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Education

TEA Reverses Course, Allows Harlandale School District To Keep Elected Board

Harlandale's elected school board listens to community members' concerns about the result of a state investigation into the district's governance and financial management Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.
File Photo | Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio
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Harlandale's elected school board listens to community members' concerns about the result of a state investigation into the district's governance and financial management Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath notified the Harlandale Independent School District Friday that he will not replace the South San Antonio school district’s elected board after all.

Morath told Harlandale officials in June that he would take over the district after a state investigation found evidence of inappropriate business arrangements and violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Harlandale’s elected board responded by replacing their superintendent and appealing the ruling. The district has been waiting for word on the commissioner’s final decision since a formal review in August.

In a letter sent to district leadership Friday, Morath told Harlandale that that new leadership, combined with new information provided during the review, convinced him that Harlandale is capable of guided self-governance.

“Based upon the information presented by the district, I have decided not to proceed with the appointment (of a board of managers) at this time,” Morath wrote. “During the review on August 7, 2019, the district presented a complete record of text messages in which (Texas Education Agency) was not in possession of (previously)...This information presented by the district indicated the violation of the Open Meetings Act was not as severe as initially presented during the investigation.”

Morath said the contract procurement problems uncovered in the state investigation “are actions managed by the superintendent,” and no longer a concern because the board replaced the superintendent responsible for the violations.

Morath opted instead to appoint only Judy Castleberry as conservator over the district. Texas law gives a conservator the power to overrule the decisions of an elected board.

The district’s accreditation status also remains lowered to Accredited-Warned.

Harlandale Board President Ricardo Moreno said Friday he was pleased the board “had been able to present a compelling argument to the commissioner” during their final review.

“It's been a pretty long, arduous process in terms of trying to figure out what steps to take next. But, you know, we took it day by day and we focused on putting our kids in the best position to be successful,” said Moreno, an assistant principal in the Southside school district. “Now without this looming over … it's definitely something that puts a sense of relief (within) our district and we can continue to work for our kids.”

Moreno said he and the rest of the board would have a more complete response to the commissioner’s letter when his representative presents the decision to the board on Tuesday.

The Texas Education Agency’s investigation into Harlandale’s neighboring district, South San Antonio ISD, is ongoing.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@TPR.org and on Twitter at @cmpcamille.