December 2, 2020

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Texas Education Agency assigns monitor over Manor school district – News – Austin American-Statesman

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After a yearlong investigation into the alleged wrongdoing of the Manor school board president, the...

After a yearlong investigation into the alleged wrongdoing of the Manor school board president, the Texas Education Agency is assigning a monitor to oversee the Manor district and its school board members, according to a correction action plan sent to Manor this month and obtained by the American-Statesman.

A monitor, conservator or board of managers typically are assigned to a district for continuous low academic performance. Monitors are appointed by the education commissioner “to participate in and report to the agency on the activities of the board of trustees or the superintendent,” according to the agency.

The Texas Education Agency in August 2019 began reviewing complaints lodged against the Manor district after three district officials — two human resources employees and a trustee — said board President Elmer Fisher conspired with two other employees and other board trustees to oust the former superintendent, violating the Open Meetings Act by discussing and agreeing to fire the superintendent while away from board meetings, and unilaterally approved expenses regarding an independent investigation into the former superintendent.

The state agency’s review said Fisher acted without board consent to initiate and finance an external investigation of the now ousted Superintendent Royce Avery, who now is running for school board. The investigation also found Fisher approved of an independent audit without consent of the board. The state agency’s letter said state investigators found no evidence Fisher or other board members violated the Open Meetings Act but that the agency may continue to investigate any remaining allegations.

“The board president overstepped the limits of his authority and violated the board’s policy and procedures,” as well as a chapter of the state’s education code, the TEA letter states.

Fisher did not return a call for comment.

Fisher, a retired senior account manager for Dunn & Bradstreet, a business intelligence company, was first elected in 2014. During his initial campaign, he said “we need to bring a sense of trust back to the board so therefore our administrators, our teachers can do an effective job for our students — and that’s the biggest fix.” His school board term expires in 2022.

The district serves about 9,500 students, who are largely Black and Latino and about three-quarters of whom come from low-income households. The district’s Manor New Tech High School was lauded by former President Barack Obama in 2013 for graduating nearly all of its students and sending them to college. While other district campuses have struggled with academic performance over the years, last year it earned a B rating under the state’s newest accountability system.

Troubled past

The agency’s corrective action plan calls for the school board to go through training on governance and the Open Meetings Act no later than Dec. 1, develop a system to track board requests and allow the monitor to oversee board actions for one year.

Failure to comply could trigger further state intervention or sanctions.

TEA’s involvement is the latest in a series of investigations and complaints involving the district. Various school board members and presidents have been accused of meddling with district affairs, and there’s been a turnstile of district leaders. Public corruption investigators at the Travis County district’s attorney office have looked into the district amid accusations of fiscal mismanagement, multiple lawsuits, settlements and civil rights complaints made by African-American employees against the district. TEA previously has gotten involved to dispute the firing of a top school administrator, requiring the district to reinstate him.

Welcome scrutiny

Trustee Sam Samaripa, who filed the complaints against Fisher, said he’s pleased with the recent state review and welcomes more scrutiny into district affairs.

“I’m definitely satisfied. I think they did a very good investigation,” Samaripa said. “According to TEA, my allegations were substantiated. Mr. Fisher’s actions speak for themselves.”

However, Samaripa said he is upset that the school board was not notified about the corrective action letter until two days after Fisher signed it on Sept. 1 and returned it to the state agency. Samaripa said he believes Fisher again overstepped his authority by signing the document without first informing the board so that they could agree to the terms.

“We didn’t know anything about it until after it was signed. The board didn’t see it before it was signed,” he said. “There’s no question we would have agreed to it but there is no meeting or minutes that we gave him permission to sign this. He’s not even adhering to the policies he said he would as a trustee.”

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