(From left) Harlandale ISD board president Ricardo Moreno and Superintendent Rey Madrigal
(From left) Harlandale ISD board President Ricardo Moreno and Superintendent Rey Madrigal Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In the first board meeting since Harlandale Independent School District learned of the TEA’s decision to appoint managers, install a conservator who can override board decisions, downgrade the district’s accreditation, and appoint a new superintendent, trustees began termination proceedings against Superintendent Rey Madrigal.

Trustees also voted Monday night to appeal the Texas Education Agency’s decision to disband its elected school board and appoint a board of managers.

In a 4-0 vote, with trustees Juan Mancha, Zeke Mendoza, and Christine Carrillo absent, the board voted to terminate Madrigal and suspend the longtime district leader with pay.

Samantha Gallegos, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, will serve as superintendent in an interim capacity. Madrigal was not available for comment following the meeting.

The next step is for the board to outline the reasons for termination, Madrigal’s attorney, Jay Brim said. Board President Ricardo Moreno declined to comment on the specific reasons for termination but said it is important to represent the district as best as possible.

“We are willing to explore any avenue to exhaust [our options] and … to overcome [TEA’s] questions and allegations,” Moreno said.

Brim and Madrigal can appeal the decision to Mike Morath, the State education commissioner, who will appoint an independent hearing examiner. This person will oversee a hearing to determine whether the termination stands. The process could take roughly 2 ½ months, Brim and Moreno said.

The board is not in discussions with Madrigal to buy out his contract at this time, Brim said.

In January, the board voted to extend Madrigal’s contract through June 30, 2021. Madrigal has served as superintendent since February 2013, and his contract has been extended twice. His salary was over $216,000 for the 2018-19 school year, according to a TEA salary report.

Last week, TEA notified Harlandale of the Morath’s decision to appoint a new superintendent.

The Texas Education Agency allows districts to buy out superintendent contracts before they reach their end. If a district pays a superintendent more than one year’s salary and benefits, the district can be docked for the amount that goes over the one year’s salary amount.

This happened in 2015, when Edgewood ISD paid departing Superintendent José Cervantes $400,000, when his annual salary was $200,000. TEA dinged Edgewood $200,000 as a result, according to media reports.

In 2017, 22 buyouts occurred, with an average severance payment of close to $140,000, according to data from the Legislative Budget Board.

Last week, TEA officials announced sanctions against Harlandale following an investigation into the district’s procurement practices and governance.

The investigation found that Madrigal entered into four agreements and made payments to Terracon Consultants Inc. without board approval, the board failed to monitor district finances to ensure the superintendent properly maintained the district’s financial procedures and records, and that trustees acted individually on behalf of the board.

With Monday night’s unanimous vote of four trustees – Board President Moreno, Elaine Anaya-Ortiz, David Abundis, and Elizabeth Limon – the board also voted to appeal TEA’s sanctions.

The Harlandale ISD board of trustees
At Monday’s Harlandale ISD board meeting, trustees Juan Mancha, Zeke Mendoza, and Christine Carrillo were absent. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The district had the option to request a formal review of the appointment of the board of managers and the lowering of the accreditation status to accredited-warned. Harlandale could also request an informal review of the appointment of the conservator, according to the TEA’s sanctions notice.

District attorneys declined to explain how the district would make their appeal or what causes would be listed in Madrigal’s termination letter. The deadline to make the appeal is on July 9.

Moreno has taken issue with the TEA findings, saying many of the observations go back as far as 2007 and involve board members who haven’t served the district for several years.

“It is unfair and frankly illogical to believe punitive measures, including removing this board, will correct alleged violations that are largely unconnected to the current trustees,” Moreno said at a meeting in mid-June.

Should Harlandale’s appeal be unsuccessful, the district will become the third in San Antonio to be governed by a State-appointed board. There are four districts statewide that are currently run by a board of managers, including Southside and Edgewood ISDs.

Former board candidate Lee Martinez, who ran against Moreno in the recent school board election, told reporters he is organizing a protest for early next week. He wants to speak against the money the district has spent on attorneys to fight the TEA sanctions and call for the resignations of the current board members.

Martinez said he was interested in applying to be on the board of managers. The application is open on the TEA’s website.

David Sosa, a former Harlandale trustee whose father also served on the board for more than two decades, expressed hope that the board would comply with TEA’s final report.

“It’s almost like a legacy,” Sosa said, describing his family’s relationship with the district. “Our main focus should be on our kids, and that’s all it should be.”

Sosa also said he was thinking about applying for a position on the board of managers.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.