In the first full meeting of the South San Antonio Independent School District board in two months, trustees voted 4-3 on Wednesday to replace board leaders in a meeting punctuated by barbs and accusations of wrongdoing.
The South San board of trustees elected a new board president, vice president and secretary, three months after trustees last selected new board officers. School boards typically name new officers after an election.
Trustee Connie Prado made the motion to nominate Ernesto Arrellano Jr. as board president, Shirley Ibarra as vice president and Gina Villagomez as secretary. Arrellano, who was ousted as president in December, seconded the motion.
Prado, Arrellano, Ibarra and Villagomez voted in favor of reorganizing board officers, and trustees Gilbert Rodriguez, Homer Flores and Stacey Alderete voted against the motion. Until the vote, Rodriguez served as president, Flores as vice president and Alderete as board secretary.
As board members traded places on the dais after the vote, someone in the audience muttered “musical chairs” under their breath.
Once the board rearranged their seats, state-appointed monitor Abelardo Saavedra told the board he had never seen more “deplorable” behavior by school board members in his 50 years in public education. The Texas Education Agency appointed Saavedra in September after it closed an investigation into problems between the board and superintendent.
“I’ve never seen more deplorable board action or activity than I just witnessed a little while ago,” he said.
Saavedra added that he hoped that the fact that all board members had shown up to the past two meetings in person meant the board would turn around the district and empower trustees to work together.
“At this point, it’s hard for me to imagine that right now,” he said. “Frankly, I think it’s hard for your community to imagine that right now.”
Saavedra pointed to South San’s most recent financial report as evidence. He said the report showed that the district’s population is growing while enrollment is declining.
“There’s a reason for that, and that reason could very well have been the behavior that this board demonstrated to this community a little while ago,” he said. “It’s very deplorable behavior that was demonstrated by this board.”
When the board took a break before reconvening in closed session, Rodriguez walked up to Saavedra in the boardroom and told him that he was “disgusted” by Saavedra’s remarks to the board. Saavedra thanked Rodriguez for his comments.
In November, the TEA opened another investigation into South San ISD in response to complaints the agency had received, claiming the school board has interfered with the superintendent’s duties.
Before voting, board members traded barbs on the dais in front of dozens of audience members for almost 45 minutes. Alderete, Flores and Rodriguez criticized the four trustees who had not shown up to seven called meetings in person, preventing the board from having a quorum so it could legally meet. Those trustees were Prado, Arrellano, Ibarra and Villagomez.
Until March 10, South San’s school board had not met in seven weeks because too few board members attended the meetings in person to constitute a quorum, stalling district operations that are the board’s responsibility. At least four trustees must be present in person to meet.
Items trustees could not address during that time include the employment of Marc Puig, who was suspended as superintendent in December, and other staff hirings and firings. Ultimately, the board reached a quorum March 10, after interim superintendent Henry Yzaguirre authorized an insurance payment that was trustees’ responsibility, which was a possible violation of the Texas Education Code.
Arrellano defended his physical absence from board meetings and said it was the board president’s job to ensure there is a quorum at meetings. He attended some meetings virtually.
“We need to get to a position where we are not attacking each other anymore,” he said. “I’m tired of the personal attacks. That’s all that happens now at these meetings are personal attacks. The board is supposed to be working as one body corporate.”
At the beginning of the meeting, a mother of two South San students and two graduates, Ruth Reyes Rodriguez, told trustees that their refusal to attend meetings and not take care of district business was “embarrassing” and tarnished the district’s already dismal reputation.
“I think if you’re signed up to be a part of the board, there is a responsibility that you guys attend,” she said. “If not, resign.”