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IDEA Public Schools may sell boutique hotel in Los Fresnos

IDEA Public Schools may sell the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, a boutique hotel in Los Fresnos that former executives allegedly purchased without board approval.

During a meeting on Wednesday morning, the IDEA Real Estate Committee unanimously approved a motion to “recommend the next steps related to sale of property in Los Fresnos.”

The Inn at Chachalaca Bend is the only property IDEA owns in Los Fresnos.

“IDEA’s Board of Directors has previously authorized that the property be sold,” Lynnette Montemayor, a spokeswoman for IDEA, said in a statement. “The Board has requested updates on this and receives updates on purchase offers, including prospective offers, which was the purpose of the agenda item.”

Questionable spending by former executives, including the decision to buy the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, prompted a major shakeup at IDEA during 2020 and 2021.

The Inn at Chachalaca Bend. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times)

IDEA purchased the boutique hotel, which sits on about 50 acres in rural Cameron County, from To Every Tribe Ministries in October 2019.

According to a statement released by IDEA, former executives purchased the property without board approval.

“In 2010, prior executive leadership requested that IDEA’s Board of Directors approve the purchase of property in Los Fresnos that was an event venue and lodging facility,” according to a statement released by Montemayor, the IDEA spokeswoman. “The Board of Directors rejected the request, and the purchase did not move forward. In 2019 IDEA’s prior executive leadership proceeded with the purchase of that property and spent $2 million to acquire it, without seeking board approval.”

Before the pandemic, IDEA used the Inn at Chachalaca Bend for staff meetings.

“In Fall 2020, IDEA’s Board of Directors authorized engaging a real estate broker to market the Los Fresnos property for sale. The property has been listed and not in active use by IDEA since that time,” according to the statement. “IDEA is currently considering offers. Once an acceptable offer is received and finalized, IDEA’s Board of Directors and current leadership are eager to direct proceeds from any sale toward IDEA’s core mission of preparing students for success in college and life.”

A former executive, however, disputed that members of the board didn’t know about the purchase.

The former executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said members of the board discussed the purchase during IDEA Finance Committee meetings.

IDEA planned to use the property for a school with an environmental theme, according to the former executive.

The Progress Times could not verify whether or not members of the board knew about the purchase.

In May 2021, the Progress Times requested all documents relating or referring to the purchase of the Inn at Chachalaca Bend. IDEA sued the Texas Attorney General’s Office to keep the documents from becoming public.

In October 2021, the Progress Times requested videos of all IDEA Finance Committee meetings from 2018 to 2020. IDEA sued the Attorney General’s Office again.

Some details, however, emerged in a lawsuit filed by former IDEA Superintendent JoAnn Gama.

“Defendant admits that the wife of a former IDEA Board member was used as the real estate broker for the purchase, for which she received a commission, without prior disclosure, consent, or engagement by IDEA’s Board to do so,” according to a reply filed by IDEA in March 2023.

Members of the board didn’t know IDEA had purchased the property until after CEO Tom Torkelson stepped down in April 2020, according to the lawsuit.

“The Board promptly directed the divestment of this property,” according to the reply, “as the purchase was never authorized by the Board and never part of IDEA’s approved school expansion plans.”

2 Comments

  1. Nando Garcia on June 22, 2023 at 11:23 am

    So the private owners of IDEA schools decided to invest profits from tax payer funds to buy himself a 3 star lodge. How quaint. Meanwhile TRUE public schools whose funds are allocated by their city’s Independent School Districts (La Joya ISD, Edinburg ISD, Houston ISD, etc.) don’t have any profits to splurge on shopping sprees. Every single dollar of ISD funds must go to school salaries, maintenence, etc. The “profit” urge in privatization of schools, like IDEA schools, will always mean less dollars spent for students.

  2. CARLOS CASTAÑEDA on July 8, 2023 at 8:33 pm

    And yet they say that they send all students to college- they enrolled them but 98% droop off after not affording tuition, idea doesn’t even provide a pencil, much less a book- and yet the ask lower pay employees (cafeteria/transportation) for every pay check deduction, named give me 5, and they loan that money to the students and they have to repay with high interest. TEA should take over this place- u guys are making rich – Joann and Tom- please just don’t send ur kids to this school system- it’s a ripoff

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