A majority of the South San ISD board chose to admonish and censure trustee Gilbert Rodriguez. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees voted 5-2 early Wednesday morning to censure a trustee and issue two written reprimands to Superintendent Marc Puig.

The split votes came hours after the Texas Education Agency released a final investigative report into the board’s conduct and district procurement practices, finding that board members failed to cooperate with the superintendent and acted outside of their authority.

The agency will install a monitor to work with the board and district, as a result of the investigation, which began in April 2019.

The board voted 5-2 twice, with trustees Gilbert Rodriguez and Stacey Alderete dissenting each time, to issue two written reprimands to Puig for “dereliction of his employment duties to the board of the trustees” and “violations of the district’s school board procurement policies.”

Trustees met in closed session for about five hours Tuesday, voting after midnight Wednesday.

Puig declined to comment later Wednesday.

Trustees also voted 5-2, with Rodriguez and Alderete again dissenting, to publicly censure and admonish Rodriguez for “unprofessional and disrespectful behavior.” The resolution the board adopted states Rodriguez repeatedly addressed fellow trustees with “vulgar and profane language; made offensive and insulting comments to fellow trustees about their moral, ethical, and mental capacities; made baseless and unsubstantiated allegations that fellow trustees have engaged in criminal conduct including bribery and corruption” and engaged in “intimidating behavior toward female trustees.”

After the resolution was read, Rodriguez said he is passionate about the work the board does and apologized to fellow trustees if that passion “translates into [him] being overly aggressive or intimidating.”

“I don’t hide my passion that I have for the service that I give the kids of our district and the people in our community,” he said. “I’m man enough to own that at times I get a little too passionate, and yeah, there’s been times when I’ve used a few choice words that have been inappropriate.”

Alderete called the resolution retaliation and said all trustees have gotten heated at times during board discussions.

“This is just another example of why TEA needs to be here,” she said.

Alderete and Rodriguez also called the votes taken to reprimand Puig retaliation by the board majority. Rodriguez said the majority was targeting the superintendent for using his authority to handle personnel issues, which he called “inappropriate” and “uncalled for.” The board did not discuss the personnel matter in open session.

“It is my opinion that this board majority is deliberately, intentionally inserting themselves” into the superintendent’s investigation into a South San ISD employee, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez made two substitute motions not to reprimand Puig, both of which failed 5-2 with him and Alderete voting for the substitute motions.

The second reprimand the board approved for Puig involved the superintendent hiring an attorney. Trustees Shirley Ibarra and Homer Flores, who voted for the reprimand, said Puig does not have the authority to hire legal counsel without going through the procurement process and bringing the matter before the board for a vote. Board President Ernesto Arrellano Jr. echoed their concerns and said the reprimand was not retaliation but to ensure that board policy is followed.

Puig told the board he did not hire an attorney for legal counsel, but for investigative services as part of his inquiry of the employee in question, and that those services would end once the investigation concluded.

“The email I shared with you clearly says for a personnel investigative matter,” he said. “I did not unilaterally hire an attorney to represent the board at all. What we did hire is an investigator, a fact finder, someone to do technical research for a very important investigation.”

Before voting, Alderete apologized to Puig and thanked him for his service.

“You are the best thing that has happened to these children and these people in the district,” she said.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.