A week after suspending the superintendent, the South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees voted 3-0 with one abstention Thursday to strip the board president of his title and name a new president.
Board President Ernesto Arrellano Jr. was absent, along with trustees Gina Villagomez and Shirley Ibarra.
Trustee Gilbert Rodriguez moved to nominate himself as president and trustee Stacey Alderete as board secretary and leave board Vice President Homer Flores in his current position. Voting in favor were Rodriguez, Flores and Alderete; trustee Connie Prado abstained before walking out of the meeting.
Typically, school boards name new officers after an election.
Before voting, Rodriguez said Arrellano was not worthy of being board president after a live microphone on Nov. 17 captured a private conversation between Arrellano and Marc Puig, the superintendent, who is on paid leave pending an outcome of an investigation into the conversation. Arrellano and Puig discussed hiring a consultant to oversee construction projects, an item tabled during that meeting.
Rodriguez also called for Arrellano’s resignation from the board Thursday and said the conversation between Arrellano and Puig constituted “borderline criminal activity.”
After going into closed session at the Nov. 17 meeting, Puig and Arrellano stood on the dais and talked about the consultant position, with Arrellano assuring the superintendent that the board would approve the hire at a later date. Puig compared the consultant he wanted to hire to Arrellano’s brother, who is in construction, and said both had the appropriate skills for the job.
Arrellano said, “I’m going to step down so that you can hire my brother.” He later said he made that comment in jest.
Puig responded, “Well, give me hiring authority, and you can.” The rest of his sentence is not audible on the meeting video.
At the Dec. 6 meeting, the board unanimously voted to suspend Puig with pay because of the conversation with Arrellano. The board also voted to commission a second transcript of the conversation between Puig and Arrellano, neither of whom knew the microphone was on at the time. Trustees claimed the transcript they reviewed at that meeting did not contain the full contents of the conversation.
A similar motion to reorganize the school board failed at the Dec. 6 meeting, with Arrellano, Prado, Ibarra and Villagomez voting against the realignment of board officers.
Rodriguez said Thursday that Arrellano lacked “moral fiber” and should hold himself accountable like he held Puig accountable last week.
“It’s mind-boggling how he uses that transcript and information available to hold the superintendent accountable, but it doesn’t fit him,” Rodriguez said of Arrellano. “It’s not good enough to hold himself accountable, which he’s had plenty of opportunity to do, and I have a problem with that. I have a problem with that as a taxpayer. I have a problem with that as a trustee. I have a problem with that as a person. And I definitely have a problem with that as a parent with kids in the school district.”
Alderete echoed Rodriguez, saying Arrellano deserved to be “punished” along with Puig.
Flores questioned whether Puig and Arrellano had other conversations similar to what was recorded at the Nov. 17 meeting.
“There probably have been multiple meetings just like that, where conversations have taken place that nobody else heard,” he said, “but that night, it came out.”
While Puig is on leave, Henry Yzaguirre is serving as interim superintendent. Yzaguirre most recently served as Southside ISD’s executive director of operations and construction.
On Nov. 29, the Texas Education Agency notified the board and Puig in a letter that the agency had opened another investigation into South San ISD. The action came just three months after the TEA concluded a two-year investigation that resulted in the placement of a state-appointed monitor to oversee the school board.
The TEA is investigating complaints the agency has received. The complaints claim the school board has interfered with the superintendent’s duties, including “getting involved with the suspension of a term employee and attempting to make employment recommendations for the chief financial officer,” the letter states.