Socorro ISD board asks state to take over district operations

by Claudia Lorena Silva, El Paso Matters
March 6, 2024

The Socorro Independent School District Board of Trustees voted Tuesday to ask the Texas Education Agency to take over governance of El Paso’s second-largest school district.

The action came after a closed-door session of the school board Tuesday. During the vote, trustees said little beyond making a motion, and unanimously approving an order to request the state agency to appoint one or more conservators to oversee operations of the district.

Socorro ISD officials released a statement from school board President Michael Najera in response to questions from El Paso Matters.

“It is no secret that the district has been facing challenges and we want to do everything we can to remove any skepticism in the leadership of our district administrators and our governance as board trustees of the school district,” Najera said. “Our aim is to eradicate any doubts in our school district so that we can bring closure to the tribulations that have been impacting the district and continue to move our district forward, because the fact is despite these challenges our students, teachers and district are achieving great levels of success.”

TEA officials could not be reached for comment.

The East El Paso district has more than 47,000 students, is facing possible layoffs, has a $33 million deficit and its superintendent is leaving after this school year. 

A state-appointed conservator has sweeping powers, including to direct actions by school board members, superintendents and principals. 

The state education commissioner can appoint a conservator when districts or charter schools don’t meet state standards for accreditation, academic performance or financial accountability standards, or as a result of a special investigation.

The Socorro ISD board agenda for Tuesday night listed case numbers for eight separate Texas Education Agency special investigations between 2020 and 2023. The agenda provided no details about the investigations, though the district has previously acknowledged an ongoing TEA investigation, started in 2020, into whether students were allowed to graduate without meeting state requirements.

TEA on Wednesday appointed a conservator to oversee IDEA Public Schools, a large charter school network based in the Rio Grande Valley that has campuses in El Paso. Education Commissioner Mike Morath said an investigation begun in 2021 found financial and operational impropriety.

The appointment comes as SISD grapples with a $33 million budget deficit,  caused partially by the school board’s decision to approve a larger compensation package than was initially recommended.

The board discussed some of the district’s options to deal with the deficit during the Tuesday meeting, including changing its health insurance plan to the state’s health insurance program.

El Paso Independent School District was placed under a state conservator in December 2012 after investigations found that poor governance by the administration and school board had allowed a widespread cheating scheme. The TEA also removed the elected EPISD board and replaced it with an appointed board of managers.

EPISD was returned to local control in 2015.

The appointment of conservators are reviewed at least every three months, according to TEA guidelines.

This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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