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Findings on Harlandale ISD troubling

December 21, 2018

The turmoil in the Harlandale Independent School District is coming to a head.

The highly political activities of this school district’s dysfunctional school board have been the focus of public debate for a long time. It is only in the last academic school year that they have captured state attention.

The findings in a leaked copy of a Texas Education Agency report on an investigation launched in August 2017 into the district operation’s do not bode well for the future of this board or its administration.

TEA investigators found that “a systemic breakdown of the HISD Board of Trustees’ ability to govern and manage HISD prevents the Board from carrying out the powers and duties as provided by Texas Education Code.”

That systemic breakdown includes the board’s failure to oversee and monitor district finances; directing district employees to perform tasks that personally benefit them; intimidating current and former staff; and violating the Texas Open Meeting Act by conducting board business via group texts.

The report recommends TEA install a conservator to oversee the district’s operations and appoint mangers to replace the existing elected board.

We realize this is a drastic step and not a recommendation that is frequently made. But if these findings are true, we endorse it. We urge the state education agency to move on this as quickly as possible, especially if, as the report suggests, a criminal investigation might be warranted.

Ironically, state protocol allows the dysfunctional board cited in such an investigative report to drag its feet and delay the inevitable for weeks. The scathing report sent to the district late last month has yet to be publicly released, and it probably won’t be for a few more weeks.

The school board has the right to request a review of the finding, file a rebuttal to the allegation and withhold the report from the public until the review is completed.

That rebuttal is scheduled to be filed Friday, giving the district a few weeks into the new year before it has to make the report public.

Regrettably, the district’s operations don’t grind to a halt during all this back-and-forth. Fortunately, the winter break is coming up, which means district activity will at least slow for a couple of weeks.

It is never good news for public education when the state has to step in to run a school district. It usually only comes when there is substantial probable cause and occurs only under the most severe of circumstances.

In the past couple of years, three Bexar County school districts have warranted intervention from TEA. Two of them, Edgewood and Southside ISDs, had their elected board removed. At South San, a conservator was appointed, but the district was allowed to keep its board. That conservator was removed earlier this year.

TEA must act in the best interest of the schoolchildren in Harlandale as it moves forward. The district needs an appointed board that makes education a priority and comes with no personal agendas.

The criminal improprieties alleged in the report also merit close scrutiny by the staff of the incoming district attorney, Joe Gonzales.

It has been a long time since a state grand jury has paid any attention to the questionable activities in some of our school districts. If Harlandale’s problems slip into that territory, that should end.

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