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Former El Paso schools chief gets 42 months in testing scandal

October 05, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • Activist Javier Diaz, left, 82, shows former Texas state senator Elliot Shapleigh signatures he collected to demand an overhaul of the El Paso Independent School District, in El Paso, Texas.
Activist Javier Diaz, left, 82, shows former Texas state senator Elliot… (Juan Carlos Llorca / AP Photo )

The former superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District was sentenced to 42 months in prison on charges he was involved in a conspiracy to inflate the district’s test scores, officials said.

Lorenzo Garcia was sentenced in federal court on Friday after pleading guilty in June to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. In addition to the testing scandal, Garcia pleaded guilty to a fraud count in connection with the award of a no-bid contract of $450,000 to a lover. For that, Garcia received a second 42-month sentence that will be served concurrently.

Garcia, who was taken into custody to begin serving his time, will face probation when he is released. He was also fined $56,500 and ordered to make restitution of $180,000, according to officials.

The Texas cheating scandal is one of many that have come to light around the country as school districts seek to use inflated scores to claim more federal aid. The largest scandal is believed to have been in Atlanta, where 178 teachers and administrators in at least 44 schools erased and changed test answers to improve scores over several years.

Garcia has acknowledged working with others to prevent hundreds of high school sophomores from taking tests. By identifying those most likely to do poorly, Garcia was able to increase the district’s overall results. Among the tactics used by Garcia was having an employee photograph students crossing the Mexican border so they could be persuaded not to take the tests.

Test scores improved enough that the district’s standing rose from “acceptable” in 2005 to “recognized” in 2010 — the second-highest rung. In addition to the higher standing, Garcia received personal bonuses of $56,500, the amount of the fine imposed on Friday.

At least six other people were involved in the testing scheme, which is still being investigated by the FBI.

State authorities had initially cleared the school district of any charges, but by 2011 the district acknowledged its problems after a Freedom of Information request by the El Paso Times. The district was placed on probation and a monitor was named to oversee the schools.

Robert Pitman, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, praised the punishment.

“Dr. Garcia abused the trust of the citizens of El Paso. He illegally manipulated state and federal education statistics, abandoning his duty to properly educate all EPISD students. He shamefully turned his time and attention to fraudulently obtaining performance based bonuses for himself. Today, he was held accountable for this breach of trust,” Pitman stated.

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