Gonzalez on Tuesday.
The Texas Education Agency investigation started in 2022, when former school board Trustee Armin Garza and former school board Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas pleaded guilty to public corruption charges. Three former administrators — Alex Guajardo, Jose Luis Morin and Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez — also confessed to committing federal crimes.
After reviewing documents filed by prosecutors, the Texas Education Agency concluded the school board created an environment that allowed them to “engage in acts of extortion, receiving kickbacks, bribery, theft, wire fraud, and money laundering.”
Many of the charges involved a contract between La Joya ISD and Performance Services Inc., an Indiana-based company. The school board approved a two-part contract with Performance Services Inc. worth nearly $37 million.
La Joya ISD acknowledged that individual trustees broke the law, but emphasized they didn’t act on behalf of the board.
“The District states, however, that the illegal actions were conducted by individuals and not the LJISD Board ‘as a body corporate,’” according to the report.
The Texas Education Agency didn’t buy it.
“LJISD’s response to TEA’s Preliminary report attempts to deflect the actions of individual trustees as not those of the body corporate, but the evidence demonstrates the opposite: the board of trustees as a body corporate through its actions and inactions contributed significantly to the criminal conduct and corruption to which the district, its staff, and students suffered,” according to the report.
The Texas Education Agency also investigated how La Joya ISD handled conflicts of interest.
After reviewing documents and interviewing witnesses, the Texas Education Agency concluded that Cantu didn’t properly disclose a conflict of interest that involved RGV Read and Feed.
Cantu’s wife, Victoria, served on the board of RGV Read and Feed, a nonprofit organization that provided free meals to students. RGV Read and Feed also paid Cantu for consulting work.
The school board approved an agreement with RGV Read and Feed in 2017, but Cantu didn’t file a conflict-of-interest disclosure form until 2019, according to the report. Cantu also failed to recuse himself from a school board discussion about RGV Read and Feed.
La Joya ISD disputed the Texas Education Agency’s conclusion.
“LJISD’s response regarding Trustee Cantu states that due to the nature of the agreement with RGV Read and Feed, there was no requirement that Trustee Cantu complete a conflict-of-interest form. RGV Read and Feed provided after-school services for LJISD students and was compensated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Food Nutrition Service Program through the Texas Department of Agriculture. There was no compensation from LJISD,” according to the report. “Thus, the District argues that because the program was subject to the rate or fee regulation of a federal, state or local government entity, there was no ‘business relationship’ that would require Mr. Cantu to complete a conflict-of-interest form.”
In 2017, when La Joya ISD partnered with RGV Read and Feed, attorneys told Cantu he didn’t need to submit a conflict-of-interest form, according to the report, which summarizes a statement from La Joya ISD. In 2019, when Cantu discovered he needed to submit the form, he filed the document “immediately.”
The Texas Education Agency rejected that explanation.
“With regard to the District’s assertion that there was no ‘business relationship’ that would require Mr. Cantu to complete a conflict of interest form, TEA maintains that Trustee A. Cantu was deemed to have a ‘substantial interest’ related to RGV because his spouse is listed as a director for RGV. Furthermore, Mr. Cantu was paid as a consultant for two years by the vendor that had an agreement with LJISD, which is the same vendor that paid his spouse for her role as a director,” according to the report. “Since the criteria for a substantial interest was met, Trustee A. Cantu was required to complete the CIS form disclosing the conflict.”
The Texas Education Agency also noted that Cantu “removed himself” from a June 2017 school board meeting where the agreement with RGV Read and Feed was approved, which indicated “he knew that there may be a possible conflict.”
Cantu said he asked an attorney about the conflict of interest form and followed the attorney’s advice.
“We also followed legal’s advice on how to conduct all meetings,” Cantu said in a statement. “We are consulting with legal to determine what the proper legal standards are and how to correct any deficiencies in the future.”
Trustee Alda T. Benavides said that she trusted the Texas Education Agency to conduct a thorough investigation before recommending the appointment of a board of managers.
“I know that they give it careful thought,” Benavides said. “So if we’re at that level of recommendation that means that they’ve really, really evaluated everything that’s gone on.”
I think we ended up with LA Joya superintendent. TEA should do that here in edcouch Elsa ISD, most of the board members are corrupted.
Next should be IDEA Public Schools, there’s a lot of corruption, including persons that brought masters from Mexico that they bought over there, when Irma gave Castañeda a job she did his education tru Idea U on university of phoenix, teachers are not qualified to be teaching
Uresti, please shut you mouth- don’t just blame past members- why was ur mom removed from the board, why was ur dad fired from the district, publicly say that u guys gave a not good employee insurance to Hidalgo precinct 3 wife, making them rich with millions, just because ur a puppet, ur low IQ can’t even handle a decision without calling mommy.
You want talk corruption. PSJA takes the cake.
👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻well said!!! Uresti you should stop being such a puppet and pay attention to your marriage since she’s having an affair with Eddie leanos. Lmfao 😂