In an earlier meeting, the Harlandale Board disagrees with a report from the Texas Education Agency in its recommendation of a state appointed board of managers.
The Texas Education Agency has chosen to replace Harlandale Independent School District trustees with a board of managers and a conservator. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Texas Education Agency officials delivered a final report to Harlandale Independent School District on Friday after months of investigations into claims of nepotism, violations of state law and local policy, and board overreach. The final report recommends lowering the accreditation of the district, installing a conservator, and appointing a board of managers to replace the elected board of trustees.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has the authority to enact these sanctions. A TEA spokeswoman said there is no determined timeline for when he will decide how to proceed.

The state first began investigating Harlandale in August 2017 because of multiple complaints about contract procurement and governance.

The 41-page report released Friday is the finalized version of one that was sent to the district in preliminary form last November. The district responded in December, and the final report addresses Harlandale’s response and TEA’s investigative findings.

Findings include:

  • Harlandale Superintendent Rey Madrigal entered into four agreements and made payments to Terracon Consultants, Inc. without board approval, in violation of state and local policy.
  • The board of trustees failed to monitor district finances to ensure the superintendent properly maintained the district’s financial procedures and records, in violation of state law.
  • Trustees acted individually on behalf of the board, exceeding the scope of their authority, and failed to collaborate with district administration, in violation of state law.
  • Trustees held meetings through group text messages and deliberated district business outside of a public, open meeting, in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The report concludes that “significant dysfunction exists among Board of Trustees in the form of distrust, in-fighting and bullying, biased bid ranking, and alliances among the Trustees.” It also states that an improper dependency relationship between certain board members and an outside contractor existed with a possible exchange of money, fits, meals, and other in-kind donations.

Besides recommending sanctions of a board of managers, conservator, and lowered accreditation status, the report also recommends the district adopt policies necessary to ensure compliance with state law and that an external forensic audit related to contract procurement be conducted by an independent auditor.

If the state ultimately makes the decision to appoint a board of managers, Harlandale ISD would be the third San Antonio district in recent years to have the powers of its elected board of trustees suspended in favor of state-appointed managers. South San Antonio ISD is currently under investigation for governance issues and board overreach.

Statewide, only four traditional public school districts have a board of managers. This is considered the strictest sanction TEA can hand down, as it replaces an elected board with an appointed one. The four districts are Marlin ISD, Southside ISD, Edgewood ISD, and Beaumont ISD. If Harlandale joins this group, three of the five would be located in San Antonio. There are more than 1,000 school districts state-wide.

For more of the findings, read the 41-page report.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.