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Making the case for and against the EPISD school board

By Ashlie Rodriguez, Reporter
Published On: Dec 12 2012 11:08:09 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 25 2012 05:58:17 PM CST
EL PASO, Texas -

El Paso trustees aren't going down without a fight. The board announced Wednesday it will appeal the Texas Education Commissioner's decision to strip the board of its powers. 

If the appointed board of managers takes its place, it will do so just two month before school board elections in May.

This means newly elected trustees will have virtually no power, and the people who will - will not be accountable to taxpayers and parents. 

Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams is only four months on the job but he's moving fast. He's appointed Dr. Judy Castleberry as EPISD Conservator. She can direct school board meeting agendas and overrule board decisions.

"There's a board of managers that have even more powers than that," Williams said. 

And Williams appointed them too. He didn't wait for pre-clearance to appoint a conservator, but will have to wait for the Department of Justice to approve the five-members board including Castleberry, retiring water utility CEO Ed Archuleta, City of El Paso CFO Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, and outgoing state Rep. Dee Margo. A fifth person has yet to be chosen.

When the commissioner made his decision, he stopped everyone from being about to exercise their right to vote," said Antonio Williams who supports the board of trustees. 

Antonio Williams is Board President Isela Castanon-Williams son, but he's also a local attorney and president of the Stonewall Young Democrats. He tells me if the board of managers is approved, board elections in May will mean nothing.

"Even if they choose to have an election and to vote in the people they want, the people they choose, their elected choice will not be able to begin till almost two years from now," Williams said. 

That's when the board of managers' time is up, which is a good amount of time to clean up the district, according to City Rep. Susie Byrd who rallies for the political action committee Kids First Reform EPISD.

"I think given what's happened and their clear neglect of the basic duties, they need to step down. We need a board that's ready to do the hard work of repairing this district," Byrd said. 

But the board says that's what they've been doing, and after two failed TEA audits that found no cheating, Castanon-Williams says the TEA is the one that failed the district.

"This EPISD board has complied with all the requirements the TEA set out in its letter. However the installation of a board of managers weeks before the elections in May is unfair to the constituents we represent," Castanon-Williams said. 

And representation is another issue to Antonio.

"Segundo Barrio is arguably its own area and it's also not represented and it's at the epicenter of the public corruption scandal," Williams said. "So certainly one would argue that it's not fair that the people who are appointed aren't even coming from the same neighborhoods. They don't have children that attend the same schools."

But Byrd says, that doesn't matter.

"Between Ed and Carmen, you have two very prominent, solid leaders that know how to work and how to fix a bureaucracy," Bryd said. "They've done it before, they can do it again."

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