Some South San Antonio Independent School District trustees reportedly pressured suspended Superintendent Marc Puig to hire current interim superintendent Henry Yzaguirre to a “high-ranking administrative position,” according to a report by the state-appointed monitor.
In May, board members approved a contract extension and 12% raise for Puig, with the expectation that Puig would hire Yzaguirre, monitor Abe Saavedra wrote in his December report to the Texas Education Agency. When Puig failed to hire Yzaguirre, several trustees discussed how Puig “had not delivered.”
The TEA appointed Saavedra in September after a two-year investigation into South San ISD found that board members failed to cooperate with the superintendent and acted outside of their authority. As the monitor, Saavedra is tasked with identifying the issues that led to the noncompliance and reporting back to the agency on the board’s progress.
“The board remains dysfunctional,” Saavedra said Tuesday. “I’ve seen little improvement. Frankly, I’ve seen deterioration in reference to how well the board functions.”
The agency opened another investigation into South San ISD on Nov. 29, just three months after concluding the previous inquiry. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath authorized the new investigation in response to complaints the TEA had received about the school board interfering with the superintendent’s duties.
It’s up to the TEA to determine if the board should be subject to harsher sanctions, such as the appointment of a conservator who could override board votes and direct the superintendent to take action or the installation of a board of members to replace the elected school board, Saavedra said.
On Dec. 6, the school board unanimously voted to suspend Puig with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation into a private conversation that was picked up by a live microphone. Trustees also unanimously voted to name Yzaguirre, who was Southside ISD’s executive director of operations and construction, as interim superintendent.
Saavedra wrote in a report that Ernesto Arrellano Jr., who served as board president until Dec. 16, told him that some board members discussed approving Puig’s pay raise and contract extension with the expectation he would hire Yzaguirre. When he didn’t hire Yzaguirre, Puig told Saavedra that Gilbert Rodriguez relayed to him that Homer Flores told Rodriguez that “Puig had not delivered.”
Puig also told Saavedra that Arrellano told the district’s lawyer, Mark Sanchez, that “Puig didn’t deliver,” also referring to his not hiring Yzaguirre.
Arrellano said he never said that to Sanchez, but he did repeat the rumor about board members expecting Puig to hire Yzaguirre after getting a pay raise in May.
“I didn’t have any direct evidence, but I heard rumors about that,” Arrellano said.
Puig, Flores and Rodriguez did not return a request for comment.
In the same report, Saavedra wrote that it appeared that “one or more board members had had discussions” with Yzaguirre before the board voted to name him interim superintendent.
“If this occurred, it occurred outside the normal process of all board members having an opportunity to interview the individual being considered,” the report states.
Yzaguirre previously worked for South San ISD as a high school principal, while Saavedra was superintendent. Saavedra served as superintendent from January 2014 to October 2018.
Saavedra said Yzaguirre had applied for a job with South San ISD and interviewed for the position before being appointed interim superintendent. He was not sure why Yzaguirre was not hired for the job.
Overall, the board and Puig did not collaborate much in December, and the discussion among board members continued to revolve around issues that did not involve students, the report states.
In his November report, Saavedra wrote that he had seen ”little evidence” that the board and Puig worked together to advocate for the “high achievement of all district students,” which is required by the Texas Education Code. He also had not seen efforts by the board to try to “establish working relationships with other public entities to make effective use of community resources and to serve the needs of public school students in the community,” another requirement under the education code.
“There seems to be a lack of understanding on the part of a board majority that the superintendent is the chief executive officer of the school district,” the report states.
On Nov. 30, three board members, who aren’t named in the report, showed up at Puig’s office unannounced with a local television reporter, which violated board policy, according to Saavedra’s report.
A trustee met with Puig on Oct. 29 “to discuss and influence the reassignment or promotion of an employee to another position,” violating board policy and the education code, according to Saavedra’s October report. The trustee, who was not named in the report, walked into the meeting with the employee’s 27-page application packet.
In his first three months as monitor, Saavedra has worked about 55 hours, earning more than $4,600. South San ISD must pay him $85 per hour, plus travel expenses, according to a letter from the TEA.