Feds Approve State-Appointed Board for El Paso

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — May 01, 2013 2 min read
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The El Paso school district’s state-appointed board of managers will be sworn into office next week, after the Civil Rights division of the federal Justice Department said it would not oppose a state-appointed board of managers running the district for up to two years.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael L. Williams appointed the new board of managers to replace the district’s elected board of trustees in December, in the wake of a cheating scandal that sent former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia to jail last fall. But under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the power swap had to be approved by the federal agency.

In a statement on the school district’s website, interim superintendent Vernon L. Butler said that the board will take on the role of the deposed board of trustees, “to continue efforts to address and correct identified deficiencies and to implement structural and procedural improvement strategies for long-term, positive change.” The board will be tasked with finding a permanent superintendent and reestablishing trust in a district that’s still recovering from a cheating scheme that affected numerous students. Butler reassured the district’s families that he will remain in his position for now and that the move would not impact the operations of schools.

The district’s elected board of trustees had contested the state’s involvement. In his statement, Butler acknowledges that tension. But many of the board members were in office while Garcia and others in the district adjusted students’ grade levels and placement—and encouraged some students to drop out—in order to manipulate schools’ tests scores so that school leaders would profit. Garcia also gave a no-bid contract to a mistress. He was arrested in 2011 and eventually convicted of two counts of mail fraud.

Texas’s state education commissioner, Michael L. Williams, will attend the first meeting of the new board of managers next week, during which the new members will be sworn into office.

“This has been a long process for all those involved,” said Commissioner Williams in a press release. “But with federal preclearance now secured, these five individuals, who are committed to restoring faith in the El Paso Independent School District, can finally begin their work.”

The Board of Managers will consist of:

• Edmund G. Archuleta, the retired head of El Paso Water Utilities
• Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, the chief financial officer of the city of El Paso
• Dee Margo, a former state representative
• Blanca Enriquez, executive director of a local Head Start program, and
• Judy Castleberry, the district’s state-appointed monitor

The ousted elected board has no authority while the state-appointed board is in control. It is likely to look into legal options, the president of the former school board of trustees, Isela Castanon-Williams, told the Associated Press.

In the meantime, an election for the school board of trustees that’s scheduled for May 11 will still be held in order to ensure that there is an elected school board ready to step in when the state board’s work is finished, according to the Texas Education Agency.

The cheating scheme in El Paso, with its counseling out and grade level switches, was perhaps the most egregious of the many cheating scandals that have been dogging school districts around the country. Columbus, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia, and Atlantahave also had schools and administrators accused and, in some cases, convicted of manipulating test scores or student records in order to game state accountability systems.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.