SAN ANTONIO - Two weeks ago, the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency removed a state-appointed member of the Edgewood Independent School District board of managers with no explanation.
The board member, Amanda Gonzalez, was handpicked by TEA to serve on the board as the state attempts to overhaul the troubled district.
The move raised serious concerns for state Sen. Jose Menendez, who requested a meeting with TEA officials to discuss Gonzalez's removal and allegations of criminal activity within the district's police department.
The meeting was held Thursday afternoon at Menendez's San Antonio office.
When TEA officials emerged from the nearly two-hour meeting, they weren't interested in answering any questions. They were ushered out a back door away from waiting reporters.
Menendez met with reporters after the meeting.
"I wanted to put TEA on notice, that it is critically important to me as an elected official that the school board have an independent board of managers that represent the children and parents of students," Menendez said. "And that they know that we have their back to be independent watchdogs for the kids and the parents of the district."
Menendez also wanted an explanation from the TEA officials as to why Gonzalez was replaced.
In an interview two weeks ago, Gonzalez said she believed she was replaced because she asked too many questions and that appeared to be part of the reason for her replacement, according to Menendez.
"They felt that she was acting independently in terms of investigations, that she was acting outside of what her expectations were," Menendez said. "It appears that maybe they didn't care for her acting independently instead of acting within the board structure. I think that they're working very hard to find some board unity, some unity within the district. I'm not sure that unity needs to be paramount. I think the paramount needs to be what's in the best interest of the children moving forward."
In a letter Menendez sent to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath last week, the senator indicated he wanted to get to the bottom of several allegations circulating through the district, including possible criminal activity in the district's police department, which saw its chief retire earlier this year and a captain who resigned when an internal investigation was launched by the district's law firm.
"Because it's an allegation that has to do with the school district police department, they didn't feel it was appropriate, and I agree, to investigate themselves, so that's why they hired a third party," Menendez said. "It's my understanding it's a private investigative office. We'll look at what the report has. In addition to that, my understanding is that someone has stepped down that was in that position they were concerned about. I think there needs to be a tremendous amount of checks and balances so there are no criminal allegations, and if anything comes out of it, whether there was any sort of negligence, then we're going to revisit the situation."
Edgewood board of managers President Roy Soto was also in the meeting. He dismissed any talk of wrongdoing by district police.
"People make allegations, but there's no substance to any of that," Soto said. "There's nothing, no evidence that there's been any type of criminal activity."
Aside from addressing legal concerns, Menendez said the meeting gave the board a clear understanding of what their roles are and how to improve the district moving forward, but he said he and his fellow elected officials will be keeping a very close eye on Edgewood.
"As of right this second, I'm satisfied that they're dealing in good faith and that they're going to allow the board of managers to act independently on behalf of the district," Menendez said. "All of the schools have hit the ratings they need to hit. They have teachers in every classroom. They've actually accomplished some things they have not before. We're going to continue to be vigilant. We're going to trust but we're going to verify everything."
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