Hearing examiner sides with directors in Edinburg school overpayment dispute

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The Edinburg CISD administration building is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy: Edinburg CISD/Facebook)

An independent hearing examiner Monday strongly recommended in favor of two Edinburg CISD administrators who say they were wrongly removed from their posts over extra payment received for extra work mitigating a payroll fiasco in 2021.

Zelda Martinez and Margarita Oyervides, who were respectively the district’s salaried payroll and personnel directors in 2021, have been on administrative leave since December.

The women put a significant amount of work into fixing the district’s disastrous payroll system conversion and the district paid them a significant amount for that extra work — $40,716.44 for Martinez and $17,031.74 for Oyervides.

Those payments, discovered last semester, led to the board recommending the women’s termination in January in a 6-1 vote.

Christian Bourgeacq, the examiner, wrote in his recommendation Monday that the district lacked good cause to terminate the women and that they should be reinstated to their former or equivalent positions and made whole for any lost compensation, benefits or seniority. Reference to their suspension or proposed termination should be expunged from their records, he wrote.

The district’s board should withdraw or correct a report to the Texas Director of Educator Investigations about them, Bourgeacq wrote, and arrange for Martinez to repay a part of payments she received for two months of work that were miscalculated in error.

The 20-page recommendation reads, on the whole, as pointedly critical of the district’s treatment of Martinez and Oyervides.

They did not, Bourgeacq wrote, violate policies at issue or their employment contract.

“Further, their actions were not inconsistent with the continued existence of the employer-employee relationship. To the contrary, they undertook Herculean efforts, working extraordinary hours to shore up work on a disastrous payroll conversion that the outside vendor for that project essentially dumped in their laps,” he wrote. “Martinez and Oyervides also clearly had the District’s interests in mind when they undertook all this work, not their own interests. They should have been commended for the work they performed – and for which they reasonably assumed that they would be entitled to extra pay – and not publicly accused of unethical, criminal behavior or perfidy.”

In hearings last month, district leadership testified Martinez and Oyervides had acted wrongly, sticking mostly to the point that they hadn’t been given some kind of express, written permission from a supervisor to receive the payments.

Superintendent Mario Salinas said he felt what they had done was essentially theft.

In testimony, the women defended their character, described sometimes hazy and inconsistent policy enforcement at the district, and recounted the board’s insistence that the payroll issues be fixed.

Martinez and Oyervides said at one point they did receive verbal direction leading to the payments from Jesse Muniz, a consultant appearing to fill in as de facto CFO at the time.

In testimony ultimately stricken from the record, Muniz said he did not authorize the payments.

Bourgeacq called the district’s claim that extra pay can only be approved by the board or a supervisor in writing as the focus of the dispute.

He noted a series of apparent inconsistencies with that policy: texts showing Muniz informally approving extra duty pay, other employees receiving that sort of pay without requisite approvals on their time sheets.

Martinez didn’t know Muniz hadn’t signed her or Oyervides’ timesheets, the examiner wrote, and those timesheets were submitted and processed unsigned.

“The problem is the District produced no written policy stating that all payments for extra work must be approved in writing by the employee’s supervisor,” Bourgeacq wrote. “To the extent the District maintains such an approach, it must be an unwritten practice. And like many unwritten practices, this one is rife with exceptions.”

A due process hearing for two Edinburg CISD administrators accused of improperly receiving about $57,000 in extra pay concluded Wednesday. Jesse Muniz, a former consultant with the district, is pictured at the far left. (Monitor photo)

Bourgeacq went on to point out two things in particular he described as troubling: the failure of the district to let the women defend themselves after being placed on leave and the severity of the district’s discipline, noting other finance department employees received extra pay with no consequences at all.

“These two concerns, while not dispositive or controlling, nevertheless further undermine the District’s decision to propose termination of Martinez and Oyervides and inform this Hearing Examiner’s overall assessment of the case,” he wrote.

The recommendation does not mean the situation is resolved. The district’s board will likely meet on May 23 and discuss the recommendations.

Superintendent Salinas told The Monitor on Tuesday that he disagrees with the recommendation and that the hearing officer misunderstood the facts.

“Nothing has changed. Everything’s on the table for us,” he said.

The ultimate decision on the district’s course of action — whether to adhere to the recommendation, appeal, seek a settlement or stay the course on termination — lies with trustees.

Bourgeacq went on to point out two things in particular he described as troubling: the failure of the district to let the women defend themselves after being placed on leave and the severity of the district’s discipline, noting other finance department employees received extra pay with no consequences at all.

It’s not clear whether trustees still stand where they did on the matter in January. Salinas said his stance hasn’t changed.

“If they ask me for my recommendation, I’m going to recommend we terminate, as we recommended initially. But if they want to settle, we’re open to that too,” he said.

Martinez and Oyervides’ attorney, Tony Conners, viewed the recommendation as a resounding victory for his clients.

“The biggest important thing for both of my clients was to clear their name, that they did not act unlawfully or unethically. That all they did was try to help the district under the direction of supervisors.”

Conners said he does view the recommendation as accomplishing just that goal.

“I think it’s like 110% clearing their name. The judge went very thoroughly through all the facts and the law, and said, ‘These people didn’t do anything,’” he said.


>> Consultants brought in to address ECISD payroll snags; Some reportedly paid nearly $30K

>>Edinburg school board talks payroll ‘fiasco’; District erroneously paid more than $4M

>> Following payment fiasco, Edinburg school HR, payroll directors placed on administrative leave

>> Edinburg superintendent alleges two administrators overpaid themselves $57K

>> Focus shifts toward Muniz in Edinburg CISD extra pay hearing

>> Edinburg CISD extra pay hearing ends with ex-consultant’s testimony