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South San ISD agrees to conservator to avoid state takeover

The South San Antonio ISD central office, with a sign in the foreground and the building in the background
Camille Phillips
South San Antonio ISD moved its central office to this location after reopening West Campus High School in 2019.

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Trustees for the South San Antonio Independent School District reached an agreement with the Texas Education Agency that resolves multiple investigations into the district.

In a resolution approved by the school board Wednesday, South San trustees agreed to accept the state’s appointment of a conservator and comply with the conservator’s directives.

In exchange, TEA will wait a year before acting on its investigations’ findings that the elected trustees should be replaced with a state-appointed board of managers. After that, the education commissioner can appoint a board of managers at his discretion.

According to the agreement, TEA investigators recommended a state takeover due to the “egregious nature of the board’s conduct.”

State law gives a state-appointed conservator the power to override decisions made by the elected school board. Conservators also have the power to direct the school board, superintendent and campus principals to take specific actions.

South San has a long history of board infighting and overreach leading to investigations. The district was previously under the oversight of a conservatorfrom 2016 to 2018.

TEA opened a new investigation into governance issues at South Sanin 2019, after the board voted to rapidly reopen previously closed schools against the recommendation of the superintendent. That investigation resulted in theappointment of a monitor in 2021. Former South San Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra is the district’s current monitor.

The role gives Saavedra the authority to make recommendations to district leaders, but not the power to direct them to take actions. A monitor also sends monthly reports to TEA outlining activity in the district and whether or not he observes them breaking any rules or laws.

After the initial investigation in 2019, TEA opened several more investigations into governance issues at South San. Accusations and divisions within South San’s leadershipgrew especially frosty during the 2021-2022 school year.

2023 agreement

According to the agreement approved this week by the South San board, multiple trustees and the district’s superintendent “acknowledged board governance deficiencies and shortcomings and the benefits of an escalated TEA intervention” in interviews with state investigators.

Saavedra has also regularly recommended TEA increase oversight and admonished the school board for not taking sufficient actions to correct budget deficits.

By signing the agreement, South San trustees waived the right to any further hearings or legal actions relating to the investigations or sanctions taken by the state as a result of the investigations.

They also agreed to the release of TEA’s Final Report outlining the findings of the investigations, including that they “constitute sufficient evidence to sustain the conclusion that, by a preponderance of the evidence, the South San Antonio ISD Board of Trustees violated the provisions of the Texas Education Code identified in the Final Report thus warranting the placement of a board of managers.”

South San also agreed not to “publicly dispute” the Final Report.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.