EPISD Board President Says Board Did What It Could With What It Knew About Garcia; Won't Resign
El Paso Independent School District board president Isela Castanon-Williams maintained Sunday night that the school board did not know about former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia's criminal activity and that the board did what it could.
Castanon-Williams also said she has no plans to resign as the El Paso Times asked her and four school board members to do in a front page editorial.
“I will not step down because I was elected by my constituents to do this job,” Castanon-Williams said on ABC-7 Xtra Sunday night. The school district’s attorney was in the studio but not on the set. “When I ran for the board I told the constituents we would be facing (a) difficult time. And I have kept my word and have done a good job for my constituents and I will continue to do that work. Secondly, to abandon ship at this moment in time would be a huge disservice to this community and it would really certainly wreck the district because the people that would be coming in would not have the background knowledge the current board of trustees has.”
The newspaper editorial stated, "It would be lunacy to ask the very people who helped wreck the district to now guide its rebuilding. Years of poor leadership, both at the administrative and school-board level, have taken a heavy toll on EPISD. It will take years to repair the damage. That repair cannot begin until new leadership is in place." Read the full editorial <a href="http://www.elpasotimes.com/ci_20875874/editorial-resign-5-episd-board-members-must-quit" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">here.</a>
David Dodge, Patricia Hughes, Russell Wiggs and Joel Barrios are the board members asked by the newspaper's editorial board to resigned.
Garcia resigned last November after he had been charged in August with several federal crimes. Last week, Garcia admitted defrauding the district by steering an overpriced contract to a girlfriend's company and manipulating standardized test scores to fake improvements that brought him financial incentives.
In his plea agreement Garcia said there were six co-conspirators involved in manipulating standardized test scores. Those conspirators have not been named.
"Dr. Garcia devised criminal activity that has now been revealed that was very sophisticated," Castanon-Williams said. "It was so sophisticated that when the Texas Education Agency, which is the ultimate agency in Texas that oversees the proceedings and doings of school districts, did ... two investigations it found now wrongdoing and reported those facts to the board. Then after the Texas Education Agency found no wrongdoing then the U.S. Department of Education investigated. They had a physical presence in the school district for almost a month and in addition to that month they requested documents that were provided and once again that agency did not indicate there was any wrongdoing. And so Dr. Garcia's criminal activity was so sophisticated that it took the FBI, that has far reaching capabilities, to help people talk to them. So this was an issue where there was a board asking questions. But this board is made up of citizens who are elected by the community and certainly we do not have the capacity to conduct those kinds of sophisticated investigations."
Castanon-Williams said the board did not know there was an internal audit that was finished in May 2011. It was not reviewed until earlier this year.
"We were never told that there was an audit," Castanon-Williams said. "We were told by Dr. Garcia .... once we discovered that Ms. (Tricia) Scott had provided documentation to her supervisor and that nothing had been done, we directed the superintendent, as only the board can do, to conduct an investigation and determine what exactly had happened. Unfortunately, (the) superintendent lied to the board and he reported that there'd been an investigation. There was no report ... written report. We kept asking for one. It was always in the works. This board had no idea that that audit had been done. We had no idea of the contents of the audit until it was released in open records just a couple months ago."
Paul Strelzin, a former EPISD principal and radio talk show host, said he thinks a culture of not talking is what led to some of the district's problems.
"People have to understand ed center is a close-knit group and they're not going to talk about anyone over there," Strelzin said on ABC-7 Xtra Sunday. "They bow their necks and they don't want to disclose any information. The information was there. It needed the FBI to search it out because these people are not going to say anything about anybody else. Six people are undisclosed people who are accomplices. I'm amazed. I think I know a few of them. I think I know their names and I think people are going to be surprised."
<a href="http://www.kvia.com/news/31196495/detail.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">EPISD Board President: No Failure In Oversight Of Garcia</a><br/>