POSTED: Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 5:53am
UPDATED: Friday, December 7, 2012 - 11:36am
EL PASO — A new oversight board was appointed for the El Paso Independent School District Thursday in light of an ongoing investigation into a cheating scandal that's plagued the district's credibility.
Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams appointed Ed Archuleta the CEO of El Paso Water Utilities. Also appointed was the Honorable Dee Margo, current TEA monitor Dr. Judy Castleberry, and Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, CFO for El Paso, to oversee the district. A fifth member will be selected based on suggestions made by Senator Jose Rodriguez.
"We are not going to allow cheating in that state. We are not going to allow cheating by our teachers," Williams said.
The board of managers will be responsible for overseeing the management of EPISD including oversight of the district's efforts to address and correct identified deficiencies and to implement effective, structural and procedural improvement strategies for long-term, positive change.
"This is an extremely critical time for the district, its students, as well as for the community," Williams said. "I am appointing a local board of managers because I believe El Pasoans are in the best position to initiate and sustain long-term, positive change for their school district."
Williams also announced the appointment of Vernon Butler to continue in his current role as interim superintendent when the board of managers is installed. The appointment of the five-member board must be pre-cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice. Because the Texas Education Agency's action temporarily replaces a seven-member elected board of trustees, federal pre-clearance is necessary.
The federal pre-clearance process is expected to take approximately 60 to 90 days. In the interim, Williams has immediately elevated the role of Dr. Judy Castleberry from TEA monitor to conservator. As conservator, Castleberry will oversee the operations of the district until the board of managers is formally installed. Castleberry has served as monitor for EPISD since her appointment in August.
In August, TEA lowered EPISD's accreditation status based on findings that the district reported fraudulent data to TEA in order to inflate state and federal accountability scores. The agency found that EPISD failed to comply with requirements of multiple provisions of the Texas Education Code. The agency also found that these failures reflected serious structural and organizational defects within the district that allowed the fraudulent reporting and violations to go unchecked.
Williams is hopeful a board of managers can stabilize and strengthen EPISD and the education it provides to students.
"In my visits to El Paso, I have met and visited with many members of the community who want to make their school district a source of pride once again," Williams said. "With the appointment of a local board of managers, I am confident that the work to restore full confidence in El Paso ISD can be accomplished."
Once in place, the appointed board of managers will assume all responsibilities of the elected board of trustees. The board of managers will be in place for up to two years. A school board election must be called within two years of this appointment.
It's been four years since allegations of cheating first rose to the surface.
Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia, along with the help of others, was pushing students out of the classroom so the district could get thousands in federal dollars and Garcia could get bonuses.
The details were first brought to the attention of former State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh in 2008.
He alerted the Texas Education Agency, who found no wrongdoing.
It wasn't until NewsChannel 9 first reported the allegations in November of 2010 that the FBI stepped in.
In less than a year, August 2011, Lorenzo garcia was indicted. In that case, it was revealed Garcia had six unnamed, unindicted co-conspirators.
Garcia resigned as superintendent and claimed he was innocent.
But that changed less than a year later.
This past June he pleaded guilty to the cheating scheme.
After that news came out, the T.E.A. acted.
In August they put the district on probation and assigned them a monitor, Judy Castleberry.
Garcia was sentenced in October of this year.
He will spend the next three and a half years in prison.
Then, in October, a rally outside EPISD headquarters called for the board members to resign.
"We've basically got the same people in charge that were in charge when Dr. Garcia committed all of his felonous acts," said Dan Wever, a former EPISD trustee from 1999 to 2003.
Since that rally, board members have tried to right some wrongs, including hiring a forensic auditor.
The district also suspended several employees, which led to the resignations of a former Bowie High principal, assistant principal, and a district campus director.
Apparently, with today's decision by Williams, it was not enough to regain the public's trust.