in Houston, Texas
El Paso ISD trustees allowing task force to improve the district to conduct closed meeting
Tuesday, Aug 07, 2012, 02:16PM CST
By Curt Olson

The top brass at the El Paso Independent School District now seem befuddled by the lack of transparency that allowed a district cheating scandal to metastasize.

A task force created by trustees to improve the district’s governance will conduct its first meeting on Wednesday behind closed doors, the El Paso Times reports.

The panel was named after Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty in June to fraud in a massive cheating scandal and directing a contract to a mistress. More indictments are possible in the cheating sanctioned by Garcia. Also, five former EPISD principals have come forward to say they refused to go along with the scam that allowed Garcia and other district leaders to receive raises from the cheating. El Paso ISD trustees blamed the state’s open meetings laws for their failure to get information from the district’s internal auditor, which would have warned them of the cheating scandal much sooner.

The task force’s closed meeting was broken by the El Paso Times after a reporter informed the task force she would attend the first meeting. The paper reports that the closed meeting is allowed under the law because of the task force’s nature as an advisory body, but with the scandal that engulfs EPISD, it’s shocking trustees would allow it.

“I think absolutely if transparency has been a problem in the past this certainly isn’t going to bolster the public’s confidence in the entity to not keep things secret from them again,” Charles Daughtry, a Houston-based First Amendment attorney and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, tells the Times.

Also against the closed-door meeting were El Paso Democratic state Reps. Marisa Marquez and Joe Pickett and Republican Dee Margo. Democratic State Sen. Jose Rodriguez told the paper he has no problem with closed-door meetings if the task force interviews people to find facts, but that governance issues must be held in the open.

“We are in a crisis and everyone needs to be involved,” said Marquez, who has passed legislation seeking more transparency of school districts. “There is no excuse for any more closed-door meetings at any level regarding EPISD. It has not been productive for them in the past, not in the recent past and it will not be productive for their future.”

Contact Curt Olson at or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

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Photo of El Paso via the El Paso Pubic Library.

Wednesday, 08/08/2012 - 11:36PM

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