The Texas Education Agency wants an independent monitor to keep tabs on the troubled Donna Independent School District.
After conducting a review of several corruption scandals that rocked the district during the past few years, the agency sent a letter to school board President Efren Ceniceros on Tuesday. The letter from Deputy Commissioner of Governance A.J. Crabill notified the district that Linda Romeros would monitor the school district.
“It’s about darn time that the corruption in Donna is exposed,” said school board Trustee John Billman, who took office in November — when voters elected six new trustees.
Billman said the school district needs an independent monitor to keep tabs on district administration and provide advice to the school board.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Billman said, adding that he thought the majority of the trustees would welcome the state monitor. “Our administration probably needs to be shadowed.”
Several scandals involving the school board prompted the state agency to appoint a monitor.
* Donna ISD contracted with board of trustee Member B during his tenure on the board, and he failed to exclude himself from district matters that he financially benefited from and failed to file conflicts disclosure statements in violation of Texas Local Government Code §176.003.
* In their official capacities as trustees for the district, former board of trustee Members D and E abused their authority when they solicited and accepted monetary gifts from an existing district contractor/vendor and failed to file conflicts disclosure statements in violation of Texas Education Code (TEC) §§11.151 and 11.1511(b)(9) and Texas Local Government Code §176.003.
* Former board of trustee Members D, E, F, and G violated TEC §21.407, which prohibits a school district board of trustees from influencing or restricting the political affairs of teachers. Additionally, pursuant to TEC §12.201(d)(2), these board members infringed on the authority of the superintendent regarding the administrative responsibility for the assignment of all district personnel. As a result of the allegations incorporated in the Final Report, Donna ISD demonstrated that it lacks sufficient internal controls to allow the board of trustees to comply with the requirements of state law in accordance with TEC §11.1511(b)(15)
The letter doesn’t identify the former trustees by name.
Member D and Member E, though, are former trustees Elpidio Yanez Jr. and Eloy Infante. (Though not necessarily in that order.) Both men pleaded guilty to attempted interference with commerce by extortion.
A federal judge sentenced Infante to 46 months in prison. Yanez was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
Member F and Member G are former trustees Nick Castillo and Albert Sandoval. (Though not necessarily in that order.)
After weighing the evidence against them, a jury determined Castillo, Sandoval, Yanez and Infante punished school district employees who didn’t support them politically. The school district settled the civil lawsuit.
Billman said the Texas Education Agency could have reacted sooner.
“They should’ve done their due diligence in overseeing all districts throughout the Valley,” said Billman. “Sure there were somethings that happened via some of the past board members, and now it’s falling on our hands as new members for DISD. Having said that, we’re going to deal with what we’ve been handed and it’s not going to slow us down.”
The school district may request an informal review of the agency’s decision to appoint a monitor.