Audit: El Paso schools became 'diploma mills'


Associated Press

Posted on April 2, 2013 at 6:32 AM

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — A scandal-plagued West Texas school district found that systematic test rigging and grade manipulation that sent one educator to prison continued long after his arrest, according to an audit released Monday.

The El Paso Independent School District commissioned the $800,000 outside audit by the Austin-based accounting firm Weaver and Tidwell LLP into the scandal that resulted in a 3½-year federal prison sentence for former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia for fraud.

"It is important to remember that for a period of some 5½ years the district was run by a criminal," the auditors wrote. "Garcia insulated and surrounded himself with willing accomplices, and his influence and reach were vast. The district has since suffered from a culture that has put the desires and egos of adults over the needs of students.

That culture resulted in manipulation of some groups, particularly those with limited English language skills, to meet and beat accountability standards, the firm found.

"The district also engaged in improperly retaining students in ninth grade or advancing students from nine to 11th grade to avoid state and federal accountability requirements," the report stated.

Faculty members also awarded credits, in many cases unearned, to students in danger of not graduating, according to the report.

Long after Garcia's arrest and resignation on Aug. 1, 2011, "many of these practices continued unabated," the auditors said.

"In the rush to avoid accountability consequences for inadequate graduation rates, many district high schools became credit mills and, eventually, diploma mills as unearned credits resulted in the graduation of ill-prepared students. These students are the victims of the culture Garcia promulgated and it is not a culture easily undone," the report stated.

Furthermore, the auditors concluded that numerous "otherwise ethical and honest educators made terrible decisions in the wake of cultural influences that they did not stand up against — sometimes out of fear for their positions or educator certifications, and sometimes merely out of expedience or insecurity. Many district campuses operated on a standard of 'go along to get along.'"

The district hired the auditor under orders from the Texas Education Agency.

A message left with a district spokeswoman Monday evening was not returned.