South San ISD board members (from left) Homer Flores, Connie Prado, Gilbert Rodriguez, and Shirley Ibarra Pena. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

An ongoing State investigation into South San Antonio Independent School District has expanded, according to a recent letter from Texas Education Agency officials to the district’s superintendent and board president.

The agency has been investigating the school district’s board of trustees since April 2019, citing concerns about dysfunction in the way the district is governed. No action has been taken by the TEA.

In a Dec. 4 letter to Board President Connie Prado and Interim Superintendent Dolores Sendejo, the director of TEA’s Special Investigations Unit stated that the agency also was looking into the way the district handles contracts. 

In the letter, which was obtained by the Rivard Report, Jason Hewitt, the director of TEA’s Special Investigations Unit, offered no further details on the alleged violation, which is related to a section of the Texas Education Code on purchasing and contracts.

Prado told the Rivard Report on Monday she didn’t know what Hewitt was referencing in the new alleged violation.

“There is no specificity in the letter,” Prado said. “We feel comfortable that everything we have done, we have done according to the law, according to the code and to policy and at the recommendation and suggestion of our legal counsel.”

TEA has not provided any additional details about the violation, next steps in the investigation, or a timeline of official State visits, Prado said.

Last spring, TEA officials notified South San trustees that the agency had opened an investigation amid concerns of dysfunctional board governance. In a letter sent April 18, Hewitt wrote that TEA chose to open the investigation after multiple complaints from undisclosed sources that alleged the board was acting outside its authority by directing district administrators on day-to-day operations and impeding the superintendent’s duties.

Since that time, Superintendent Alexandro Flores resigned his position after clashing repeatedly with some board members and three trustees in the board minority quit in protest of Flores’ resignation. Sendejo has been acting as district leader since Flores’ resignation. The remaining trustees appointed replacements for the three vacant board seats.

Trustees who resigned their positions last September said they had not been contacted by TEA for interviews as part of the expanded investigation.

Factions on the board often sparred over a controversial decision to reopen three campuses amid declining student enrollment and tight financial circumstances. One group of trustees and Flores opposed the plan, but the majority of trustees continued moving it forward and the schools reopened this fall, although enrollment was lower than expected.

The TEA is in the middle of an open investigation into neighboring Harlandale ISD. TEA officials issued a final report with the agency’s investigative findings this summer and a call to replace the elected board of trustees with an appointed board of managers, but Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has not publicly announced whether he plans to move forward with the planned takeover.

In late December, TEA officials wrote to candidates for the board of managers to stand by, telling them “there has been no change to the status of the process for identifying and placing a board of managers for Harlandale ISD.”

The State previously intervened in South San ISD, installing a conservator in the district in February 2016 after an investigation found issues with board governance and financial management. In 2018, the State removed the conservator, citing efforts by the board to act in the best interests of its students.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.