The Socorro Independent School District has been engulfed in scandal, with numerous allegations of financial malfeasance and the placement of Superintendent Nate Carman on administrative leave through the end of this fiscal year.

Yesterday, we interviewed whistleblowers Ricardo Castellano, who is a retired El Paso police officer and SISD Trustee of District 3, and his wife Gabriela Castellano, who has been an elementary school teacher at SISD for more than 17 years.

Here is what the Castellanos confirmed during the interview:

1. In 2019, at least 276 seniors graduated from high school who were not qualified to graduate.

2. Between 2016 and 2022, SISD paid 246 stipends worth $283,000 without authorization from the Board of Trustees.

3. The $448.5 million SISD bond, passed by the voters in 2017, was $26.3 million over budget as of last summer. This caused the Board of Trustees to cancel consideration of a new $769 million bond that had been proposed to them by staff.

4. In November 2023, the Board of Trustees learned that the SISD General Fund was $17 million in the red with only 54 days of reserve funds remaining, and no action was taken. In February of this year, they were told the shortfall would reach $33 million by the end of the current fiscal year. As of yet, there is no plan to plug the financial hole, though the Trustees were told employee health benefits would be impacted.

5. The Board of Trustees could not rely upon their own internal auditor to identify their financial problems but had to hire an external auditing firm.

6. From 2017 through 2022, a total of 28 SISD staffers approved $132.9 million in expenditures spread across 183 separate contracts that were over $100,000 each without the required authorization from the Board of Trustees. (*corrected by Ricardo Castellano after the interview)

7. CFO Vicki Perez failed to provide the Board of Trustees with critical budgetary information on demand, but told them she would only provide financial reports annually.

8. SISD employees received reimbursements for local driving costs without being required to report their mileage.

9. Superintendent Nate Carman and CFO Vicki Perez repeatedly permitted the Board of Trustees to vote for major expenditures, including generous salary increases for SISD employees, without confirming that the funds were available in the budget.

10. SISD staff altered the scoring system for soliciting bids for contracts in order to favor certain vendors.

11. The Texas Education Agency is taking over SISD and, according to Castellano, will assign one Conservator to the Board of Trustees and one to the administration, and they will have full executive authority to make any necessary changes.

12. SISD trustees Ricardo Castellano and Pablo Barrera led an effort to expose the financial and structural problems within the SISD administration. Both their wives allege they suffered retaliation from SISD.

13. Gabriela Castellano, the wife of Trustee Castellano, claims she was surprised in the classroom on March 9, 2022 by two Texas Rangers and four SISD police officers, who seized her telephone without a warrant, denied her access to an attorney when they intended to interrogate her, injured her shoulder, and damaged her property. She underwent surgery for her injury at The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus in December 2023.

14. Ricardo Castellano and Pablo Barrera began contacting the Texas Education Agency in October 2021, and Castellano made two separate reports to the FBI in that year. He still does not know whether the FBI is investigating.

15. Ricardo and Gabriela Castellano feel that their lives are in danger because of their whistleblowing and investigative activities.

We hope you enjoy this interview, the seventh in our series: