EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Nearly half of the nine school districts in a West Texas county are in search of new leadership as a result of cheating and financial abuse allegations, and retirements.
Cheating scandals have rattled the El Paso and Canutillo school districts, where superintendents resigned while investigations unfolded.
The Tornillo school district put its superintendent on paid administrative leave after a state investigation of spending discrepancies.
Last week, the Clint school district superintendent — a former high-level administrator at the El Paso school district during its cheating scheme — announced he is retiring.
James Vasquez, executive director of Region 19, an extension of the Texas Education Agency, told the El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/X4yCR7) he has never seen this many districts at once without top leaders.
"We have seasons where one after the other superintendents at different districts quit, but never four at one time," Vasquez said. "I get sad about it when I see especially those who have left because of unacceptable conduct. It should not happen. The position calls for highly ethical and responsible people. I've been in the business 52 years, and I've never seen it this bad."
The El Paso school district has been without a permanent superintendent for a year and a half since Lorenzo García was arrested on charges he took part in a conspiracy to improve the district's high-stakes tests scores by removing low-performing students from classrooms. He was sentenced in October to more than three years in prison.
The district, which has 64,000 students, hopes to have a new superintendent by June.
The nearby Canutillo school district, with 6,000 students, is looking for a new superintendent after Damon Murphy resigned in December. An internal audit alleges Murphy directed two administrators to lower the numbers of special education students and limited English-proficient students so those subgroups would not count in federal accountability measures.
"We had leadership at the top who made bad decisions, but we acted quickly, we found it internally and we're moving forward," Canutillo school board President Armando Rodriguez told the newspaper.
Rodriguez said the school board wants to hire a superintendent by May.
The Tornillo Independent School District, which has about 1,300 students on the U.S.-Mexico border in southeast El Paso County, put Superintendent Paul Vranish on paid administrative leave following a Texas Education Agency audit that concluded he had received $2,576 in questionable reimbursements.
Vranish submitted his resignation in January and his last day at the district will be June 28.
Tornillo trustees are trying to fix financial problems that resulted from Vranish's buyout package.
A financial audit conducted for fiscal year 2012 showed the district overspent by $582,300, of which $476,571 was used for Vranish's buyout package.
Trustees in the Clint school district —located about 30 miles southeast of El Paso — next month plan to discuss how they will fill their superintendent vacancy.
Clint Superintendent Ed Gabaldon has said he is retiring in June.
Gabaldon was the El Paso school district's chief of staff under García until 2009. Gabaldon and other administrators received thousands of dollars in bonuses tied to improved standardized test performance during the 2008-09 school year.
Gabaldon has declined to answer questions about what he knew of the cheating scheme at the El Paso school district, and Clint trustees have insisted they don't feel the need to order an audit to determine whether cheating occurred at the East El Paso County district, which has 11,800 students.
Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com