TEA Opens Investigation Into South San ISD Regarding Reopening of Schools

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Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath speaks during a Texas State Board of Education meeting in April.

Stephen Spillman for the Rivard Report

The Texas Commissionof Education Mike Morath

The Texas Education Agency has informed the South San Antonio Independent School District it is opening a special accreditation investigation amid concerns of dysfunctional board governance.

The announcement comes a little more than a week after two state senators wrote to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath asking the Texas Education Agency to intervene.

In a letter sent to South San on April 18, Jason Hewitt, the director of the TEA Special Investigations Unit, said the TEA decided to open the investigation in response to multiple complaints that the board was acting outside its authority by directing district administrators on day-to-day operations and impeding the superintendent’s duties.

“The South San Antonio ISD Board of Trustees have exceeded their authority by attempting to reopen school campuses without receiving a recommendation from the superintendent,” Hewitt wrote describing the content of the complaints.

The TEA plans to gather information from a “variety of sources” and requested board meeting agendas, meeting minutes, archived video of open meetings, all board member communications, and electronic communication of members to the superintendent and district staff for the investigation.

The TEA also asked to interview a number of individuals including Superintendent Alexandro Flores, board president Connie Prado, the other six trustees, and district staff.

The TEA last concluded a special accreditation investigation into South San operations in 2015. At the time, the agency found concerns that involved improper management of the 2010 bond program. The TEA issued a corrective action plan that South San failed to follow, resulting in a conservator being appointed in February 2016.

The district declined to comment.

In a written statement, Prado said she welcomes the “pending TEA visit” and that the board of trustees will cooperate fully with the investigation.

“The Board has proceeded systematically and methodically in its efforts to fulfill its electoral mandate to re-open Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School and West Campus High School,” Prado wrote. “There has been fierce public debate. At this time a majority of the Board of Trustees truly believes that we must restore the trust and confidence by reopening our schools. Elections have consequences. We look forward to accomplishing this goal with the help of our Superintendent.”

In identical letters sent to the TEA, State Sens. José Menéndez and Pete Flores outlined what they viewed as issues in board governance and financial mismanagement on the South San board.

“We are concerned that reopening any closed campuses will deplete needed resources from an already thinly stretched district,” the senators wrote. “South San ISD is projected to lose another 300 students in the upcoming 2019-20 school year. In spite of these losses, the Board President and a faction of the Board have proposed a course of action that will cost the district over $6 million by their own estimates to re-establish the three campuses under an unreasonable timeline to reopen by the start of the 2019-20 school year.”

The senators asked Morath to install a conservator immediately to prevent any “further irreparable harm [being] done to the students and the community of the South San Antonio Independent School District.”

South San was the subject of state intervention from February 2016 to January 2018 when a conservator oversaw board decisions regarding concerns of board governance and financial mismanagement. The TEA pulled the conservator a little more than a year ago because of renewed confidence in the district’s board.

In November, school board elections swept out three incumbents, adding four new trustees to the board: Homer Flores, Shirley Ibarra Pena, Mandy Martinez, and Gilbert Rodriguez. Three of these trustees aligned with board president Prado. The four-trustee majority has been pushing a plan to reopen three shuttered campuses by next school year, over the wishes of Superintendent Alexandro Flores to research the matter further before implementation.

At a recent meeting, the four trustees voted to further a plan that takes money from the district’s fund balance to cover the startup costs for the schools. The approved plan states that the cost to reopen the schools could be a little more than $6 million.

District trustees Louis Ybarra and Elda Flores have remarked that the board is exceeding its authority and micromanaging the district staff.

8 thoughts on “TEA Opens Investigation Into South San ISD Regarding Reopening of Schools

  1. I am so glad that TEA is getting involved. As an Elementary teacher, I am already having to stretch resources that we barely have and most are getting to their expiration dates. My class is 19 students, but never exceeds 22. We are not overcrowded and we will be losing some students with the charter schools that are still expanding. There is no need to open schools so quickly and in such a manner that will take more of those resources I and other educators do not have. Thank you TEA for helping my district. My South San my Choice!

  2. Again and again, SSAISD proves its inability to know how to run a school system to the benefit of the students. Parents continue to move their students to charter schools. TEA Conservative may be a solution, but I believe when SSAISD is dissolved and combined with another district, the children will find a better solution.

  3. Elections have consequences, Prado says. Misconduct has consequences also, as Prado and her board cronies will discover when the TEA slaps them down yet again.

  4. As a tax payer I am concerned about how the board is handling district issues, as stated before the expansion of charter schools and predicted loss of students how do the board members plan to fill these campuses. Also teachers have to buy a lot of supplies for their students to do class. How about taking this 6 million dollars proposed to open these schools and reimburse teachers for out of pocket expenses.

  5. This toxic school board leader and the majority of the board needs to be sent packing. Hopefully one day South San will have a board in place that will place the best interests of its students, teachers, staff and parents first. Thank you TEA.

  6. Thank you, TEA! I’m sure that after TEA gets wind of all our current district needs, they will bring immediate halt to the school boards urgency in opening not one, not two, but three closed down schools. The inability to facilitate the current makes it obvious that someone is working against the best interest of the teachers, students and the parents.

  7. The Board needs to rebuild what it currently has. You have minimal funds, low student enrollment with a steady increase in student withdrawals and a community that doesn’t trust your judgement. At what point did you think it’s a great idea to spend 6 million to reopen campuses that you can’t fill? That’s common sense. You need to strategize and work on making the campuses you do have open a phenomenal working and learning environment for the students and staff you have while you still have them. You can’t expect to rebuild overnight especially when you’re still working on gaining the community’s trust again. Unfortunately, for many people, they don’t want to take the risk of putting their child’s future in the hands of SSAISD.

  8. Im am a proud SSAISD teacher and I wish they would ASK us too for our opinion on the matter. That should be common sense no? A simple survey , anonymous or not, I am positive would result in the greatest majority of teachers declining to reopen the old schools for the reasons already abundantly stated in other comments . IT MAKES NO SENSE to reopen and will really hurt us who teach in a already constructed budget. We could really use that money so we didn’t have to share our music teacher with another school, a reading specialist, an art teacher since our kids never have had one as opposed to kids in NISD and other districts. How about an orchestra program for middle and HS? Wouldn’t all those millions be enough to power something like that instead of wasting it just cause you made a promise? Even if it was an unsustainable promised? Sorry but we shouldn’t pay for board members making the wrong promises.

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