La Joya ISD’s Six-Figure Severance Package Just the Tip of the Iceberg
By James Quintero and Lucas Christiansen
La Joya ISD is back in the news again, and not for good reason.
Many of us learned recently that the small, underperforming district spent $20 million to build a water park—and that a lot of that funding came from state taxpayers. It was also discovered that the district lost roughly $250,000 running the park in its first year and that its golf course also ran a big deficit too, costing taxpayers almost $300,000.
And that’s not all.
In response to the mounting public pressure, the district’s trustees were forced to part ways with its controversial superintendent who oversaw many of items above. But she won’t be walking away empty-handed.
La Joya ISD’s outgoing superintendent, whose contract was originally set to expire in 2021, is being given a golden parachute worth of a whopping $320,000. On top of that, the district will also compensate her for all of the unused sick leave and vacation days that she’s accumulated, which means the all-in amount that she leaves with could approach half a million dollars.
A six-figure severance package like this ought to infuriate a lot of people, especially given the district’s history of less-than-stellar student achievement. Its student score below the statewide average in reading, math, science, social studies, and writing. How a big buyout changes that singularly-important fact is anyone’s guess.
Perhaps the most frustrating element here is not actual payout itself though. It’s how widespread golden parachutes for government employees has become.
Huge severance payments for sometimes scandal-ridden superintendents is becoming a trend. According to the Texas Monitor, from 2013 to 2017, 141 superintendents were paid $18.3 million win severance, even though some of those superintendents left under a cloud of controversy.
One of the most notable examples happened in 2017, when Katy ISD’s superintendent left with a massive $750,000 payout. His departure came after a circuit court judge in Alabama, who also went to high school with the super, publicly accused him of being a “vicious bully” in his younger years who would often brag about beating people up.
Another occurred in Johnson City ISD, where trustees gave their outgoing superintendent almost twice his annual salary ($149,547) even while officials contended with a nearly $1 million deficit at the time.
Other examples abound, but they all suggest the same thing: Texans shouldn’t stand for these six-figure sweetheart deals. Particularly at a time when property taxes are growing at such alarming rates. Besides the taxation element, these bloated buyouts also take money away from children in the classroom. A student’s education is not improved one iota as a result of these payments.
Given how many school districts seem to be engaged in this kind of bad behavior, it’s become an issue that needs legislative attention. State lawmakers need to consider putting strong transparency and accountability measures in place to limit the overall size of these payments, and to make sure that they can’t be awarded to bad actors. And the Legislature should ensure that the public can see the details of all of these deals.
Reforms like this would go far to curbing this widespread problem and reining in bad actors. It’s time that school districts, like La Joya ISD, got in the papers for something good, not something scandalous.
James Quintero leads the Think Local Liberty project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucas Christiansen is a research associate with the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Think Local Liberty project.