Last month, the La Marque Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to mount a legal challenge to the state’s decision to close the troubled Galveston County district after years of academic and financial problems.
Now, a new controversy has added to tensions over the state’s plans to have the district annexed by the nearby Texas City ISD: the new board of managers appointed by the state to replace the La Marque ISD’s elected board of trustees is seeking to recoup $300,000 that the original trustees paid to attorneys to fight the closure.
The lead attorney says the fees are non-refundable, and vows to carry on the legal fight against the annexation.
Meanwhile the state education commissioner has asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to weigh in on the conflict over the fee.
“They’re not going to get paid,” said Jack Christiana, the president of the new board of managers, of the attorneys suing the state. “We don’t want them to do anything on our behalf.”
Christiana said the board of managers will hire new attorneys at a meeting next week to find ways to recover the $300,000 in district funds.
Then-state Commissioner of Education Michael Williams sent a letter Dec. 31 asking Paxton whether the elected trustees’ move to pay $300,000 to the Houston-based law firm Tritico Rainey was an “unconstitutional gift of public funds,” in part because the board of trustees could not “direct the litigation” after the board of managers was put in place last month and that the attorney’s services would benefit the “individual board member plaintiffs rather than the district.”
In the letter, Williams also questioned whether the fee was unconstitutional because “there is no demonstrable public benefit to challenging closure of the district.”
Chris Tritico, who is representing four elected trustees and the school district in a lawsuit against Williams and the new state education commissioner Mike Morath, said the moves together represented an attempt by the state to muffle opposition to the district’s closure.
See here and here for the background. My personal opinion is that the new board should let the existing court case run its course. Most likely, as was the case with North Forest, they will lose and that will be that. Fighting over the fees could take longer than the fight to not close La Marque ISD in the first place, which would diminish the potential return if the new board prevailed. Letting it play out also mutes any future criticism that the dissenters were silenced. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the dissenters could win in court. I think it’s unlikely, but if they do win then it’s a good thing they fought. There will be a hearing on January 19 in Travis County, so we may get some indication of how this may play out at that time. Don;t short-circuit the process, that’s what I say.