Updated 4:25 p.m. with comment from Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra.
Under the watchful eye of a state-appointed conservator for the past two years, South San Antonio Independent School District has returned to complete local control.
The Texas Education Agency notified the district Wednesday it was removing conservator Judy Castleberry effective immediately because she was no longer needed to ensure sound financial decisions and effective governance.
In a letter to the district, TEA Deputy Commissioner A.J. Crabill said Castleberry had worked with the superintendent and the board of trustees to “create stability and a collaborative culture that emphasizes the importance of decision making that is focused on the best interests of the students.”
Crabill cited the board’s certification in the state’s school board training, Lone Star Governance, as evidence of its ability to keep the district of about 10,000 students headed in the right direction.
Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said the TEA’s decision was “a message of confidence.”
“There’s always a shadow when the state has to be involved in your governance,” Saavedra said. “I think that shadow has been removed."
As conservator, Castleberry had the authority to override the board and superintendent’s decisions.
“South San has had a history of board mis-function (sic) for decades,” Saavedra said. “At least for the last year or so they’ve been able to demonstrate that they’re beyond the dysfunction that the board has had in the past.”
Saavedra said the tide changed 14 months ago, when new trustees were elected and the new board elected Angelina Osteguin as its president. In the district’s statement, Osteguin credited TEA’s decision on the board’s ability to work together “moving towards what’s best for the students of South San.”
TEA appointed a conservator to South San on Feb. 5, 2016. If the state agency had decided Castelberry’s oversight was insufficient it could have gone a step further, removing the elected board of trustees and appointing a board of managers.
Two districts in the San Antonio area — Edgewood ISD and Southside ISD — currently have state-appointed boards.
Camille Phillips can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille