Harlandale ISD
Harlandale Independent School District serves students in South San Antonio. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Harlandale Independent School District last week received the initial findings of a more than year-long Texas Education Agency investigation into its governance practices.

The TEA began looking into complaints of nepotism, conflicts of interest, contract procurement, and poor governance in August 2017, according to multiple news reports from the San Antonio Express-News and News4SA.

A TEA letter sent to Harlandale ISD Superintendent Rey Madrigal and the board last year cited claims that Madrigal acted without board approval to make agreements with and payments to engineering firm Terracon Consultants in 2015. The alleged payments totaled more than $60,000, according to an Express-News report.

TEA released the initial findings to Harlandale ISD on Nov. 14, and the district’s board of trustees reviewed the findings at a special meeting on Nov. 20. The contents of the report have not been made public, and the board met in closed session for more than an hour to go over the report.

Such preliminary reports “state the findings of fact and explain why the allegation is or is not substantiated,” according to a TEA document. A TEA spokesperson said a final report will be issued later, indicating that the agency likely found some violation of laws or issues in the governance of the 14,000-student district on San Antonio’s South Side.

Following the closed session, Madrigal read a prepared statement that said he and the board were disappointed in the TEA’s conclusion but did not say what the agency’s findings were.

“Each of our trustees was elected to voice his or her own opinion on matters that come before the board,” Madrigal said. “While we don’t always agree on specific issues, we deny any disagreement between board members and my office rises to the level of dysfunction alleged in the report.”

The TEA has the authority to suspend the powers of elected boards of trustees if it finds problems in school districts’ management capabilities.

Texas’ Commissioner of Education Mike Morath appointed boards of managers in both Edgewood and Southside ISDs because of governance issues. In 2016, the state education agency appointed a conservator to provide financial and board governance oversight in South San Antonio ISD.

Harlandale has a deadline of Dec. 4 to respond to the TEA’s preliminary findings and request an informal review. This allows the district to provide additional information to the TEA before a final report is issued, a TEA spokesperson said.

“The report is preliminary in nature and not final,” Harlandale spokesperson Natalie Bobadilla said. “At this time, any comment would be premature. The district may respond as appropriate after a final report is received.”

She declined to say whether the TEA had concluded that Harlandale ISD needed state oversight in the form of a board of managers or conservator.

State Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) Credit: Joan Vinson for the San Antonio Report

State Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) previously served on the Harlandale ISD school board and represents the House district that encompasses Harlandale. He told the Rivard Report he received a copy of the preliminary report, but that the findings are still confidential.

“Nobody is going to be pleased with findings that are on there,” Uresti said. “On some of them, yes, I’m pleased with some of the findings. On some of them, I’m not.”

Uresti said he did not want to comment further until the district responds to the TEA’s report. He said he also will meet with the TEA to give input.

“Hopefully everything can get resolved and the board can stay on track and do what they are there to do, to educate children,” Uresti said.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.