The IDEA charter chain in Texas has gone through some strange ups and downs.

Its founder Tom Torkelson quit in 2020 with a golden parachute of $900,000 after a series of financial embarrassments (like trying to lease a private jet for $2 million a year and $400 box seats at the San Antonio Spurs basketball games for executives); the IDEA chief financial officer Wyatt Truscheit left at the same time.

A year later, the IDEA board fired its co-founder JoAnne Gama and another chief financial operator, Irma Munoz, “after a forensic review found “substantial evidence” that top leaders at the state’s largest charter network misused money and staff for personal gain.” Add to this brew that Betsy DeVos handed over $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program to help IDEA grow faster and replenish its ample resources

Well, with all this turmoil and financial questions, state officials conducted an audit of the flush charter chain.

But lo and behold, three years later, the charter chain hired the state auditor to be its new CEO!

IDEA Public Schools this week named as its lone finalist for superintendent a top Texas Education Agency official who oversaw an office that has been investigating the charter network over allegations former leaders had misused money and staff for personal gain.

The network’s board on Tuesday named Jeff Cottrill, who has served as TEA’s Deputy Commissioner for Governance and Accountability for the last three years, as the finalist, according a statement from IDEA. He is expected to begin serving as superintendent in June following a 21-day waiting period required by the state for superintendent appointments.

“Jeff is an education leader with tremendous gifts, heart and focus,” Collin Sewell, chair of the IDEA Board of Directors, said in the statement. “He is a veteran school administrator with valuable and diverse experience leading, overseeing, and improving school districts and charter schools throughout Texas.”

In response to an inquiry from the Houston Chronicle, the charter network on Thursday issued a statement saying Cottrill had “recused himself from matters involving IDEA at the Texas Education Agency.”


State Board of Education Rep. Georgina Cecilia Pérez, whose district includes 40 counties in West Texas, said the move “just stinks to high heaven.”

She questioned why the agency had not announced Cottrill’s recusal from the probe. Pérez also asked who currently is overseeing the IDEA investigation and whether the same investigators, who technically worked for Cottrill, would continue digging into a charter network that he now will lead.

Georgina Cecilia Perez is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.