Three South San Antonio Independent School District trustees who resigned en masse Tuesday night following the departure of the district’s superintendent are calling for state intervention in the district.
Elda Flores, Mandy Martinez, and Louis Ybarra stepped down following months of infighting on the seven-member board, saying they felt their opinions were never taken into account during board deliberations that were dominated by board President Connie Prado and three other members who voted as a bloc.
The Texas Education Agency began investigating the district in April following complaints that the board acted outside its authority by directing district administrators on day-to-day operations and impeding the superintendent’s job. No report from the investigation has been issued.
“I’m asking for TEA’s help to intervene before more damage is done to our school district,” Elda Flores told the Rivard Report on Wednesday.
Among other issues, the complaints TEA received focused on a plan members of the board majority – including Prado and trustees Homer Flores, Shirley Ibarra Pena, and Gilbert Rodriguez – backed to reopen three schools on a tight timeline. Superintendent Alexandro Flores requested more time to develop a plan, but the four declined to follow his recommendation.
The group of four voted to reopen Athens Elementary, Kazen Middle School, and West Campus High School for the start of the 2019-20 school year and allocated $6 million in initial funding. Roughly 450 students enrolled across the three campuses.
Martinez, Elda Flores, and Ybarra opposed the reopening of the schools, saying the plan was too fast and costly to orchestrate successfully. They also argued it was the superintendent’s job to set such a plan in motion and that trustees had overstepped their authority.
Concerns that trustees were micromanaging the superintendent and his staff became a common refrain as the four board members proposed spending close to $1 million on a new football field, approved their own budget recommendations over the suggestions of the chief financial officer, and began calling meetings almost weekly.
“I had to step down, because it is not going to change,” said Martinez who was elected to the board last November. “They want to be up there with no drama, they want to be up there with no opinion other than theirs, well then, they need to find people that have the same opinion with them.”
The TEA assigned a monitor to report on South San’s operations and governance earlier this year. Monitor Laurie Elliott has frequently criticized board actions and called for state intervention.
Trustee Elda Flores, who had served on the board since 2016, said she hopes State Education Commissioner Mike Morath intervenes and either appoints a conservator to run the district or replaces the elected trustees with a state-appointed board.
When the TEA opens an investigation into a school district, it collects evidence, interviews stakeholders, and writes a preliminary report with findings. It can recommend potential sanctions including a monitor, who reports on board activity; a conservator, who can override board votes; or a board of managers, which replaces an elected board of trustees.
Many view replacing a school board as the most severe punishment for a school district. Such boards govern nearby Edgewood and Southside ISDs.
“I did not want to be associated with a board that I feel is unethical, is not credible,” Elda Flores said. “I’m too much of a professional to be associated with a board where TEA is going to come in and take over, and I was part of that board.”
Ybarra, who had served on the board since 2016, said that he initially wanted to give the new trustees in the board majority the benefit of the doubt.
When Ybarra saw the faction go from ignoring Superintendent Flores’ recommendations to openly criticizing him, he decided to resign. While Ybarra said he has no interest in serving on the current board, he would be interested in serving in the future should the composition of the board change.
TEA previously assigned a conservator to oversee South San in 2016 after the State found issues with the district’s financial management. The State agency removed that conservator in early 2018 after seeing marked improvements.
“We’ve had conservators throughout the years under Mrs. Prado’s leadership,” Ybarra said. “I don’t know that a conservator alone is going to fix the issue here at South San anymore. It is kind of a rogue board right now. They are pretty emboldened and I feel like the only way to really remedy that situation is to do a board of managers.”
On Tuesday night, the four members of the board majority approved the resignation of Superintendent Flores, who was hired less than a year ago. The relationship had soured between Flores and the board in the past few months, and trustees frequently discussed his job performance behind closed doors in recent meetings. Flores declined to comment on why he opted to resign.
Flores’ separation agreement awarded him $187,577.50, the equivalent of 11 months of salary and benefits. The district will pay Flores’ monthly health insurance premiums until he gets a job with another school district or July 31, 2020.
South San’s board named Chief Academic Officer Dolores Sendejo as the interim superintendent, giving her a daily stipend of $100 until a permanent district chief is in place. Sendejo is South San’s seventh superintendent since 2010.