Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, then deputy of finance and operations for El Paso Independent School District, helped lead a celebration of the completion of construction work at Crockett Elementary School in February 2020. (Photo courtesy of EPISD)

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El Paso Independent School District’s longtime deputy superintendent of finance and operations has resigned to work for Fort Worth ISD, months after she was put on paid leave.

Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria’s departure creates another open top leadership position that new Superintendent Diana Sayavedra must fill, which includes chief of staff and communications director.

Fort Worth ISD announced Arrieta-Candelaria’s hire as its new chief financial officer on Jan. 4. The Tarrant County district has about 25,000 more students than EPISD.

Her resignation from EPISD took effect Jan. 7, according to a Dec. 17, 2021, letter she sent then-Interim Superintendent Vince Sheffield.

Arrieta-Candelaria has not returned a call for comment.

She was placed on paid leave in early May, along with then-Chief Academic Officer Tamekia Brown. At the time, EPISD would not disclose the reason behind this action, calling it a “personnel matter.”

District spokesperson Gustavo Reveles did not return an email seeking an updated statement.

The two administrators were put on leave days before the Board of Trustees met behind closed doors to review an internal audit into contracts with academic service vendors.

The audit found “an appearance of conflict of interest” between former Superintendent Juan Cabrera and two vendors, as well as insufficient or nonexistent documentation for other contracts. Cabrera resigned in November 2020.

The district’s internal auditor recommended that high-level administrators be reminded of their fiduciary responsibilities and the process for raising concerns of potential wrongdoing. The auditor’s findings did not single out any individual administrators. 

In early May, Arrieta-Candelaria alerted the auditor to Cabrera’s son’s employment with another district vendor.

In August, Arrieta-Candelaria released a statement through attorney Lynn Coyle saying, “Ms. Arrieta-Candelaria should be actively engaged in her duties as the district’s Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations. She is anxious to serve the students, parents and teachers of the district as the new year has already begun.”

Brown resigned from her post on Aug. 31. At that time, she told El Paso Matters in a statement: “I will always cherish the six years I have been able to serve in EPISD and I’m proud of what my team and I have accomplished together.”

Reveles, the district spokesperson, said last month the chief academic officer post was “closed, pending review by the incoming superintendent.”

In the eight months Arrieta-Candelaria was on leave, she received approximately $150,600 before deductions, according to pay stubs EPISD released to El Paso Matters.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss a grievance appeal from Arrieta-Candelaria at its special meeting Tuesday. Details of the grievance have not been made public.

Prior to her 2016 hiring, Arrieta-Candelaria served on the state-appointed board of managers that led EPISD in the wake of its cheating scheme. The board hired Cabrera in 2013.

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

Cover photo: Carmen Arrieta-Candelaria, then deputy superintendent of finance and operations for El Paso Independent School District, helped lead a celebration of the completion of construction work at Crockett Elementary School in February 2020. (Photo courtesy of EPISD)

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Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.