LA JOYA, TEXAS (ValleyCentral) — Two former school board trustees and three former administrators pleaded guilty to public corruption charges.

On that, the La Joya Independent School District and the Texas Education Agency agree.

What the corruption charges say about La Joya ISD, however, remains hotly contested.

“That really, at the end of the day, is the big question here,” said attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz of Pharr, who represents La Joya ISD.

Attorneys for La Joya ISD and the agency attempted to answer that question Friday, when they submitted closing arguments in an administrative case.

The case began in May, when the agency released a report on corruption and conflicts of interest at La Joya ISD. It concluded La Joya ISD had systemic problems and recommended the state replace the local school board with a board of managers.

La Joya ISD requested a hearing, which took place in August. Attorneys agreed to submit closing arguments in writing.

The dueling briefs, which the attorneys filed on Friday afternoon, attempted to distill hundreds of documents and hours of witness testimony into fewer than 50 pages of arguments.

La Joya ISD argued the former trustees acted without authority from the school board — and the district shouldn’t be punished for their crimes.

“It is well-settled in Texas law that a member of the board of trustees may not, individually, act on behalf of the board unless authorized by the board,” according to La Joya ISD’s closing argument, which cites the Texas Education Code and accuses the agency of side-stepping the law. “Nowhere during the Hearing does TEA acknowledge that the actions of former board members were done so without authority of the board as a whole — commonly referred to as ultra vires acts.”

Attorneys for La Joya ISD also insisted the district complied with a standard Texas Association of School Boards procurement policy when trustees approved contracts tainted by corruption.

“Hence TEA is attempting to gloss over the ultra vires acts of former trustees from five years ago,” according to La Joya ISD’s closing arguments, “and instead place blame on the newly elected La Joya board for following its TASB approved procurement policy.”

Muñoz, the attorney who represents La Joya ISD, said it would be unprecedented for the agency to hold a school district accountable for the actions of an individual. If that happened, Muñoz said districts across Texas could face a tsunami of legal issues.

The agency, meanwhile, countered that La Joya ISD had systemic problems, which clearly warranted state intervention.

“LJISD would have this body believe that unless a board of trustees properly posted the intent of many of its agents to commit serious crimes, allowed for public comment relating to the intent to commit the crimes, and then voted in open session on the crimes, then somehow state intervention responding to and preventing future crimes is precluded,” according to the agency’s closing argument. “No reasonable interpretation of the law could lead to this conclusion.”

The closing arguments also addressed concerns about whether or not school board President Alex Cantu properly disclosed a conflict of interest that involved RGV Read and Feed, a nonprofit organization that provided free meals to children.

La Joya ISD approved a memorandum of understanding with RGV Read and Feed in 2017.

Cantu was a consultant for RGV Read and Feed, which paid him nearly $137,000 in 2018 and nearly $135,000 in 2019, according to documents filed with the IRS.

His wife, Vicky, also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the organization.

“As Mr. Cantu testified at the Hearing, he received legal advice as well as advice from then superintendent Dr. Alda Benavides in 2017 that he was not required to file a conflict-of-interest disclosure statement because there was no business relationship between RGV Read and Feed and La Joya,” according to La Joya ISD’s closing argument, which cites the hearing transcript. “In 2019, Mr. Cantu was informed by his attorneys to file a conflict-of-interest disclosure statement and he immediately did so within seven days.”

Attorneys for the agency said the conflict of interest was clear.

“Conflict of interest rules, including the requirement of their disclosures, exist precisely to prevent the type of scheme that appears to be discussed here and relating to RGV Read and Feed,” according to the agency’s closing argument. “LJISD’s argument is that Mr. Cantu was not required to disclose his relationship. The evidence here suggests exactly why the public needed him to have done so.”

Two judges from the State Office of Administrative Hearings must review the arguments and prepare a report by Oct. 9.

After reviewing the report, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will decide whether to replace the local school board with a board of managers appointed by the state.