State Sen. José Menéndez (D26) attends the Edgewood ISD school board meeting regarding the investigation of Emilio Castro.
State Sen. José Menéndez attends an Edgewood ISD school board meeting about harassment allegations against Superintendent Emilio Castro. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

State Sen. José Menéndez has asked the Texas Education Agency when the Edgewood Independent School District’s elected board of trustees will resume governance of district operations, which are currently overseen by a five-person, state-appointed board of managers.

In a letter to the state education agency, the San Antonio Democrat also asked for clarification of the TEA’s role in the ongoing investigation of Edgewood ISD Superintendent Emilio Castro, who is on paid leave following harassment allegations by a district employee.

It has been almost two years since Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath called for state intervention in Edgewood ISD. At the two-year marker, Morath faces an important decision: to prolong state involvement or set a date to remove the TEA-appointed board of managers altogether and restore an elected board.

The state’s education code requires Morath declare a time when the board of managers will be removed from the district or extend its governance for up to two additional years.

Cynthia Cabral, Menéndez’s communications director, said that as of Monday morning, Morath had not responded to the senator’s letter. On Monday afternoon, TEA spokeswoman Ronnie Burchett said the TEA had received Menéndez’s letter and was preparing a response.

“Because [the TEA has] appointed the board of managers, I believe they also have the capacity [to act] if they feel the policy makers aren’t moving in the right direction,” Menéndez told the Rivard Report on Friday. “The reason they were asked to come … was to make things better. So that is what we are expecting … for [the TEA] to come in here and right the ship.”

In the letter, Menéndez said members of the community have asked him when trustees can take back their authority over the district.

Edgewood ISD, which serves just under 11,000 students on San Antonio’s Westside, initially became the subject of oversight when, in 2016, the TEA found the board of trustees could not effectively govern.

In 2015, the board was comprised of six trustees, with one vacant seat. Two three-person factions could not agree to fill the open board slot or a vacant superintendent position. Three trustees submitted their resignations in early 2016 hoping the state would intervene.

On March 1, 2016, Morath announced he would appoint a board of managers to govern the district, effectively ending trustees’ authority. Managers were sworn in on May 24, 2016, but since their time in office, there has been no clear process for the board of trustees to be reintroduced as the governing body.

Education code requires the commissioner of education to notify the board of managers of a date when its appointment will expire, no later than two years after the board was initially appointed.

Morath also has the option to extend the board of managers’ appointment for up to two additional years, if he believes insufficient progress has been made on improving the districts’s academic or financial outcomes. This decision requires Morath to act by the same deadline.

From the 2014-15 school year, before state intervention began, to 2016-17, a year and a half after Morath called for state action, Edgewood’s student achievement results have remained stagnant or decreased.

The class of 2014 saw 83.9 percent of students graduate in four years, 10.6 percent drop out, and 58.7 percent take SAT or ACT exams. The class of 2016 had 83.6 percent graduate in four years, 12.6 percent drop out, and 49 percent take SATs or ACTs.

Enrollment decreased from a reported 11,726 students in 2014-15 to 10,878 in 2016-17.

Most recently, the board’s attention has been diverted by the investigation into allegations by district employee Gloria D. Collins against Castro, who was chosen by the board of managers in November 2016 to replace former Edgewood ISD interim superintendent Sylvester Perez.

Dina Serrano, an Edgewood ISD alumna and parent of students in the district, spoke at a Feb. 20 board meeting, asking the board to get back on track to address issues including literacy, student safety, and truancy as quickly as possible.

“We need to move on and think of the most important thing, which is the students and staff,” Serrano said.

The level of state involvement in the investigation of Castro is unclear. Menéndez mentioned the allegations in his letter to the TEA and asked for a briefing with Morath on how the state agency works with the board of managers to review the charges.

“Given these extraordinary circumstances, we are hopeful that the TEA allows a newly-elected board to address a process going forward once the investigation concludes,” Menéndez wrote in his letter.

Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) said the investigation into the allegations against Castro has raised new questions about the TEA’s role in district governance.

Minjarez said she and Menéndez have discussed potential legislation for the next session that could more clearly define what the TEA is accountable for in situations like the one in Edgewood.

Since May 2013, the state has installed boards of managers to oversee just seven school districts out of the more than 1,200 statewide.

Morath has a menu of other options for state intervention when districts repeatedly post poor student performance. Through powers given to the commissioner in the state’s education code, Morath can order a hearing, arrange a monitoring review, appoint an agency monitor, conservator, or management team, and authorize a contract between a higher education institution and district to improve performance.

If after two consecutive school years a district continues to receive an accreditation-warned or accredited-probation status, Morath could revoke the district’s accreditation and order its closure.

In 2015-16, TEA graded Edgewood ISD as accredited-warned. Since then, the district has improved to accredited for two consecutive school years.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.