La Joya ISD asks for TEA intervention following corruption scandals

La Joya ISD marquee on March 11, 2022, in La Joya. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Three La Joya ISD board trustees spoke over each other Wednesday to be the first to willingly open the district’s doors to Texas Education Agency intervention, a step an attorney described as a move toward growth after finally publicly acknowledging an ongoing state investigation that began after federal authorities arrested board trustees and district employees earlier this year.

Formally, the board moved to authorize legal counsel to engage with the TEA to find a resolution to four investigation items and welcome the TEA to the La Joya ISD.

“As part of this action, we would be reaching out to TEA, we would be negotiating with them to bring onboard a degree of intervention — a monitor or a conservator — to join us and be able to be part of our solution moving forward as a district,” attorney Eden Ramirez told the board Wednesday.

The appointment of a monitor or a conservator would allow the district to avoid the most severe level of intervention: the appointment of a board of managers.

Scandal enveloped the district earlier this year when two trustees — Armin Garza and Oscar “Coach” Salinas — and two administrators pleaded guilty on federal charges levied as part of a widespread, ongoing corruption case in western Hidalgo County.

Officials confirmed rumblings of likely TEA intervention to The Monitor in early March.

According to Ramirez, TEA notified the district of a special accreditation investigation on March 21.

“This specific investigation is being conducted by the Texas Education Agency on complaints that were made against the district based on recent happenings that we’ve seen and that we’re all currently aware of,” he said. “Specifically the complaint alleged that members of the La Joya ISD Board of Trustees and administration engaged in fraud, conflict of interest, and contract procurement violations.”

The Monitor asked district spokesperson Blanca Cantu about TEA exploring intervention options and a possible visit from state personnel on March 25. Cantu said TEA personnel had not visited the district, but didn’t comment on the organization exploring intervention options.

The Progress Times reported in April that district leadership had been notified of an investigation via letter, which listed four alleged state law violations.

The board has engaged in a variety of measures and trainings meant to prevent more corruption in the district. Ramirez described TEA intervention as a way to build on that progress.

“We would be asking them to come to La Joya ISD — join us — and be part of what we do to ensure that we are fully transparent with the community and that we are completely moving forward and doing the right thing,” he said. “And that we are able to show TEA that the steps that we’ve taken in the past — including our remedial action measures, our joining of the Texas Lone Star Governance framework and future projects that we have to address some of the issues that we’ve lived through — are all positive steps forward to ensure that La Joya ISD continues on the path to growth that it has been experiencing.”

At least two Hidalgo County districts — Donna and Progreso — continue to have TEA intervention years after experiencing scandals of their own. Other districts have avoided running afoul of the agency by agreeing to relatively non-intrusive corrective action plans.