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TEA appoints 2 conservators to help oversee Socorro ISD

by Claudia Lorena Silva, El Paso Matters
April 18, 2024

The Texas Education Agency appointed two conservators on Thursday to manage the Socorro Independent School District after a state investigation exposed widespread failings for improperly graduating students, failing to disclose a trustee's potential conflict of interest with a vendor, and paying $283,000 in unauthorized stipends.

The conservators include the former superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District, Michael Hinojosa, and Andrew Kim, the director of research programs and outreach at the University of Texas at Austin, according to a letter sent Thursday to SISD from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

Hinojosa has past experience in El Paso, previously serving as superintendent of the Fabens Independent School District and as the executive director of the state’s Region 19 Education Service Center for the El Paso region.

Kim was the superintendent of the Comal Independent School District in Central Texas from 2012 to 2022. 

Socorro ISD_4-18-24Download

Hinojosa will serve as lead conservator, and Kim will “specifically focus on system improvements to Socorro ISD,” Morath said in his letter.

The conservators will work with the district of 47,000 students to ensure it complies with statutes and regulations under a settlement approved by the school board in early March.

They will be taking on the job as the district deals with a $33 million deficit and a change in leadership. Deputy Superintendent James Vasquez was appointed as the district’s acting leader after Superintendent Nate Carman was placed on administrative leave following an internal audit that found he had awarded contracts to a company he had previously done business with before joining SISD.

Carman was already preparing to leave SISD in June for a new job as superintendent of an Arizona school district.

The Texas Education Agency began investigating Socorro after the district’s internal auditor found that at least 276 seniors graduated in 2019 without the proper credits. The TEA also received several complaints about allegations of conflict of interest, unauthorized use of district funds and other governance concerns, according to the letter.

TEA investigators found that SISD violated the Texas Education Code by graduating students who did not meet requirements in 2019, failing to disclose Trustee Paul Guerra’s connections to a vendor used by the district, and paying staff $283,000 in unauthorized stipends.

The district will need to pay the conservators $125 per hour for their work, plus necessary travel expenses.

According to Morath's letter, the conservators will be charged with:

  • Overseeing and directing any action of the district and/or governance team;
  • Conducting onsite inspections of the district during the period of the placement;
  • Facilitating a needs assessment of the district and governance systems;
  • Supporting the creation of a corrective action plan to address concerns outlined in the needs assessment; and
  • Reporting to the agency on the progress of the corrective action plan and governance activities of the district.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Article Topic Follows: El Paso

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