Newly appointed South San ISD trustees (from right) Stacey Estrada Alderete and Kevin Rasco are sworn in. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Two new trustees took their seats on South San Antonio Independent School District’s board Wednesday night, just two weeks after three trustees vacated their seats in protest over former Superintendent Alexandro Flores’ resignation.

Four board members – board President Connie Prado and trustees Homer Flores, Shirley Ibarra Pena, and Gilbert Rodriguez – reviewed applications for the three open seats behind closed doors Wednesday night and chose Kevin Rasco and former South San trustee Stacey Estrada Alderete to fill two of the three vacancies. They will serve until November 2020.

Rasco works as the district coordinator for advanced placement in San Antonio ISD. Estrada Alderete, who has continued to attend South San board meetings frequently, served as a trustee from 2014 to 2016.

In 2018, she posted a video on Facebook of her walking around unaccompanied at South San High School. The former trustee was given a criminal trespass warning and said she was making a point about the need for more district police officers, according to media reports.

Trustees voted to extend the application deadline for the open District 1 trustee seat until 5 p.m. Oct. 14. District 1 had no applicants, attorney Kevin O’Hanlon said after the meeting. Three candidates applied for the open District 2 seat and three applied for the District 7 seat.

Last year, after trustees Linda Longoria and Helen Madla-Prather stepped down from the board, the district struggled to get qualified applicants for Madla-Prather’s District 6 seat, which remained open for months.

All four trustees voted unanimously Wednesday for Estrada Alderete’s appointment. Trustee Flores voted against Rasco’s appointment, saying he preferred another candidate.

South San ISD board members (from left) Homer Flores, Connie Prado, Gilbert Rodriguez, and Shirley Ibarra Pena

The chosen candidates present the best opportunity to add quality leadership to the district’s board moving forward, Rodriguez said of Rasco and Estrada Alderete.

The district did not make any information about the candidates – their names, their applications, the number applying – public prior to the board votes, and Prado also declined to release the names. Applications were due at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The board also voted Wednesday night to make two significant changes to board operating policies. One change drops the threshold for district purchases requiring board approval from $50,000 to $25,000.

The majority of Bexar County districts have their limits set at $50,000, allowing district staff to make expenditures up to that amount without getting board approval. Alamo Heights ISD’s limit is $25,000 and Somerset ISD’s is $10,000.

Prado said she had done an analysis of the similarly sized districts and found most had $25,000 thresholds, citing Harlandale ISD as an example. Harlandale ISD’s limit is $50,000.

The other change strips the final hiring and firing authority of contract employees from the superintendent and returns it to the board. The superintendent still has the ability to make recommendations, although those recommendations may be denied.

Both changes bring South San in line with best practices of other districts, Rodriguez said.

“What you’re going to see going forward is us moving back to best practices and how a school district should be,” Rodriguez said. “It’s nothing out of the norm. It is actually we are shifting back to the norm of where things should be.”

The two most recent South San superintendents retained the final hiring and firing authority in their contracts. When Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra began working with South San, he insisted on this power before taking the job. Superintendent Flores also had the hiring and firing power as a contract provision.

Even though most San Antonio districts’ board policy reserves this power for the board, Saavedra on Tuesday called it a concerning change for South San. The Texas Education Agency is currently investigating South San for possible board micromanagement.

“I would say in the majority of districts in Texas, the authority to hire contract positions stays with the board,” said Saavedra, who was hired by the South San board in 2014. “But it is very significant in South San because of the pattern that they’ve had in the past and the practices they’ve had where board members get involved in the hirings of individuals at all levels.”

Saavedra said there is “no doubt in my mind that those board members will absolutely try to influence the hiring of individuals.”

Of the four current board members, Saavedra did not work with Flores, Ibarra Pena, or Rodriguez.

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.