By Roberto Hugo González
In a significant move signaling a new chapter for La Joya Independent School District (LJISD), the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has taken decisive action by appointing a seven-member Board of Managers and a new superintendent to oversee and rejuvenate the district’s operations. This bold step comes in the wake of a detailed TEA investigation that revealed alarming fraud and conflicts of interest perpetrated by members of the previously elected LJISD Board of Trustees. The Texas Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath, spearheaded the initiative, emphasizing the urgent need for a transformative approach to governance and leadership within the district.
The comprehensive investigation by TEA, which included a Special Investigation (SI), findings from Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), and a thorough review process, culminated in identifying systemic issues that necessitated immediate and robust intervention. The agency’s commitment to rectifying these issues is evident in the meticulous selection process for the new Board of Managers, which saw over 100 community members vying for a position to contribute to the district’s revival.
The appointed Board of Managers is a diverse and highly qualified group, each bringing a unique set of skills and experiences that promise a fresh perspective and a renewed focus on student success and community engagement. Julian Alvarez III, with his extensive community relations and workforce development background, is set to serve as Board President. Anita Chavez and Alyssa Peña, both proud LJISD alumni, bring their passion for education and professional expertise to the Board Vice President and Secretary roles, respectively.
Other members include Celso Gomez Jr., a former educator with deep community ties; Dr. Rosalva Hernandez, a healthcare professional committed to serving the needs of the most vulnerable; Dr. Carlos Margo, an experienced academic administrator; and Jessica Ochoa, a dedicated parent and community volunteer. Together, this team is poised to guide LJISD toward a future marked by ethical governance, educational excellence, and a culture of accountability.
Dr. Marcey Sorensen, appointed as the new superintendent, brings a wealth of experience in educational leadership and a proven track record of academic improvement. Her appointment underscores TEA’s commitment to addressing the governance challenges and enhancing the educational outcomes for all students in LJISD. Dr. Sorensen’s background in early literacy, special education, and learning acceleration will drive the district’s academic agenda forward.
The appointment of the Board of Managers effectively suspends the powers of the district’s previous Board of Trustees, signaling a clear message that the status quo is no longer acceptable. This decisive action by TEA is not just about rectifying past mistakes but is a forward-looking measure aimed at rebuilding trust, enhancing operational integrity, and, most importantly, ensuring that the students of La Joya ISD receive the quality education they deserve.
The community’s support and engagement will be crucial as La Joya ISD embarks on this new journey. The success of these reforms will depend on the collective efforts of the newly appointed leaders, educators, students, parents, and community members, all working together towards a common goal of excellence and integrity in education. The road ahead may be challenging, but with a renewed focus on ethical leadership and student success, La Joya ISD is poised to emerge stronger and more resilient, setting a precedent for educational reform and governance in Texas and beyond.
The document below is a decision issued by the Commissioner of Education regarding the case involving the La Joya Independent School District (LJISD) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). It follows a special investigation conducted by the TEA into allegations of financial mismanagement and legal violations within the LJISD. The case was significant as it was the first of its kind following the enactment of Senate Bill 1365 in 2021, which amended procedures for the TEA’s investigations of school districts and established a process for districts to contest TEA’s investigative findings.
The investigation was initiated in response to charges against two LJISD school board trustees and three administrators for various federal financial crimes committed between 2017 and 2020. Following the investigation, the TEA recommended appointing a board of managers to oversee the district, a sanction that LJISD appealed.
The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) conducted an evidentiary hearing, and the Commissioner of Education reviewed their findings and oral arguments from both parties. The Commissioner’s decision adopted and amended the SOAH’s findings, concluding that the evidence supported the allegations against LJISD. Specifically, the district was found to have failed to oversee and manage its affairs, particularly concerning handling contracts and ensuring compliance with disclosure requirements for business and familial relationships. These failures facilitated an environment where trustees and administrators engaged in criminal acts.
The Commissioner ordered appointing a board of managers to govern LJISD, replacing its elected board of trustees. This decision was made in light of the district’s significant oversight failures and the involvement of its board members and administrators in criminal activities, underscoring the need for external intervention to restore proper management and oversight.
See DOCKET NO. 008-R8-10-2023 Below:2024 02 01 Decision Of The Commissioner