Elected officials at Weslaco Independent School District have awarded a large number of scholarships to their family members and others related to district staff. Parents and students who pay into a variety of student benefit programs – many of which are low-income families – are funding the awards.
“College Quarters,” “Holler for our Scholar”, “Dress for Success,” “Feed the Pig,” and many more, all are part of a recent scheme Weslaco ISD has created throughout the school district that appears to benefit those in charge. The programs charge elementary and middle school students fees to obtain certain benefits and perks.
The district offers students perks if they pay $0.25 to $1.00 to participate throughout the school year. That money then finances local scholarships for students at Weslaco ISD high schools. Texas Scorecard’s research has found this practice is continued year-round at Rudy Silva Elementary – targeting lower-performing summer school students to also pay into the scholarship funds.
On the surface, the program appears harmless. But some parents are now questioning if this scheme is nothing more than a way for district officials to raise money from low-income parents to benefit their own families and that of district employees.
Many parents expressed disbelief at a recent public awards ceremony in May 2017. One concerned parent said they “waited for three hours for her daughter to receive a scholarship.” At the end of the ceremony, her daughter – a more-than-qualified applicant of over 18 scholarships – received nothing. The daughter’s response was,“We’re not related to anyone [on the school board].”
The public event looked more like a family ceremony for district officials. Several parents reached out to Texas Scorecard with detailed information about the scholarship programs. In one high school alone (Weslaco High), 21 out of 73 students who were awarded scholarships are related to either school board members or employees of the school district.
Two names caught our attention: Diego Rodriguez and Jennifer L. Guillen, who were the sole recipients of scholarships totaling $2,000 from Mary Hoge Middle School.
Diego Rodriguez, nephew of appointed school board member Dr. Jaime Rodriguez, received $2,500 in local scholarships from multiple schools. Jennifer Guillen also received a scholarship from Cleckler-Heald Elementary where her mother, Michelle Zepeda, teaches fifth grade math.
In total, about 13 percent of the scholarship funds were awarded to relatives of the district’s school board or staff. It is unclear at this time whether or not the allegations of nepotism extend to other high schools.
Weslaco residents are rallying support to bring awareness to what’s occurring in their school district, and are gathering to express their concerns in public comments at Tuesday’s Weslaco ISD school board meeting.