Texas Education Agency takes over La Joya ISD after investigating school board for fraud and conflicts of interest

The Texas Education Agency said Thursday it replaced La Joya Independent School District's school board after an investigation into fraud and conflicts of interest. (Marjorie Kamys Cotera For The Texas Tribune, Marjorie Kamys Cotera For The Texas Tribune)

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The Texas Education Agency removed La Joya Independent School District’s democratically-elected school board and appointed a new superintendent after investigating the district’s previous leadership for allegations of fraud and conflicts of interest, the agency said Thursday.

The TEA said it named seven Hidalgo County residents to replace the previous school board and temporarily serve as a “board of managers” for La Joya ISD, a district of about 24,000 students in the Rio Grande Valley.

The agency also appointed Marcey Sorensen as the new superintendent. While the TEA was only required to change the district’s school board, the agency said it decided to place a new superintendent to ensure productive leadership moving forward.

The new board starts immediately. The TEA commissioner decides how long the board is in place.

A TEA investigation found last year that the school board spent $38 million installing LED lights on school campuses, but it turned out the contract to install those lights was part of a criminal conspiracy that involved millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.

Several trustees and administrators pleaded guilty last year to federal charges that included theft, bribery, money laundering, extortion and wire fraud.

La Joya ISD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A 2021 Texas law requires the TEA to take over the supervision and operations of a school district if it is failing academically, abusing power or being mismanaged financially. Usually, this sort of takeover has lasted two to six years.

This is the second school district that the state has taken over in the last year. On June 1, the TEA officially appointed a new school board and superintendent at the Houston Independent School District.

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