At the end of a news-filled week during which Cleburne ISD was informed by Texas Education Agency that it was no longer considered “high-risk,” CISD Superintendent Dr. Ronny Beard took time for a two-part interview on the subject with the Times-Review.

This is part one. Part two will appear Monday.

Q. What did you learn about TEA investigations for your next life as a superintendent?

A. I can go on for a long time about the things I’ve learned since I’ve been in Cleburne. I want to make this statement, and I think it’s important that everyone understand that funds we did have to send back to the state were legitimate educational funds, but they were taken out of the wrong account. They were spent with federal funds, and federal funds didn’t allow those kinds of expenditures, but local funds would have. They would have been appropriate local expenditures.

I have two checking accounts. One’s for my mother’s estate that I share with my siblings. One is for my personal account. If I paid my utility bills out of my mother’s account, and my sister called and said, “You can’t do that,” I’d say, “You’re right. I should have paid that out of my personal account.” That’s kind of what happened here. There were no illegitimate expenditures except for a few that were very well known. Mostly, there were legitimate expenditures. They were just taken out of the wrong accounts.

Q. TEA is probably not quite as understanding as your sister.

A. Yes, right. I’ve been doing federal programs for a good long while, and some of the things Cleburne was found to be out of compliance with were just news to me. And they’re news to every superintendent I speak to. In fact, I’m going around explaining to other superintendents that, “Hey, if you get audited by TEA, get ready, because I don’t think you’re doing this, this and that.” And they say, “No, we’re not.”

Q. At what point will a final determination be made on whether any employee of Cleburne ISD was guilty of criminal wrongdoing?

A. It’s done. We’ve investigated everything, every allegation. We’ve had our lawyers go through that with a fine tooth comb. They have found nothing illegal. That’s why I made that explanation about how most of these expenditures were just taken from the wrong account, the federal account when they should have been taken out of local.

Q. So, there’s nothing to prosecute?

A. I won’t say that. I would say there isn’t anything to prosecute that I’m aware of, that’s been brought to our attention.

Q. Are community members going to be satisfied with that?

A. Some of them I absolutely know will not.

Q. Why?

A. Because they feel they were wronged. They feel some of their money was sent away because it was spent wrongly. They think money was stolen, that there was fraud.

Q. You feel money was not stolen?

A. I know it was not. There was no money stolen. There was nobody profiting. We investigated that to the nth degree, because that was brought to our attention. We haven’t just dropped the ball and swept it under the rug.

Q. Has Cleburne ISD lost some of the confidence of community members during the TEA investigation?

A. Absolutely. That’s why we’re working so hard. That’s why this was such good news, that we got the soft hold lifted, and we’re no longer considered a high-risk grantee for federal and state grant programs. That’s all because of the work we’ve done to get in compliance with the corrective action plan, working hand in glove with TEA on a daily basis. That’s all been done to regain trust. We’ve got some work to do, no doubt. But we’ve made huge strides. It will take time to heal those wounds and mistrust and lack of confidence, but hopefully over time, as we get things straightened out, we’ll get that confidence back.

Q. Is there any way to regain the confidence of members of the community who still feel money was stolen?

A. Some are just going to be angry no matter what we do, but I think we’ll regain the trust of most eventually.

Q. Would you consider holding public forums to explain the TEA investigation to the community?

A. We’ve actually done that, and I don’t think we’ve done a real good job getting the news out. Each one of our board members has selected an attendance zone to adopt as the board member’s district. We’re holding meetings for anyone who lives in those attendance zones. We’ve had two of those, one at Marti and one at Santa Fe. We’ll have another at Coleman.

Q. How has attendance been?

A. Very poor. I think that’s our fault. But we just started it. We’re learning how to make it work.

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