Texas Education Agency orders removal of Hearne ISD trustees, superintendent

HEARNE, Tex. (KBTX)- The Texas Education Agency has put a plan in motion to take over all powers and duties of the Hearne Independent School District and will appoint a new superintendent, KBTX has learned.

A notification letter was sent on Monday from the TEA to Hearne ISD's current Superintendent, Dr. Adrain Johnson, and the school board of trustees.

KBTX's Rusty Surette obtained a copy of the letter on Tuesday from sources.

Click here to see a copy of the TEA's letter to Hearne ISD.

The TEA is also escalating the role of its current Hearne ISD monitor, Patricia Hayes, to the district conservator.

The TEA's letter, signed by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, also shows the district's 2015-2016 accreditation status will be lowered to "Accredited-Warned".

Among the reasons for all this, according to the TEA's letter:

*The board of trustees' inability to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district

*Board members acting individually on behalf of the board in violation of Texas Ethics Commission rules

*The district exhibits serious or persistent deficiencies that may lead to the probation or revocations of the district's accreditation if not addressed because the breakdown in governance may impact academic and financial performance

*Given the board of trustees' inability to govern the district, it is necessary to protect the best interests of the districts' current and future students

"The findings in the report demonstrate material deficiencies that are serious and extensive. The deficiencies cited in the Final Report demonstrate a substantial and imminent threat to the welfare of the district's students and to the public interest because the board of trustees is unable to govern the district," the letter states.

Hearne ISD has until April 13th to seek a formal or informal review.
If after the review, the TEA's rulings stand, the next step in the process will be to replace the board of trustees.

The TEA says citizens from the Hearne community will be allowed to apply for those positions. "Our goal is that a majority of the new board of managers would come from that community," said TEA spokeswoman Laura Callahan.

Those applicants would be chosen, trained and then sworn in to replace the board of trustees, said Callahan, but she says there's no definitive timeline for it to all happen.

The TEA commissioner will select the Superintendent's replacement, but there's also no timeline set for when that would take place.

Dr. Johnson on Tuesday sent KBTX the following statement:

The Texas Education Agency’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has issued a final report of its investigation into allegations made against the Hearne Independent School District Board of Trustees that originated nearly a year ago. The Agency responded to a complaint alleging a systemic breakdown of the Board’s ability to govern and oversee the management of the District’s public schools. As part of its decision to investigate, the Agency considered the District’s below average academic performance, and financial inconsistencies found at the time of the complaint.

In its report, the SIU offers recommendations and sanctions for the District that include installing a Board of Managers to replace the current Board of Trustees; lowering of the District’s accreditation rating; appointing a conservator for the District; and requiring the District to development (SIC) and implement a Corrective Action Plan. Last month, the District’s accreditation rating was lowered and a monitor was appointed at that time. The District plans to request a formal review of the SIU’s final report and findings. Texas Education Agency Commissioner, Mike Morath will make the ultimate decision to accept the SIU’s recommendations and sanctions for the District.

Dr. Adrain Johnson, who began serving as the District’s Interim Superintendent in July 2016, and assumed the permanent Superintendent role last month, states, “The District is aware of the areas of concern and the urgent need to improve and has made major strides in addressing the concerns.” The District has reviewed its financial processes, has begun making appropriate financial reconciliations, and has completed its audit for the 2016 school year. All campuses are currently on schedule with implementing their Board approved Targeted Improvement and Turnaround Implementation Plans. These plans support improving student outcomes for each campus holding an “Improvement Required” rating. Also, the District sends campus and District progress reports to the Texas Education Agency quarterly for review.

In order to provide appropriate support, and ensure improvement of the District, a majority of the Board of Trustees attended a School Board Governance Training in December, as requested by Texas Education Agency. Since the training, the Board has implemented the Lone Star Governance training model with fidelity. Specifically, the District recently adopted an implementation timeline; completed its self-evaluation; adopted a new vision and mission statement; and adopted goals, performance measures and constraints. According to TEA officials, the District is well ahead of most districts in implementing the training.

The District will continue to partner with the Texas Education Agency throughout this process and fully cooperate with the Commissioner’s recommendations to ensure continued improvement of the District and provide the best education possible for the students of Hearne ISD.

The TEA's investigation was activated last year after the state agency received complaints about alleged violations by members of the board.

Last year the board released former Superintendent Raul Nuques after only 7-months of being on the job.

Click here to see KBTX's exclusive interview with Raul Nuques.

The TEA found in its investigations that board members failed to work with Nuques and other former superintendents. It's noted in the state's investigation that Hearne ISD has gone through 5 superintendents in the last five years

Tuesday evening, Board Member Tina Rocha sent KBTX this statement:

Hearne ISD has had six Superintendents in the last six years and has been under “improvement required” for several consecutive years. It is no secret that the district has gone downhill financially and academically due to our board president Mr. Taylor’s actions and hidden agendas. After all, the common denominator here is that he has been board president for so long and he has manipulated board members to take his side.

I am sad that I will no longer be a board member but on a positive note glad that our beautiful Hearne community will have the right intervention by TEA in order for progress to finally take place in our beautiful district.

I want to thank the commissioner plus the TEA staff for taking a stand and taking action for the betterment of the Hearne ISD community.
Mr. Nuques did an outstanding job while he was our Superintendent and Raymondville ISD has made the right choice in selecting him as their next Superintendent, he will continue to help Raymondville ISD shine.

Mr. Nuques did an incredible job in turning Zapata County ISD around and he would have done the same here in Hearne, this is why the former board majority hired him. If Mr. Taylor and the corrupted majority would have allowed him to do his job Mr. Nuques would have done incredible things for Hearne ISD. The amount of harassment and retaliation that Mr. Nuques faced from Mr. Taylor and the corrupted majority was uncalled for. Everything Mr. Nuques did was intentionally sabotaged including the intentional disclosure of closed meeting discussions by the corrupted board to the community. Mr. Nuques was threatened by several board members as well as community members that are acquainted and related to this corrupted board majority. These same people trespassed his home and harassed his family by knocking down their trash containers and by trying to steal his dogs. Yet, Mr. Nuques came to work every day with a smile and did everything he could for the kids of Hearne ISD, he stood his ground for kids, for social justice and followed the law at all times.

When the board of managers takes over, the first thing they need to do is fire the current law firm the district have O'Hanlon, McCollom & Demerath. Their attorney Darren Gibson instigated the buyout for Mr. Nuques and bragged about how he and the firm were able to stop TEA in taking over another district that they currently represent.

Instead of showing how such actions would make things more difficult with TEA all Darren Gibson did was prolong and make matters worse, when he clearly knew that there was no way the district would win an appeal. This is why board member Robinson and I voted against the ridiculous appeal. We also voted against Mr. Nuques' buyout and we voted against hiring Dr. Johnson our current Superintendent who will also be replaced by the TEA.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the current corrupted majority board & current Superintendent decide to appeal the taking over of the TEA. Another waste of Hearne community member’s time and tax dollars.
Now the Hearne ISD community has a positive future thanks to the Commissioners and the TEA’s staff aggressive intervention. I want to thank the Hearne community that voted for me and for believing that change for the positive will eventually take place. I will continue to leave it the hands of the Lord because I know he has always had a plan for the Hearne community.

Tina Rocha
Hearne ISD Board Member

A school board election set for May 6th is still scheduled to take place.

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