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TEA denies EPISD's challenge to board of managers, conservator appointment

By Staff Report
Published On: Mar 11 2013 10:45:57 AM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 10:35:58 PM CST

EL PASO, Texas -

Following a review requested by the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD), the district's challenge to Commissioner Michael L. Williams' appointment of a board of managers and conservator for the EPISD has been denied.

Williams' decision to appoint a board of managers and conservator is now final.

"The people of El Paso are ready to begin the work of restoring full trust in their school district," Williams said in a statement. "More importantly, those who I have appointed to serve on the board of managers are ready to work in the public interest to again make the El Paso ISD a source of pride for their community and state.

On Dec. 6, 2012, Williams announced the appointment of a five-member board of managers to oversee the management of the EPISD. At that time, Williams elevated the role of Dr. Judy Castleberry from Texas Education Agency (TEA) monitor to conservator.

EPISD requested a formal record review on the appointment of the board of managers and an informal review on the appointment of a conservator. Record review proceedings were held in Austin on Feb. 7. During the proceeding, EPISD and TEA were allowed to present their case before an appointed designee of the Commissioner.

ABC-7 spoke with former State Representative Dee Margo, a member of the Board of Managers who said he ready to start working for EPISD.

"I'm pleased to move forward. We've been in a state of influx," said Margo.

Margo joins four other members on the Board of Managers: Blanca Enriquez, who runs Region 19's Head Start Program; Ed Archuleta, retiring CEO of El Paso Water Utilities; Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, City of El Paso's CFO; and Judy Castleberry, current conservator for EPISD.

"To change the culture of an organization, typically in a business setting it takes about three years. I would hope that certainly in two years we could cover 90 percent of it or more. It just depends on the strengths of the people that come in to lead," said Margo

 

EPISD Board President Isela Castañon-Williams released the following statement:

  • "I am extremely disappointed with the decision issued by the Designee of the Commissioner of Education, and do not believe that it presents a true picture of the relevant evidence that was introduced at the February 7, 2013 hearing.  I invite the public to visit the EPISD website www.episd.org to view the transcript of the hearing, especially the cross examination of TEA's witnesses, which does present the facts. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Mr. Timmons, the hearing officer, to consider the evidence impartially, when it was so clear that his boss, Commissioner Williams, wanted the decision to uphold the appointment of the board of managers, as evidenced by his statements in the article appearing in the February 14, 2013 edition of the El Paso Times newspaper.  We plan to respond to any preclearance submission by TEA to the Department of Justice, in an effort to protect the voting rights of the citizens of the District and the integrity of the upcoming May 11 election."

Castleberry will continue to fulfill her responsibilities as conservator for the district. The Commissioner's appointees to the board of managers must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance before they can assume their responsibilities.

Once pre-cleared, the board of managers - comprised of a majority of members from the El Paso community - will assume all responsibilities of the elected board of trustees. The board of managers will be in place for up to two years. A school board election must be called within two years of this appointment.

EPISD officials said on Feb. 8 that "if and when TEA re-submits a request for preclearance to the U.S. Department of Justice, it will use the same file number as the initial submission. This would start another 60-day review period. Any comments previously submitted under that file number will still be on file."

The Department of Justice letter to EPISD on Feb. 8 saying it would delay a decision until after the TEA's ruling. The DOJ Feb. 8 letter did not state that another 60-day review period would start if and when TEA re-submits a request for preclearance.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams appointed a new board of managers to oversee the El Paso Independent School District on Dec. 6.

While members of the current board of trustees are not technically being removed, their power is effectively stripped.

In addition to the new board of managers, Williams elevated the district's state-appointed monitor, Dr. Judy Castleberry to the new position of conservator.

Castleberry will also serve on the five-person board of managers.  Williams appointed three other members to that board on Dec. 6.  Retiring El Paso Water Utilities CEO Ed Archuleta, outgoing Dee Margo, City of El Paso CFO Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, and Dr. Blanca Enriquez are the others. 

"In order to regain the full trust of this community, and in order for this community to be able to move forward, that it is important for us to change the players in this game," Williams said on Dec. 6, in regards to the the new board.

Other than Castleberry, who will have day to day responsibilities, the positions will be unpaid.

Williams said he wanted managers who have experience dealing with large organizations, and with crisis management.  

"I was looking for individuals who had experience dealing with large entities, and dealing with crisis, and dealing, perhaps at times, with chaos and people who had respect in their community," Williams said. "And so these were some of the names presented to me."

During the Dec. 6 announcement, Williams repeatedly commented on the importance of rebuilding EPISD's public image.

