Widespread cheating continued at the El Paso Independent School District even after disgraced Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was arrested, as many high schools became "diploma mills," according to an 86-page audit released Monday by the district.
A number of administrators cited in the report by Weaver and Tidwell, an Austin-based forensic accounting firm, said the company conducted an incomplete investigation and its auditors seemed unfamiliar with Texas education law.
The audit report noted that for much of Garcia's five-year tenure, "the district was run by a criminal." But the report said problems continued even after Garcia's arrest in the summer of 2011.
"Long after Garcia's arrest and departure on August 1, 2011, many of these practices continued unabated. Although Garcia was gone, the Bowie Plan infrastructure he created was still intact. In the rush to avoid accountability consequences for inadequate graduation rates, many district high schools became credit mills and, eventually, diploma mills, as unearned credits resulted in the graduation of ill-prepared students. These students are the victims of the culture Garcia promulgated, and it is not a culture easily undone," the report said.
The report is highly critical of a number of administrators, but is virtually silent on the role played by the school board. While the report criticizes a reign of terror at the district -- labeled the "Garcia culture" -- it makes no reference to actions taken by the board that enabled the convicted superintendent to control the district, such as giving him sole hiring and firing authority for top positions and allowing him to control the district's internal auditor, in defiance of state law that mandated that the board oversee that position.
Trustees did not return calls for comment Monday evening. Weaver officials declined comment.
Much of the wrongdoing outlined in the audit report had been detailed previously, either in Garcia's guilty plea
or in the El Paso Times' investigation throughout 2012. But the report also contained new allegations of attempts to push students through to graduation, often by cutting corners at several high schools.
Schools singled out in the report included Bowie High, the epicenter of the cheating scandal, as well as Austin, Irvin, El Paso and Burges high schools.
Garcia is serving a three-and-a-half-year federal prison sentence in Pennsylvania after pleading guilty to two fraud counts, including leading a scheme to defraud federal accountability measures by gaming results at campuses in the district's Priority Schools Division.
The investigators in the audit recommended personnel actions against a number of district administrators, including several who have already resigned or faced termination recommendations by the school board. The report recommends personnel action against four principals and four assistant principals who are up for possible termination at tonight's board meeting.
Those facing termination are Burges High School Principal Randall Woods, El Paso High School Principal Kristine Ferret, Center for Career and Technology Education Principal Luis Loya, El Paso High School Assistant Principal Grace Runkles, Austin High School Principal John Tanner, Burges High School Assistant Principal J. Manuel Duran Jr., Jefferson High Assistant Principal Adrian Bustillos and Austin High School Assistant Principal Michael Salcido.
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