Isela Castanon-Williams, president of the El Paso Independent School District school board has responded to media criticisms of both her and the school board. The El Paso Times first ran an editorial on June 17 which called for the resignation of five of the school board members, in light of former superintendent Dr. Lorenzo Garcia's admitting his guilt in tampering with test scores and corruption charges. On June 19, another Times article said that Castanon-Williams has given conflicting answers about how trustees responded to reports of cheating at the district. Castanon-Williams told ABC-7 that she has always been as honest and open as she's been legally allowed to be under the current circumstances. Follow the links below to read the El Paso Times articles and keep reading after the links to see Castanon-Williams' statement about its coverage.
PRESS RELEASE: JUNE 19, 2012
I want to address the editorial article on the front page of the El Paso Times on Sunday, June 17, 2012. The editorial board has asked five of the school board members to resign. I want to inform the public that to have five members resign from the school board would be irresponsible on the part of the board members. All five of those board members were elected by the citizens of this community. Several of those five board members were re-elected in May 2011 after it was known that there ongoing investigations in the school district by outside agencies. The members of the school board are every day citizens who volunteer their time because we believe that providing an excellent education for the children in EPISD is necessary for their success in adulthood and the future of this community. Unlike other elected officials, we do not get paid, do not have staff, and do not have an office in the school district. As such we are not experts in conducting investigations of the nature required by the highly sophisticated criminal activity that Dr. Garcia engaged in. By state law we have limited powers to question staff who work under the superintendent because we are not allowed to micro-manage the work of the district. At the beginning of the week of January 4, 2010, Dr. Garcia informed me that a meeting had been scheduled in Senator Shapleigh's office to discuss his concerns. I called Senator Shapleigh to ask to be included in the meeting because I graduated from Bowie HS and only learned about his concerns shortly before Christmas. In that phone conversation, Senator Shapleigh expressed unhappiness because he'd given his information to another trustee whom the Senator felt had done nothing to have it investigated. I told the Senator that if he had evidence I would make the motion to fire Dr. Garcia. On Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 10:00 a.m., I participated in the meeting held in Senator Shapleigh's office. The meeting included members of Equipo Bowie, Bowie Alumni Association, Dr. Garcia, Dr. Steinhauser, Dr. Chavez, Ms. Lisa Colquitt Munoz ( Trustee for Bowie area), and myself. Before the meeting started I privately reminded the Senator again of my intention to make the motion to fire Dr. Garcia if there was supporting evidence. Senator Shapleigh, whom I highly respect and is a very busy person, does not remember the conversation. However, I do and I remember at least one date on which I made the statement he doesn't remember. Senator Shapleigh filed three complaints with the Texas Education Agency, (TEA). One complaint was filed on May 20, 2010, another on June 20, 2010, and one on July 20, 2010. I have provided the members of the media with copies of the TEA findings of its investigations into Senator Shapleigh's complaints. In the September 20, 2010 response to Senator Shapleigh, TEA states the following on page 11: "17. Testing incidents/irregularities involving TAKS test administrations at Bowie HS in 2007, 2008, 2009, or 2010 were not found in TEA records." Additionally, the same report states on page 12 under Findings: " Based on the documentation submitted for this investigation, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that EPISD purposefully "disappeared" 55 percent of the students entering Bowie High School in 2007 through such means as transfers, deportation, sending students to charter schools, holding students back in 9th grade or promoting students to the 11th grade. Therefore, the May 10, 2010 allegation cannot be substantiated." In the October 8, 2010 response to Senator Shapleigh regarding his July 20, 2010 complaint, TEA states the following on page 7: " Based on the documentation submitted for this investigation, there is insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations raised in the July 20, 2010 complaint. There is no indication that one or more Bowie HS students were prevented the opportunity to attend school and participate in the statewide testing. This investigation report does not find areas of non-compliance with regard to NCLB requirements associated with AYP at Bowie HS." On December 7, 2010, the United States Department of Education (USDE) initiated an audit based on a complaint from Senator Shapleigh. On June 9, 2011, after an extensive investigation, preliminary findings were provided to EPISD. However, the USDE has yet to issue its final report more than one year later. At no time has the USDE indicated to the Board of Trustees that there was any criminal wrong doing in the school district. In late May 2010/ early June 2010 after an internal complaint was made regarding student records, Dr. Garcia reported the incident to every board member individually. In June individual board members asked him to conduct an in depth investigation concerning the internal complaint. Dr. Garcia indicated that the district had already alerted TEA concerning the complaint. Because investigations were already being conducted by TEA on the complaints filed by Senator Shapleigh and because Dr. Garcia informed board members that TEA had been notified about the internal complaint, Board members believed Dr. Garcia to be truthful in his actions. One June 13, 2012 Dr. Garcia pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to artificially inflate state and federal accountability scores. The Information alleged the existence of six co-conspirators who are still unnamed. I am extremely upset and angered at the crime that has been committed and against EPISD and the community. At the next board meeting, I will ask the Board to formally ask our state senator and state representatives, to initiate legislation that will strengthen the authority and methodology used by the Texas Education Agency to conduct investigations of the nature required in this case. I am appalled at the fact that TEA up to and including 2010 was unable to find any wrong doing. Furthermore, I am asking the federal law enforcement officials to be expedient in naming the co-conspirators so that closure can be brought to the issue to enable this school district and community to move forward.