"This is an extremely critical time for the district, its students, as well as the community," Williams said.  "I am appointing a local board of managers because I believe El Pasoans are in the best position to initiate and sutain long-term, positive change for their school district."

He went out of his way to avoid criticism of trustees while saying he felt the district needed to regain the confidence of the community.

"In my visits to El Paso, I have met and visited with many members of the community who want to make their school district a source of pride again," Williams said. "With the appointment of a local board of managers, I am confident that the work to restore full confidence in the El Paso ISD can be accomplished."

According to Williams, El Paso has been a hot topic since he was appointed to his position back in September.

"I was appointed to the commissioner of Education back in September the first, and since that day there's probably not been an issue that has come to my attention on more occasions than the situation in El Paso ISD," Williams said in December. 

If and when the DOJ approves the plan, the board of managers would assume the duties currently performed by the elected trustees. The board can then remain in place for up to two years, but a school board election must occur within that time period.

Former EPISD superintendent Lorenzo Garcia in October was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in federal prison for his role in steering a no-bid contract worth more than $400,000 to one of his mistresses, and for overseeing a scheme to systematically remove or reclassify hundreds of academically suspect eleventh graders who would otherwise take state accountability exams. 

Trustees have been criticized for allegedly failing to adequately supervise Garcia, and for allegedly failing to follow through with a timely and thorough investigation afterward.  

Castanon-Williams said in December that the board has been actively trying to change the culture at EPISD and has done everything asked of them by the Texas Education Agency. She points to the fact that the district restructured their internal auditor department, hired a test monitoring firm and an external auditor as examples of the changes the board has taken on."No one can accuse us of not having complied with any of the recommendations," she said.

Jimmy Vasquez, the leader of a board-appointed task force formed to make suggestions that could strengthen the district against corruption, said the board's actions were not enough.

"The board while they've started some processes, I think has been somewhat reluctant to really go full steam ahead and do what they had to do and dismiss people that had to be dismissed. There's still some vestiges of the old administration there and if some of the culprits are still there, how do you change things?" Vasquez said in December.

Appointed Board of Managers

Dr. Blanca Enriquez
Enriquez currently serves as executive director of the Region 19 Education Service Center Head Start Program. While at ESC Region 19, she has also worked as director of the Special Populations Divisions and Bilingual Program. Enriquez's more than 40 years of experience in education also includes stints as an elementary school teacher, teacher leader and teacher's aide in the EPISD. In addition, she is a graduate of Bowie High School in El Paso. Enriquez has been active in various community organizations including the education committee of the Economic Development Planning Division of the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce, Paso Del Norte Committee, and the United Way of El Paso.

Edmund G. "Ed" Archuleta
Edmund G. "Ed" Archuleta has been manager (president and CEO) of the El Paso Water Utilities Public Service Board since January 1989. He recently announced his retirement from that position. A registered professional engineer in Texas, New Mexico, and Iowa, Archuleta is a well established community leader who is currently serving or has assisted several civic organizations, including the United Way, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation, the Rotary Club, and the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.

Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria
Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria is the chief financial officer for the City of El Paso. She has served in this capacity for more than seven years and has worked extensively in the governmental sector throughout her career. In addition to her professional achievements, she is engaged in the community and volunteers her time for various causes such as the El Paso Chapter of the YWCA and the Center Against Family Violence. She and her husband have three children who attend school in the EPISD.

The Honorable Dee Margo
A resident of El Paso for over three decades, Rep. Dee Margo has served in the Texas House of Representatives representing District 78. For over 30 years, Dee has worked at the John D. Williams Company, a firm with El Paso roots dating back to 1898, working his way up through the ranks from vice president in 1977 to president, chairman and CEO.

Dr. Judy Castleberry
Appointed as conservator in the El Paso ISD on Dec. 6 by Commissioner Williams, Dr. Judy Castleberry had served as a TEA monitor in the district since August 2012. A former executive director of the Region 20 Education Service Center (ESC), Castleberry has served in various instructional leadership roles for the Fort Sam Houston ISD and Region 20 ESC.

Williams named the fifth member of the board after receiving recommendations from the State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, who consulted with the El Paso legislative delegation to come up with a list of names. The Commissioner noted the critical role the El Paso community has played in this process."Through their legislative delegation, through various community leaders and through direct contact with me and the Texas Education Agency, the people of El Paso have had a strong voice in the selection process for this board of managers," said Commissioner Williams. "In speaking with each member of the board of managers, I don't think anyone can question their commitment in tackling the job that's ahead of them."

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