Board members representing North East Independent School District voted to censure colleague Joseph Trevino.
North East Independent School District board members voted to censure colleague Joseph Treviño. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Six North East Independent School District trustees spoke at length Tuesday night, listing grievances against one of their colleagues, trustee Joseph Treviño, before voting unanimously to censure him.

Board President Shannon Grona said Treviño violated board policy in a number of instances by directing district staff or attempting to get special treatment because of his elected office. Trustees voted to restrict Treviño from attending district or board events and from visiting district campuses, except for called board meetings and the campuses where his children attend school. Treviño was at the district headquarters Tuesday, but left before the meeting began.

“Mr. Treviño does not want to accept how a board member is supposed to act,” Grona said. “He sees his position as one that has power and he wants to get special treatment. … He has been told time and time again that board members are responsible for governance and the superintendent is over day-to-day operations of the district. … Mr. Treviño does not want to, but he must accept his role as a board member.”

Treviño was appointed to his seat on the board in September 2017 and ran unopposed in May 2018 to represent NEISD’s District 3, which covers the southwestern part of the district and includes LEE High School. He previously served as the Parent Teacher Association president for Colonial Hills Elementary School.

Joseph Treviño

Grona listed several instances in which she said Treviño acted outside of his authority as a member of the board of trustees. She cited several board policies that she said Treviño had violated.

Treviño responded to Grona’s charges in a letter, stating none of them rose to the level that would require a sanction. He told the Rivard Report he would appeal the board’s decision to the State Board of Education.

After he was first appointed to the school board, Grona said Treviño communicated with a mother of a recently deceased student, promising her that an empty seat could be left at the child’s graduation, a tree could be planted in the student’s honor, the graduation ceremony could be dedicated to the student, and that a cousin could accept the certificate for the deceased student.

Grona said Treviño never informed any district staff or other trustees of this conversation, and the district later had to inform the parent that Treviño’s promises could not be honored. This put the district, school, and board in a hard position, Grona said.

In Treviño’s response, the District 3 trustee called the district’s rule that the student must have died in the school year he or she was scheduled to graduate, arcane.

“I only pray that you and counsel will never have to face such a tragedy,” Trevino writes.

In December 2018, Grona said Treviño informed the school’s principal that his wife would walk the stage with their graduating child, something no parent is permitted do, Grona said.

“We get no special treatment, even when our own children graduate,” Grona said.

In Treviño’s response to the charges, he states that he understands that his wife breached protocol, and later added that he has also seen videos of countless faculty members walking on stage with their children.

Grona said she learned just before Tuesday night’s meeting that Treviño forwarded confidential parent and student information to an individual with no connection to the school district. This was a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, the board president said, adding that she would be referring the matter to district counsel.

Shannon Grona
NEISD board President Shannon Grona

Trustee Sandy Hughey also criticized Treviño’s behavior, describing it as an abuse of power.

“What you are elected to do [is] governance and only governance,” Hughey said. “You are not elected to dictate to, or intimidate staff, make promises to parents that cannot and should not be fulfilled.’

In a written response to Grona dated Tuesday, Treviño stated that he has never “intentionally not complied with our adopted policies and procedures.”

“As a trustee that represents an area of our district that is characterized by ethnic and unique demographics not found in other areas of our massive district, I face challenges that at times are difficult to deal with,” Treviño wrote. “That by no means gives me any privileges to ignore our adopted policies and I want to assure the Board that those were never my intentions.”

Treviño stated he is a “team player” and addressed each of Grona’s charges individually, before concluding that nothing in them warrants sanctions, exclusion, or expulsion.

The strongest reprimand a school board can issue to a trustee found in violation of its ethics policy is a public censure.

San Antonio ISD recently embarked on a process to write a comprehensive ethics policy for trustees and district staff. Along the way, trustees grappled with state law that prohibits school boards from kicking a trustee off a board for a violation of a policy.

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.