Interesting tidbits from the EPISD Weaver Report

The forensic Weaver and Tidwell report for El Paso Independent School District, dated April 1, 2013 was released by the school district on the same day. As expected the results of the investigation are the same ones already in the public consciousness with additional details added. As with any investigation the results are tainted with special interest influence of whom and how the investigative results were attained. As is typical in corrupt-laden El Paso, whisper campaigns have been initiated to protect some and castigate others unrelated to the issue at hand.

Through the fog there remains one constant in the fact that anything acted upon, or on behalf of the current EPISD School Board cannot be accepted nor believed. Their integrity has long been suspect and therefore their actions are not to be relied upon.

They should have resigned a long time ago.

Unfortunately with the vultures circling the EPISD carcass for their own bite at the taxpayer’s monies the future of EPISD is actually bleaker now. Although the community should be the one to determine the future of EPISD and the State of Texas has demonstrated its own incompetence there is no simple answer to the future of El Paso’s largest school district.

Although the Weaver Report is not the smoking gun so many were looking for and it does not uncover any new revelations it nonetheless exposes other tidbits of EPISD intrigue. It also is a primer on how corruption manifests itself into an organization.

Originally, the scope of work for Weaver was to develop a “broad-based organizational and process assessment”.  The EPISD board directed Weaver to focus on “solely” on forensic investigation, after it had awarded the contract to them. (Page 4) This could simply be another case of the incompetence of the school board or an opportunity to further insulate itself from the fallout of the scandal. Or, it could be a little of both.

Regardless, the “assessment” was turned into an investigation.

According to the report, one hundred and fifty four witnesses were interviewed. (Page 4) The question no one seems to have asked was how were they identified and who identified them? Accepting that this version of the report is incomplete, it does not include the exhibits and it is redacted in certain areas, the question that should have been answered is who determined who was to be interviewed?

If it was Weaver, as it seems, then what criteria were used to make the initial list of interviewees and were any added or deleted? The report itself states that witness interviews were geared toward “eliciting testimony regarding intentional misconduct”. (Page 4)

Two things that standout in the report, first is the obvious one where “Garcia insulated and surrounded himself with willing accomplices”. (Page 2) and the second one was less obvious. According to the report; on March 9, 2010 and March 29, 2011; the Board of Trustees nominated Garcia for the Texas Association of School Board’s Superintendent of the Year award. (Page 2)

Clearly, the school board was not doing its job of supervising the superintendent by nominating him for a prestigious award while he was committing criminal acts under their watch. Unfortunately this is common in the El Paso scene as the façade of awards is applauded by the media but those challenging or alleging criminal acts are chastised into silence.

The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce gave Bob Jones the Entrepreneur of the Year award while some in the community were criticizing his business practices. Likewise the school board was more interested in shiny awards then asking the simple question of how is it possible that we have so many years of failing schools, year after year and all of sudden we are succeeding.

It’s because in El Paso to air the community’s dirty laundry is frowned upon and buying awards is encouraged.

The information was there for the State of Texas and the EPISD to look at and question yet everyone patted themselves on the back. It’s ok, they all proclaimed.

According to the TEA, in the fall of 2007; 381 students are enrolled in grade nine at Bowie High School. By the spring of 2009, only 168 students took the TAKS test in the tenth grade. Forty-four percent of the class had disappeared. (Page 8)

Dr. Steinhauser, Superintendent for Research, Evaluation, Planning and Accountability for EPISD agreed with the TEA numbers and added that 72, or 33% of the 213 missing students had been retained in the ninth grade and 28 (13%) had skipped the tenth grade.  No one commented on what happened to the other 113 students. But even these numbers are just too convenient; an even 100 of the 213 students are accounted for.

Way too convenient for a nice round number to emerge. It just doesn’t make statistical sense, yet no one asks why.

Also, according to the Weaver report, the internal audit conducted by EPISD was revised nine times at the direction of Lorenzo Garcia, James Anderson; Assistant Superintendent for High School and Terri Jordan. The internal audit concluded that “the reported grade level for 50% of the students was incorrect”, which supported Patricia Scott’s original complaint to Lorenzo Garcia. The changes to the report resulted in “certain negative conclusions” to be removed and emphasized on the positive conclusions of the internal investigation. (Page 11)

And here we have further proof of the complicity, or incompetence of the EPISD school board. Throughout all of this they have collectively put up their hands and sighed; “but we didn’t know”.

As soon as Lorenzo Garcia was arrested at the EPISD offices and the school board appointed Terri Jordan as interim superintendent they should have immediately realized that the criminal acts could not have happened without support for Garcia by others. Jordan was his chief of staff, and yet the school board appointed her the interim superintendent.

Incompetence, stupidity or complicacy it doesn’t matter they should have resigned.

As if this wasn’t enough, a former police officer and the foreman of the grand jury that indicted Lorenzo Garcia was an employee of EPISD and active in the scandal. In other words, even before Lorenzo Garcia knew he was going to be charged and before the community in general knew that there was evidence substantiating criminal acts at EPISD, an employee of EPISD was participating while he knew what was to come. Does anybody else see something wrong with this?

According to the Weaver Report, Michael Salcido, a former Texas state trooper (Page 31) was aware of the EPISD cheating scandal prior to most people because he was the foreman of the grand jury that indicted Lorenzo Garcia. (Page 31) Salcido was the assistant principal at Austin High School since 2008. On July 28, 2011, the indictment was issued by grand jury.

The report also states that according to Luis Liano, principal of El Paso High School, Charles Mitzak, a teacher sold grades to students at El Paso High School for $50. The Weaver Report states that Liano stated to them that he had reprimanded the teacher but the Weaver investigative team found no record of the reprimand. There was no further information on what, if any punitive action was taken against Mitzak, other than that his resignation on April 30, 2010. (Page 37)

Allegedly a teacher is selling grades and no investigative team steps forward to investigate the allegation and refer the results, if any, to the appropriate authorities.

Incompetence, stupidly or indifference; this is the standard El Paso reaction to community “dirty laundry”.

The Weaver Report opines that Kristine Ferret was “clearly tampering witnesses”. (Page 42) The report also adds that Lorenzo Garcia made a 15-minute call to Kristine Ferret sometime in August 2012. (Page 42) In October 2012, Garcia was sentenced to three and a half years in federal prison after pleading guilty in June. According to the Weaver Report, Ferret attempted to interfere with the investigation and was in contact, at least once, with Garcia after he pleaded guilty and right before he was sentenced.

And finally we get the crux of the corruption problem; Lorenzo Garcia who pleaded guilty and was awaiting sentencing was still actively involved in EPISD activities through at least one, but most likely more than one well-placed individual.

If Garcia felt comfortable enough reaching out to Ferret while the Weaver investigative team is investigating Garcia’s legacy, and Ferret was comfortable talking to Garcia for at least 15 minutes then it is reasonable to ask; did Garcia directly or indirectly influence the Weaver Report and does he still have direct or indirect contact with members of the school board?

Of course they will deny, and deny but why would Garcia feel he can talk to someone at EPISD? And, more importantly what was the conversation about?

The EPISD board has no credibility left and the Weaver Report has added more questions that need to be addressed. With the “let’s fire a bunch of people” and then “let’s just fire one” after the community outcry the actions of this board continues to leave a wrecking ball over the lives of students who depend on the school district for their future lives.

Other than the posturing from elected officials trying to carve out their piece of the pie or protecting their turf where is the leadership required to fix this problem once and for all?

Nowhere to be found.

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