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Texas Education Agency takes over more public school districts

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(The Center Square) – The Texas Education Agency is continuing to take over failing public school districts. The most recent takeovers include Socorro ISD and Marlin ISD.

The TEA appointed two conservators last week to manage the Socorro Independent School District after a TEA special investigation found it violated the Texas Education Code by graduating students who didn’t meet requirements, failed to disclose a trustee’s conflict of interest with a vendor, and paid $283,000 in unauthorized stipends. The report also cites complaints filed with the TEA about board members and administrators.

The conservators are a former Dallas Independent School District supervisor and a director at the University of Texas at Austin, according to a letter sent to SISD from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath explained that “TEA received multiple complaints regarding the internal academic auditor’s findings in the 2019 graduation audit. The agency received further complaints regarding allegations of conflict of interest, unauthorized use of district funds, misuse of special education funds and personnel, and pervasive governance concerns.”

He also explained the conservators’ responsibilities clarifying that their involvement “does not relieve the district and its governing board of the responsibility to operate in compliance with all applicable statutes and rules.”

Socorro ISD, the second-largest school district in El Paso County, serves 47,000 students. The district has a $33 million deficit and its superintendent is leaving in June to work in an Arizona school district. In March, the district’s Board of Trustees voted to ask the TEA to take it over.

The TEA began a transition process in February in the takeover of Marlin ISD, which serves 880 students in Falls County.

Morath announced the “transition of district governance from the appointed Board of Managers to the elected Board of Trustees has been initiated” and announced the new members. He said the transition “signifies an important milestone for Marlin ISD” after the process began more than seven years ago.

In January 2017, Morath began the takeover process after the district received five consecutive years of unacceptable academic accountability ratings. He first appointed five new Board of Managers to lead Marlin ISD. In January 2019, he extended the placement of the board “due to a lack of improvement” in the district’s 2017 and 2018 accountability ratings. By that time, the district had received seven consecutive years of unacceptable performance.

In January 2021, Morath announced a transition timeline for the district’s Board of Managers. Due to several factors, the initiation of the transition was delayed until Jan. 31, 2024. Additional trustees will transition to the board in January 2025 and January 2026, he said.

La Joya ISD in the Rio Grande Valley was taken over in January after a TEA investigation last year found that two LJISD trustees and three central office administrators engaged “in acts of extortion, receiving kickbacks, bribery, theft, wire fraud, and money laundering,” all felonies, for which they were convicted nearly two years ago.

The TEA also took over Houston ISD last year after years of litigation, which followed a pattern similar to that of LJISD’s.

Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a law making it easier for TEA to implement measures to respond to failing public schools and corruption.