Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Monday night’s meeting of Harlandale Independent School District trustees was unconventional even for a school board described by the State as dysfunctional, and it began with a longtime trustee’s resignation.
With Samantha Gallegos in attendance at her first meeting as interim superintendent, the four trustees present – out of seven elected — later tabled most of the key items on Monday’s agenda. Among them was a vote on Gallegos’ responsibilities and compensation plan.
A special meeting was to be called next week to pick up where Monday’s meeting left off.
Trustee David Abundis announced his resignation at the start of the meeting, citing the intensive time commitment of the job.
Abundis’ resignation from the board comes after more than a decade in office. His resignation will go into effect July 16.
The high-profile board departure comes amid a time of district turmoil, weeks after the commissioner of education announced the State intended to replace the board of trustees with an appointed board of managers and appoint a new superintendent after a more than yearlong investigation cited violations of State law and local board policy and issues with procurement practices and board dysfunction.
“To my fellow board members I wish you the best, and I encourage you to keep fighting for what is right for Harlandale ISD,” Abundis said. “Harlandale is going to be fine. We are going to be fine.”
Abundis told reporters after the meeting that no one on the board or with the Texas Education Agency instructed him to resign from the board.
Abundis went on to cite the district’s fund balance, facilities, and projected accountability ratings as reasons for optimism in the district. He told the small crowd assembled that he considered not running in the most recent election for his position but could not find a successor.
Abundis’ District 4 covers the southeastern area of Harlandale ISD and includes the Early College High School.
To fill a vacancy, the remaining board members can decide to appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of Abundis’ term or call for a special election. The District 4 seat will be up for election in 2021.
With his resignation, Abundis becomes the second longtime Harlandale figure to depart the dais, after the board, including Abundis, voted at an earlier July meeting to begin termination proceedings for Superintendent Rey Madrigal.
In addition to tabling the vote on Gallegos’ compensation, the four trustees present – Abundis, Elizabeth Limon, Juan Mancha, and Zeke Mendoza – also tabled an item related to ongoing litigation with Jasmine Engineering for the meeting next week. Trustees did not discuss either item in closed session, Limon said.
Harlandale’s relationship with Jasmine Engineering, which oversaw Harlandale bond projects from more than a decade, figures significantly in the Texas Education Agency’s post-investigation report. Harlandale trustees repeatedly amended its contract with Jasmine instead of soliciting new bids, the report states.
With little explanation after meeting in closed session for about an hour, trustees did vote to take further unspecified action on a response to the TEA final report, which was released in early June. The report called for the State to take over the district by appointing managers to govern Harlandale ISD in place of an elected board of trustees, appoint a new superintendent, install a conservator who can override board decisions, and lower the accreditation rating to “accredited-warned.”
The TEA investigation found significant board dysfunction, issues with the district’s procurement practices, and several violations of State law and local board policy.
Harlandale’s board already voted to appeal the State’s decision at the July 1 board meeting, triggering a review with the commissioner of education.
A school district lawyer told reporters after Monday’s meeting that the district is working with the commissioner of education to arrange a time for an appeal in Austin. That meeting will likely take place in August and last roughly an hour, he said.
In a confusing moment after the closed session, trustees struggled through two votes to hire an assistant athletic director and principals for Adams and Carroll Bell elementary schools.
Trustee Limon attempted to pull both items, later explaining that she felt the district was spending too much money on athletic programming and that she did not want to hire job candidates from outside the district for leadership roles on campuses. Neither principal candidate recommended by district staff works at Harlandale ISD.
Limon failed to get support on her motion to pull the assistant athletic director position from discussion but did get support to not advance the hirings of external candidates for principalships at elementary schools.
The district will return to its candidate list and will likely hire other candidates for the principal positions by the start of the school year, interim Superintendent Gallegos said after the meeting.