Lorenzo Garcia, the former superintendent of the 64,000-student El Paso, Texas district, has admitted to conspiring with his deputies in order to keep some 10th graders from taking state accountability tests, a practice that helped him net more than $50,000 in bonuses. Garcia served as leader of the district from 2006 to August 2011, when he was arrested on fraud charges.
Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according a press release from Robert Pitman, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. One count related to his steering district money to a consulting firm run by a woman with whom he had a personal relationship. But the second count details how Garcia defrauded the government by manipulating test scores so that he would get bonuses that were a part of his contract.
In the 2006-07 school year, the former superintendent admitted to manipulating district data by "reclassifying" some sophomores. Garcia told his employees to require that all transfer students from Mexico be placed in the 9th grade, even if they had enough credits to be classified as 10th graders; change passing grades to failing grades in order to prevent qualified students from taking the 10th grade Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, and implement course-credit-recovery programs to help the students who had been held back graduate on time. Also, some students repeating the 10th grade were reclassified as juniors so they would not have to take the state test.
The government has recommended Garcia serve 42 months in federal prison and pay the district $180,000. Sentencing has been set for September.
The El Paso Times covered the story of Garcia's pleas when they were announced, and followed up with two compelling stories that ran this weekend: The first article detailed the nuts-and-bolts of the cheating scheme. An education expert quoted in the article said that the district was engaging in a practice better known in the business world as shedding risky assets.
The second article explained how much money Garcia got for gaming the system. That information was not a part of the original press release from the attorney's office; the newspaper made a public records request that showed the former superintendent, in addition to receiving bonuses himself, created a separate bonus pool for about a dozen central office employees. The federal charging document also said that six unindicted, unnamed co-conspirators were involved in the scheme, and the investigation is continuing.
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