Texas to Take Over Troubled Progreso School District


The Texas Education Agency is expected to replace the Progreso school board with a state-appointed board of managers later this month in addition to lowering the accreditation status of the district.

The move comes as a result of an investigation into the district beginning November 2013 after reports of mismanagement of funds resulted in the arrest of three district officials.  The district has been plagued by corruption scandals for years, including a bribery scheme involving a politically influential family, as well as the arrest of board Trustee Felix Hernandez Jr., who was found in possession of 1,254 pounds of marijuana while driving a tractor-trailer.

School district attorney Kevin O’Hanlon and trustees Juan Ramos and Alejandro Alanis attended a formal review in November that gave district officials the opportunity to discuss their case with commissioners.

The decision was first announced in September by Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams, who rejected last-minute appeals from the board.  The final decision was brought to the board last Wednesday in a two-page letter, along with a reduction in accreditation status to “accredited warned” for the 2014-15 school year.

The elected seven-member school board will be replaced with an appointed five-member board of managers.  In addition, superintendent Ismael Cantu was appointed by the Texas Education Agency to run all day-to-day operations.  Cantu had previously served as superintendent between August 2014, when former superintendent Fernando Castillo retired, until August 2015, when Martin Cuellar was hired by the board as the new superintendent.

“The current management team’s appointment will remain active until the board of managers is installed, at which time the management team’s appointment will be suspended,” according to the letter.

Agency spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said the new board will take over the district in January, adding that most of the members of the new board are community members who will be able to make use of their close ties to meet the challenges they will be facing, reports Tiffany Huertas for Valley Central.

“We’ve tried lower level interventions and sanctions. And so far those have not worked,” said Ratcliffe. “We feel, in part, because the board hasn’t stepped up and done what it needed to do to correct the situation. And so that’s driven us to this point of replacing the school board with this board of managers.”

While Ramos said he does believe the board of managers to be qualified enough to keep the district moving ahead, he added that current board members had previously agreed to file a lawsuit against Williams and TEA if their appeal had been denied.