The embezzlement scandal that rocked the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) found resolution on two fronts–the employees who were indicted for stealing over $4 million from the district had their day before a U.S. judge and the Texas Commissioner of Education rendered his decision on the fate of the BISD board of trustees–in light of the corruption.
First, in federal court, BISD former Director of Finance Devin McCraney, 35, pleaded guilty to the charge of fraud upon programs receiving federal funds before U.S. District Judge Ron Clark, according to a news release issued by the office of U.S. Attorney John M. Bales. His co-conspirator, former BISD Comptroller Sharika Baksh Allison, 43, pleaded guilty to the charge of conspiracy to commit fraud upon programs receiving federal funds. Both McCraney and Allison are Beaumont residents.
Breitbart Texas recently reported that McCraney and Allison were charged a 19-count indictment, including conspiracy and 18 counts, of fraud in connection with over $4 million stolen from BISD through wire transfers into bank accounts under personal control.
According to the Beaumont Enterprise, Allison signed a plea agreement on Monday, April 7. The conspiracy charge was dropped in McCraney’s plea agreement. The pair was indicted by a federal grand jury on Jan. 8, 2014. McCraney faces up to 10 years in federal prison and restitution of $4,041,705.27. Allison faces up to 5 years in federal prison and restitution of up to $1,351,983.11. Sentencing dates have not been set.
Neil Sanchez, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Inspector General’s South Central Regional Office, said “These defendants knowingly and willfully abused their position of trust to steal education funds that were supposed to be used to provide services for the most innocent of victims–school children. That is unacceptable.”
U.S. Attorney Bales noted that a joint task force will continue to diligently work to insure that individuals “who are ripping off BISD and impugning both the mission, and the many good public servants who are committed to that mission, are held accountable.”
This case is being prosecuted as part of the Joint Task Force established in March 2014 between the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office in Jefferson County, Texas.
Jefferson County District Attorney Cory Crenshaw commented that the defendants admission of guilt is vital in the process of restoring the public’s faith in law and order.
The imperative to heal and move forward productively was emphasized by Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Williams, who announced his decision to remove the BISD board of trustees and appoint a board of managers to oversee the management of the district, also on April 14.
The Commissioner also stated he intended to name a new superintendent, according to the TEA news release.
“This is a critical time for the district and its students, as well as for the community as a whole,” wrote Williams in a letter to the current BISD superintendent and board president.
“The magnitude of the findings, the serious nature of the ongoing and systemic operating deficiencies facing the district, and the importance of preventing further harm to the welfare of the Beaumont ISD’s students and to the public interest compel me to appoint a board of managers at this time,” he added.
The commissioner will formally announce the names of those serving on the board of managers, as well as an interim superintendent, at a future date. He is hopeful a board of managers can stabilize and strengthen BISD, while also focusing on the education it provides to students.
The board of managers–which will be comprised of a majority of members from the Beaumont community–will be responsible for overseeing the management of the Beaumont Independent School District, 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.
According to the Beaumont Enterprise, Williams will move Fred Shafer into the role of conservator. Shafer is the TEA monitor who has been serving over BISD’s special education department. He will oversee district operations, ensuring that BISD takes appropriate measures until a board of managers is in place. Previously, Shafer has served as Special Education Solutions for Region 4, Director of Special Education at Katy ISD and Coordinator for Special Education at Region 3.
“The people of Beaumont have waited patiently for action, but made it very clear to me that they are now ready to restore the damaged reputation of their local school district,” Williams said in the TEA release.
Williams also made good on pledge to meet with district families, business leaders and other stakeholders regarding BISD issues, incorporating community input into TEA staff recommendations into his final decision.
“For quite some time now, local district leadership has had various warnings and multiple opportunities to address the many troubling issues surrounding the Beaumont Independent School District,” said Commissioner Williams.
“The people of Beaumont have waited patiently for action, but made it very clear to me that they are now ready to restore the damaged reputation of their local school district.”
The troubled school district’s accreditation will be lowered to Accredited-Probation. However, this will have no impact on the validity of high school diplomas issued by BISD, nor will it impact graduates’ ability to gain college admissions, according to the TEA release.
The Beaumont Independent School District may request a record review of the appointment of a board of managers and its lowered accreditation status, as well as request an informal review of the conservator assignment. A request for a record review and/or an informal review must be submitted in writing and received by the Texas Education Agency no later than April 24, 2014.
Pending the outcome of the final review, the board of manager’s appointment will become effective on June 15, 2014. 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.
Kristin Tate contributed to this report.
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