TEA Monitor in South San ISD Barred From Delivering Reports in Open Session

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Texas Education Agency monitor Laurie Elliott speaks to the South San Antonio ISD board in February.

The state-appointed official charged with observing the activities of South San Antonio Independent School District trustees and reporting back to the Texas Education Agency said the board told her she couldn’t deliver her reports in open session Wednesday night.

As recently as May 15, TEA monitor Laurie Elliott delivered reports in which she called for the State to appoint a conservator to help guide the governance of the district.

After being told she couldn’t deliver her latest report in open session, she signed up to speak during the public comment section of the meeting to voice her concerns.

“I was to give the monitoring reports tonight, but there was definitely some controversy,” Elliott said. “In terms of when and where those reports should be given, TEA sent me in writing that they should be given in open session because they do not meet the criteria for closed session.”

Elliott then told those in attendance at the meeting that her reports were open records and could be requested by anyone who wished to read them.

The TEA monitor said she had initially planned to deliver her reports in open session, coordinating with board President Connie Prado, Superintendent Alexandro Flores, and attorney Kevin O’Hanlon in an agenda-setting meeting weeks earlier. Prado later asked O’Hanlon if the reports could be given in closed session and O’Hanlon sought an answer from the TEA. Prado instructed the attorney to take the item off the agenda until he heard back from the TEA, O’Hanlon told reporters after the meeting.

“They want to study [the reports] before they got a shotgun to the face,” O’Hanlon said, describing why the trustees wanted to see the reports in closed session. He described the reports as a way to “gripe” at South San.

The TEA is investigating the district for dysfunctional board governance and a board failure to collaborate with the superintendent. The state agency opened its investigation in late April and conducted interviews in South San earlier this summer.

Elliott’s May report, filed in mid-June, was obtained by the Rivard Report on Tuesday. It contains similar observations to her reports from January through April.

On May 15, Elliott read from her first months of reports, stating that trustees violated board policy and state statute. At the time, she called repeatedly for the state to appoint a conservator, who can oversee and override board activity.

Elliott renewed these calls in her May report. The TEA monitor again observed dysfunction among board members and stated that the board wasn’t collaborating properly with district staff.

“Communication with the superintendent is in the form of directives,” Elliott wrote. “Board members voting as the majority do not collaborate with the superintendent, but rely mostly on the lawyer.”

She later observed that the governance structure the board had been following and tracking its progress on, Lone Star Governance, had not been followed, and that the board has broken its own local policy.

“The board members voting as the majority,” Elliott said, referencing Prado, Homer Flores, Gilbert Rodriguez, and Shirley Ibarra Pena, “continue to dominate the board and the district. They continue to ignore the superintendent’s recommendations and vote down these recommendations without hesitation.”

After Elliott stressed the need for a better relationship between trustees and the district’s superintendent at the May 15 board meeting, the board majority “defeated every recommendation made by the superintendent,” she wrote.

Elliott notes that the board majority is attempting to run the district by selecting academic programs, creating the master schedules, and mandating electives, actions typically outside the scope of board trustees.

Many of Elliott’s observations likely will surface in the ongoing TEA investigation into board practices. There’s no public timeline for when the agency may issue an investigative report on its findings.

“Trustees voting as the minority continue to be ignored,” Elliott said in a report. “Those board members voting as a majority are actually dangerous to the growth and productivity of the district and [definitely] a roadblock to student success. A conservator is strongly recommended.”

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