A judge will hear the La Joya Independent School District’s case against the Texas Education Agency on July 31.
Attorneys for La Joya ISD and the agency filed a joint motion with the State Office of Administrative Hearings last week, setting the case for July 31. After the hearing, an administrative law judge will decide whether or not the local school board should be replaced with a state-appointed board of managers.
“The board does not feel that TEA’s proposed action is justified,” said attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz of Pharr, who represents La Joya ISD. “They’re choosing to take an extreme action for the behavior of a select few individuals.”
The agency started investigating La Joya ISD in 2022, when two former school board trustees and three former administrators pleaded guilty to public corruption charges. They confessed to accepting bribes, soliciting kickbacks, circumventing the competitive bidding process and canceling a La Joya ISD contract for political reasons.
In May 2023, the agency’s Special Investigation Unit released a 40-page report on La Joya ISD.
The report blamed the school board for creating “an environment that allowed two trustees to engage in conspiracy to defraud the government.”
“The lack of specific procedures to prevent fraud and corruption (which LJISD’s response acknowledges as an area the district continues to work to make improvements on) was a failure on the part of the LJISD board as a body corporate that allowed for the criminal acts of individuals both within the board itself as well as in the district administration,” according to the report. “The District’s response fails to address the fraudulent actions taken by the three administrators who had the opportunity and incentive to commit fraud due to the lax oversight of the board of trustees. The totality of these circumstances demonstrates that corrupt actions were taken at multiple levels of the LJISD organization due to failures by the body corporate.”
It recommended that Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath replace the local school board with a state-appointed board of managers.
Trustees voted 4-3 to fight the state takeover.
“Not once has the board rejected any TEA presence at La Joya ISD,” Muñoz said, adding that the district invited the state to appoint a monitor or conservator. “They’ve, on more than one occasion, welcomed their presence, their participation. It’s just at the proposed level that there’s a problem.”
La Joya ISD hired John Scott, a well-connected attorney from Fort Worth, to handle the case.
Just two weeks after La Joya ISD hired Scott, however, Gov. Greg Abbott asked him to serve as interim attorney general.
Muñoz said Scott would remain on the case.
“He will continue to serve as the district’s counsel in the TEA matter,” Muñoz said.
Asked for an update on the situation, the Texas Education Agency released a brief statement.
“Currently, TEA is proceeding in accordance with law and conducting preparations for the potential appointment of a Board of Managers,” according to the statement.