Texas Official Who Oversaw Compromised Public School Investigation Resigns

Texas Official Who Oversaw Compromised Public School Investigation Resigns

TEXAS–Government investigations into administrative corruption at a public school district in El Paso appear to have revealed no results in spite of reported widespread knowledge that such corruption did in fact take place according to local media. The corruption in question pertains to a cheating scandal that occurred at El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), where administrators were widely accused of evading state tests to increase the school district’s federal rankings, according to local press. 

The El Paso Times recently reported that Lorenzo García, Superintendent of the school district at the time of the cheating, pled guilty in 2012 to defrauding  the Texas Education Agency and the U.S. Department of Education. Under García, EPISD administrators ensured that struggling students in the district did not take the 10th grade TAKS test. The TAKS test is used to determine federal progress ratings; by preventing poor students from taking the test, EPISD’s ratings received a boost. García admitted to ordering administrators “to do anything to make it look like scores were improving.”

After Texas Sen. Eliot Shapleigh initially accused EPISD of cheating, and demanded that those responsible be held accountable, Emi Johnson headed two investigations into the matter. 

On February 28, after leading two investigations surrounding the alleged cheating, the El Paso Times reported that Emi Johnson resigned from her position as the Director of Special Investigations at the Texas Education Agency (TEA). 

According to the El Paso Times, not one representative from Johnson’s Office of Complaints and Investigations made a trip to El Paso to look into the cheating. A state auditor’s report accused the agency of being poorly organized and not making any significant effort to investigate the scheme. 

Due in part to the TEA’s failed investigation into the cheating, EPISD was cleared of all allegations, according to local press.  

The Office of Complaints, Investigations, and School Accountability was created in response to the auditor’s report. Margie Johnson (no relation to Emi Johnson) left the newly-created office after just a few months working there; she was appointed in December after working for the Texas Attorney General. Johnson, however, claims that her exit has nothing to do with the cheating scandal itself, or the TEA’s failure to investigate it. Instead, she said the job was not a “good fit” for her. 

TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said in an email to the El Paso Times, “Margie Johnson has been helpful with developing new processes within the investigations office and consolidating some of our investigatory policies, but as she looked at future plans for the office and based on her background and expertise, she determined that her skill set was not conducive to helping the agency move forward.”

Several Texas politicians, such as State Sen. José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) have vehemently demanded in local media that someone be held accountable for the TEA investigation failure. Rodríguez suggested that Emi Johnson should be disciplined, since she was largely responsible for the failures. 

Rodríguez also cited concern over Margie Johnson’s sudden departure from the agency. He said, “I’m disappointed that she has already resigned in such a short period of time on the job.” He also blamed insufficient funding for the investigation failure. He said, “If you’re going to set up an office for complaints and school accountability, you’ve got to make sure it’s a well-staffed office with efficient resources to follow through on complaints and investigations.”

Follow Kirstin Tate on Twitter @KristinBTate