Another troubled Texas school district surrendered to the state following an investigation that revealed internal mismanagement. The action by the state occurred despite an appeal to thwart its takeover.
Southside Independent School District administrators learned Wednesday that Education Commissioner Mike Morath rejected their appeal to fight the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) intentions to place the district under conservatorship and replace the seven-member publicly-elected board of trustees with a five-person appointed board of managers after the district’s accreditation dropped to “warned” status.
Breitbart Texas obtained the February 1 letter Morath sent to the San Antonio area school district’s Superintendent Mark Eads and trustees. In it, Morath rehashed an internal probe conducted by the TEA’s Special Investigations Unit (SUI), triggered by a May 2016 complaint that alleged “a systematic breakdown” of the board of trustees’ ability to govern and oversee the the management of public schools in the district.
A resulting November 15 Special Accreditation Investigation report concluded Southside ISD trustees acted individually on behalf of the board, which violates the Texas education code. It stated the board failed to comply with the state’s contract procurement requirements and “failed to monitor the district’s finances” to ensure the district’s “financial procedures and records were properly maintained.”
One issue raised involved improprieties associated with the $95,700 costs of “concrete improvements” for the district’s football stadium and trustees subsequent inability to provide SUI “with any documentation to demonstrate” they approved the project or solicited proposals and bids from other contractors “prior to entering into the agreement with the general contractor,” according to the November report. Morath first announced his intention to takeover the district based on the report’s findings in a December 1 letter.
“My decisions regarding lowered accreditation status and appointment of the board of managers and conservator are final and not appealable,” Morath wrote in Wednesday’s letter. He also stated he would introduce the appointed conservator at the school district’s February 2 board meeting.
Morath will announce the appointees for superintendent and the board of managers in an upcoming correspondence. The appointed board will oversee the management of the district. Morath noted: “A majority of the board managers will consist of members in the Southside community who are committed to service on behalf of the students of the district and the community.”
On Thursday, Southside ISD school board trustees voted 5-2 not to fight the TEA takeover in court even though they voted in December to sue the TEA if they lost their appeal, the San Antonio Express-News reported.
“We know this legal action will be very long and very expensive, and this money should be spent on our kids, not legal actions,” said Kenneth Bouldin, board vice president, who made the motion not to challenge Morath’s decision. This will pave the way for the state to lower the district’s accreditation status, appoint a conservator, superintendent, and board of managers.
When a district is taken over, the failed publicly-elected school board is replaced by an appointed board of managers whose job is to get the district back on track. Appointed boards can remain in place for up to two years before the TEA reinstates local control and school board elections may resume.
Texas has roughly 1,200 school districts and charters. A TEA takeover remains a drastic way to remedy a district’s problems, which vary. Southside ISD is only one of several school districts statewide taken over by the TEA and run by state appointed boards, conservators, and interim superintendents. Last year, the agency intervened in Edgewood ISD over accreditation issues, in Marlin ISD after failing to meet state accountability standards for five years, and in South San Antonio ISD where the agency appointed a conservator to oversee financial and governance issues.
In 2014, the TEA assumed control in Beaumont ISD following a mismanagement saga that included a $4 million embezzlement scheme, a district-wide special education program scandal that denied many students access to services, and leadership failures. In 2012, the TEA stepped in at El Paso ISD after a test cheating scandal.
Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.