School Officials Barred From Elected Office

La Joya ISD | Image by La Joya ISD

State administrators approved a new policy last week restricting La Joya Independent School District officials from serving in elected public office.

La Joya ISD, located in the Rio Grande Valley, has been headed by a temporary state board of managers since February. The Texas Education Agency appointed the managers following an investigation into allegations of fraud among the districts’ administrators. The state investigation was initiated after two former school board trustees and three former administrators pleaded guilty to federal charges of receiving bribes and kickbacks, per The Texas Tribune.

The managers passed a new policy aimed at preventing conflicts of interest. The effects will be considerable, given that several top-level La Joya ISD employees currently hold elected positions in the region, such as in Mission, La Grulla, Palmview, Peñitas, and Sullivan City, and other school systems, such as Mission Consolidated ISD and Sharyland ISD.

A draft of the policy obtained by local news outlet ValleyCentral indicated that La Joya ISD employees serving in an administrative or supervisory capacity would be “prohibited from becoming a candidate for nomination or election to any elective public office within Hidalgo County” or any other jurisdiction having “direct or indirect contractual relations” with the district. It also stated that any school officials holding elected office prior to the enactment of the new rule would not face termination but would “be subject to nonrenewal” at the end of their contracts.

The new policy had a considerable impact even before the managers made it official on April 11.

Anticipating the policy change, Laura Patricia Solis, the mayor of La Grulla and principal of La Joya ISD’s Patricio Perez Elementary School, moved to resign from the former.

“I’m choosing my career that’s my bread and butter over a political position that’s not giving me anything,” Solis said, per ValleyCentral.

Meanwhile, Rick Villarreal, the mayor of Palmview and assistant principal at La Joya ISD’s Memorial Middle School, reported that he was considering retirement, though it’s not clear from which position.

“I’m looking at my options,” he said, per ValleyCentral.

Texas Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), who had pursued legislation with similar aims in the past, supported the managers’ move.

“La Joya ISD is one of the largest, if not the largest, school districts here in the Valley, which is the number one employer in the western part of Hidalgo County,” Hinojosa said, per The Texas Tribune. “It does create issues and conflicts that need to be addressed.”

However, before the policy passed, concerns were raised that the restrictions could negatively impact the pool of local candidates for elected office.

“You have this risk of restricting people’s choices,” Andrew H. Smith, a political scientist at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told The Tribune.

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