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YISD board president takes swipe at media, defends use of taxpayer money to fight state law

By: Bill Melugin

EL PASO, Texas - The president of the Ysleta Independent School District took a swipe at KFOX14 and the El Paso Times, and defended her use of taxpayer money to fight House Bill 343 after a special meeting Monday.

HB 343 requires school board trustees in El Paso County to file financial statements.

A KFOX14 investigative report revealed YISD spent more than $30,000 fighting the law within the last  year and paid attorneys a rate of up to $225 per hour for consultation. A report from KFOX14's media partner, The El Paso Times, revealed the same thing.

"I think it was dishonest and written up in the newspaper that the school district had spent an enormous amount of money," YISD board president Patricia McLean said.

It was the first time KFOX14 had received a response from McLean regarding the reports. Previous calls to McLean were never returned and a district spokesperson told KFOX14 she was unavailable for interviews on previous occasions.

McLean accused KFOX14 and the Times of picking and choosing what numbers to report after both news outlets received invoices through an open records request detailing how much taxpayer money YISD had spent fighting the law.

"It's like if you went to the grocery store, and got one total bill and you said how much did you spend on chicken? And you add up all those totals and that's what you all did," she said.

Any legal services not having to do with HB 343 were redacted and blacked out on the invoices KFOX14 received from YISD and were not counted in the total.

After explaining this, KFOX14 asked McLean if she stood by her comment that the media reporting was dishonest.

"Yes," she replied.

McLean alleged that the media had the numbers wrong, but admitted she didn't know the numbers herself.

"There was no way to tell, for me, from those bills, how much was spent on HB 343," she said.

McLean also explained her reasoning for the use of taxpayer money to fund her fight against HB 343.

"Those financial statements are not going to stop any of this corruption," she said. "Nobody that is going to be doing any corruption is going to put it on their financial statement. They're not going to put it on their financial statement that they're getting a bribe.

She also said the law would make it more difficult to recruit qualified trustees to the district.

"We are not going to attract people from the community who are willing to do this job, as a volunteer for free and then have to fill out a financial statement," McLean said. "They're not going to come, we're not going to get the qualify people to be board members."

The YISD board spent Monday evening shouting at each other and arguing about the bill, but eventually voted to not spend anymore district money to fight it.

McLean also blamed the district's woes on the board minority, which consists of Shane Haggerty, Connie Woodruff and Ana Duenez. She accused them of doing the bidding of the Ysleta Teacher's Association and said Monday night's heated meeting was the result of their political agenda.

"She made some wild, wild accusations," said Arlinda Valencia, president of the YTA. "All I have to say is I do strongly believe we have a dysfunctional board and I think that the leadership of the board is at fault here."

After Monday night's meeting, people in attendance could be heard shouting "TEA" to the board, referring to the year 2000 when a Texas Education Agency monitor had to be placed in the district because of infighting and a permanent 4-3 split vote similar to the current situation in YISD.

KFOX14 asked the TEA when they determine a monitor is needed.

"When there is substantial reason, and evidence that the board and/or district staff are not meeting a certain level of standards," said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson. "It's hard to quantify because different circumstances can require different actions. Plus we need to be sure that the actions are violations or circumventions of state or federal law/policies.  Often times these matters tend to fall under local control issues."

Culbertson also told KFOX14 the community must vote in different trustees if they want to see a stop to a split vote.