Longtime EPISD financial officer leaves for Fort Worth months after being put on leave

The longtime independent El Paso County deputy superintendent of finance and operations has resigned to work at Fort Worth ISD, after months of being given paid leave.

Carmen Arita Candelaria’s departure has created an open, high-level leadership position that must be filled by new supervisor Diana Sayaavedra, which includes Chief of Staff and Director of Communications.

The University of Fort Worth ISD announced the appointment of Arrieta-Candelaria as its new chief financial officer on January 4. The Tarrant County area has about 25,000 more EPISD students.

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Her resignation from EPISD took effect on January 7, according to a letter dated December 17, 2021, which she sent to then-interim supervisor Vince Sheffield.

Arrieta-Candelaria did not return a call for comment.

She was placed on paid leave in early May, with then-chief academic staff Tamkea Brown. At the time, EPISD did not reveal the reason behind the action, calling it a “staff matter”.

County spokesperson Gustavo Revels did not return an email seeking an updated statement.

Administrators were put on leave days before the Board of Trustees meeting behind closed doors to review internal audits of contracts with academic services vendors.

The review found a “manifestation of a conflict of interest” between former supervisor Juan Cabrera and two of the vendors, as well as insufficient or nonexistent documentation for further contracts. Cabrera resigned in November 2020.

The district’s internal auditor recommended reminding high-ranking officials of their fiduciary responsibilities and the process of raising concerns of potential wrongdoing. The auditor’s findings did not identify any individual responsible.

In early May, Arrieta-Candelaria alerted the auditor to the hiring of Cabrera’s son with another vendor in the area.

In August, Arrieta-Candelaria issued a statement through attorney Lynn Coyle saying, “Miss. Arrieta-Candelaria must actively participate in her duties as the District’s Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations. She is keen to serve students, parents, and teachers in the District as the new year has already begun.” .

Brown resigned her position on August 31. At the time, she told El Paso Matters in a statement, “I will always cherish the six years I have been able to serve at EPISD and am proud of what my team and I have accomplished together.”

District spokesperson Revels said last month that the chief academic officer position was “closed, pending review by the next supervisor.”

In the eight months that Arrieta-Candelaria was on vacation, she received nearly $150,600 before deductions, according to EPISD payment loans issued to El Paso Matters.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss Arrieta-Candelaria’s grievance in its special meeting Tuesday. The details of the grievance were not announced.

Prior to her appointment in 2016, Arrieta-Candelaria served on the state-appointed board of directors that led EPISD in the wake of the fraud scheme. Cabrera was leased by the board of directors in 2013.

Arrieta-Candelaria played a key role in overseeing EPISD’s 2016 bond program — which stands at $668.7 million, the largest in the county’s history.

Cover photo: Carmen Arrieta Candelaria, then Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations for the El Paso Independent School District, helped celebrate the completion of construction work at Crockett Elementary School in February 2020. (Photo by EPISD)

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