Canutillo school board to begin process of terminating superintendent's employment

Internal audit finds evidence of grade-level, student placement manipulation at CISD

CISD board to begin process of terminating superintendent's employment

CANUTILLO, Texas - A three-page internal audit packed a damaging blow to Canutillo Independent School District Superintendent Damon Murphy.

Just after 11 p.m. Thursday, Murphy received a notice of intent of the Canutillo School Board to suspend him without pay, pending discharge, and notice of intent to ultimately terminate his contract.

After a three-hour closed door session, nearly the entire CISD school board voted in favor of the motion, with the exception of Laure Searls, who opted to abstain for what she called a  lack of information.

Board member Sergio Coronado said it was, "The saddest thing I've had to do as a board member."

Through tears, Murphy apologized to the board and embraced them, before leaving CISD headquarters without comment.  

A culmination of interviews, emails, and raw data laid out in the audit revealed that transcripts and classification processes of Canutillo students showed evidence of tampering.

Auditor Hector Rodriguez's conclusion reads: it appears that the superintendent directed two administrators to avoid subpopulations and actions were taken by the administrators to ensure subpopulations were not created. in addition, many mid-year grade reclassifications were made to promote 10th graders to 11th graders, resulting in the avoidance of the 10th grade accountability testing.

Murphy was visibly shaken by the results of the audit, which he said he was hearing for the first time as Rodriguez read his findings aloud to the CISD school board during the Thursday night special meeting.

"I am flabbergasted about it," said Murphy during the meeting. "i would encourage the board to give me some time to look into it, so I really don't have a comment."

The audit revealed Murphy directed the former Canutillo High School principal Jim Fry to avoid creating Limited English Proficiency (LEP) subgroups and Special Education director Janine Hammock to avoid creating Special Education (SPED) subgroups in middle schools.

The results of 10th-grade state-standardized exams are held up to Federal accountability standards. 50 or more students within a subgroup must be enrolled at the time of testing for that particular subgroup to be counted in federal progress measures.

"I've never been asked to do anything that pushed me to do something that was on the outskirts of questionable," said Fry following a May presentation from the CISD administration regarding transfer credits and student cohorts.

According to CISD board president Armando Rodriguez, the district did not have an internal auditor in place in May, but he said, when the district its current auditor in June, he immediately began investigating the district's student placement process. 

According to the audit, approximately 66 students were reclassified out of the 10th grade mid-year, during the 2011-2012 school year. Data analysis reavealed around 62 percent of all grade reclassifications for that school year were students who were reclassified out of the 10th grade. Auditors believe it was all done to avoid a tenth grade federal accountability year testing.

"Do we know this hurts students," asked Searls. "During a job interview no one asks if you passed the TAKS or AYP. They want to know if you graduated high school."

In April, EPISD revealed that a federal investigation had uncovered a four-year-old email from Murphy's account that gave principals and administrators a directive to make incoming foreign high schoolers and high school freshmen be placed in ninth grade even if they deserved to be placed higher than the ninth grade.

"I have no comment about what happened two years ago in a different district. I have no idea what Dr. (Terri) Jordan put forth in that press conference," Murphy told ABC-7 in May at a Canutillo ISD board meeting.

"Ladies and gentleman, that is a stunning and deeply troubling directive from a former top official of this school district," Jordan said in a statement in April, while she was interim superintendent of EPISD. "The email directive from Murphy is especially troubling when considered in light of the district's own internal audit and the ongoing federal investigation into whether students were improperly retained in ninth grade or promoted to the 11th grade to avoid being tested in 10th grade and counted as part of the school's rating Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind education law."

EPISD's former superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, this year, pleaded guilty to steering an expensive, no-bid district contract to his then mistress. He also pleaded guilty to manipulating the district's test scores by not allowing who he perceived as low performing students to enroll or forcing them to skip or be held back a grade. Garcia would get bonuses when the district met state and federal standards that included passing the tests.

Murphy, who has worked in the education field more than 20 years, worked at EPISD for four years as Associate Superintendent for Secondary and Priority Schools.

As of late Thursday evening, Board President Rodriguez, said Murphy's termination would be discussed during an upcoming board meeting, but could not give a specific date. Under state, law Murphy has the right to appeal the board's decision.

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