Harlandale ISD superintendent discusses new role as TEA investigation continues

Texas Education Agency opened its investigation into the district in 2017

SAN ANTONIO – The new Harlandale Independent School District superintendent is hoping to move the district forward as an investigation by the Texas Education Agency looms over it.

Gerardo Soto has been in public education for 25 years, and 16 of those years have been with Harlandale ISD.

Soto has been busy since he officially began his duties on Dec. 31, 2019, after the board of trustees approved his contract.

“We are looking ahead. We’re looking at some budget items. Hopefully, we reduce the class size of our (elementary schools), you know, the smaller group settings. ... We’re looking at some summer education for our elementary again. And we’re looking to revamp early childhood,” Soto said.

Harlandale ISD school board meets with TEA commissioner

The district has been under a Special Accreditation Investigation by the TEA since 2017. The investigation was launched after allegations surfaced over how the district handled certain contracts, nepotism and violation of the Open Meetings Act.

A preliminary report in 2018 recommended replacing not only Superintendent Rey Madrigal but also the entire school board. The TEA also recommended placing a conservator to oversee the district and lowering the district’s accreditation status. The district disputed the findings by the TEA.

A final report last year made the same recommendations. Madrigal eventually left the district.

“As of right now, we haven’t heard back from TEA,” Soto said.

Soto said there have been changes. He said there are three new school board members. Two of the seats were up for reelection in May 2019. The board appointed Norma Cavazos to the District 4 seat after David Abundis resigned in July.

Soto said there are several challenges, including declining enrollment.

“We need to, again, showcase all the great things that we have here,” Soto said.

The TEA said the investigation into the district is still open. Officials said there is no time frame on when the investigation will wrap up.

Soto said the Texas Education Agency recommended that all board members, including himself, should complete the Lone Star Governance Board training, which includes how to govern the district and follow policy and procedures. The TEA said the training is optional.

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