TEA report reveals multiple violations by HISD board members

HOUSTON – The Texas Education Agency conducted an investigation into the Houston Independent School District due to allegations of a "systemic breakdown" within the district's board of trustees.

The report shed light on some potential violations of the law within the district's Board of Education.

The TEA report was filed Monday, and HISD has since the state to dismiss it.

READ: TEA's full report

Why was the investigation started?

Several complaints were filed with the TEA after HISD Board President Diana Davila made a motion to replace the current interim superintendent Oct. 11, 2018. Davila made the motion without any prior notice.

On Oct. 15, 2018, the TEA said it received multiple complaints claiming that HISD was not in compliance with the laws relating to governing a school district.

On Jan. 22, 2019, the TEA began an on-site investigation at the Hattie Mae White Education Support Center, which is HISD's headquarters. A second investigation was conducted March 24 at Educational Service Center IV.

What did the investigation reveal?

The TEA report claims to have found that the HISD board of trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. The report goes on to say that five board members met secretly at a restaurant to talk to Dr. Abelardo Saavedra to discuss the superintendent position in the district.

Secret meeting

The report says trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca set up a meeting with Saavedra on Oct. 8, 2018, at a Houston restaurant. Vilaseca told TEA investigators she met Saavedra along with four other board members: Sergio Lira (board secretary), Anne Sung (board member), Elizabeth Santos (second vice president) and Davila.

The meeting was to discuss Saavedra being the replacement for Dr. Grenita Lathan, the interim superintendent.

Three days after the secret meeting, Davila called a motion to replace Lathan with Saavedra. The motion passed on a 5-to-4 vote. The five trustees who met with Saavedra were the ones to vote for the motion.

Board members Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Assistant Secretary Sue Deigaard told TEA investigators they were unaware of the meeting.

The TEA investigation revealed that several board members gave false statements about the meeting.

The TEA found that the five members who attended the meeting violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.

Interfering with administrators

The report also claims that board members repeatedly interfered with the duties of school administrators.

In one case, Davila is accused of ordering a $20,000 change to a school construction project, which exceeded her authority.

In another case, Santos is accused of using her position to get food without paying.

Violations of contract procurement rules

The TEA report claims board members tried to tamper with contracts, advocated for specific contractors and manipulated contracts to get around the rules.

"The investigation revealed numerous instances of trustees violating the district's rules and
procedures with regard to the process of purchasing contracts," the report says.

Recommendation for sanctions

Based on its findings, the TEA said it will recommend for the "accreditation status of the district be lowered, a conservator be appointed, and a Board of Managers be installed."

The Board of Managers will replace the existing board of trustees due to the current board's "inability to appropriately govern, inability to operate within the scope of their authority, circumventing the authority of the superintendent, and inability to ensure adherence to contract procurement policies and laws are followed," the report concluded.

HISD has until Thursday to respond to the report.