TEA removes Donna school district conservator appointed after 2017 bribery scandal

Donna ISD administration offices on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Donna. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

The Donna school district on Friday received news from the Texas Education Agency that the state is ending its conservatorship for the district, ending a five-year period of agency oversight.

Superintendent Angela Dominguez, who joined the district in 2021, said the decision is effective Friday. She called it a significant move forward for Donna ISD.

“It’s a big deal to finally be back to full local control,” she said. “The state has recognized that the Donna ISD board is operating ethically. That we’re adhering to a focus on student outcomes, and that we can do that independent of the state’s intervention, so we’re really excited about it.”

TEA first saddled the district with a monitor, Linda Romeros, in 2017 following the conviction of former board trustees on bribery charges, a scandal that made headlines across the state.

The next year Romeros was upgraded from monitor to conservator against the wishes of the board after an audit found further issues at the district.

Romeros has been a fairly constant presence at board meetings since then, generally delivering reports on district operations and occasionally pointing out faults.

Those reports have been fairly optimistic at recent meetings, and Romeros told the board late last summer that her time with the district was likely growing short.

Dominguez said Friday that the district has improved on a variety of fronts since the state stepped in.

Academic performance is solid, she said, along with district finances. The district received a 100 on its Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas score, a state benchmark of fiscal accountability.

“And then just really monitoring those practices that we’re engaging in in terms of having systems in our business offices and systems in our human resources that are highly effective and align to our board policy,” Dominguez said. “You know, we’ve been working very closely hand in hand with TEA, and they’ve been very pleased with our progress. I think this is the final demonstration of that, everything is up to par in Donna and the board really is wholly focused on student outcomes.”

The district has also adopted training in the Lone Star Governance model, Dominguez said, a framework meant to hone governing bodies’ focus on improving student outcomes.

“We will certainly maintain it. It really pushes us to self-evaluate, to set clear goals for instruction and delivery of what we want for kids in the district … It’s all about student outcomes,” she said.

Donna trustees will consider some significant items in coming months.

The board is mulling a $120 million bond election, and would have to call that election this month if it wants to move forward with it.

The district is also moving toward becoming a district of innovation, a status that would give it local flexibility more in line with a charter school.

Donna ISD’s plan is aimed at giving the district more flexibility regarding the generally non-controversial areas of the calendar and attendance, although achieving district of innovation status has been tricky for some districts in recent years.

Dominguez said that the end of the conservatorship and the work the district’s done while under it indicate Donna ISD is ready to stand solo once more.

“The board has worked very hard to be engaged in this process. They go to a lot of additional training and spend a lot of time focusing on what’s right for the kids and the community,” she said. “So this is a pretty awesome accomplishment.”

Other area districts have or will have TEA intervention.

As of January, Progreso ISD had not lost its conservator.

La Joya ISD, following a spate of corruption-related convictions of trustees and administrators, voted to willingly open its doors to state intervention last year in the face of an agency investigation, although no conservator had yet been appointed as of January.