La Joya ISD board to talk superintendent post despite potential state takeover

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La Joya ISD marquee on March 11, 2022 in La Joya. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

The La Joya ISD board will discuss Wednesday superintendent applicants and may name a lone finalist for the position, although three trustees have already described appointing a superintendent this month as potentially irresponsible and criticized the district’s superintendent search.

Beto Gonzalez took over as interim superintendent of the district in April following the hasty exit of superintendent Gisela Saenz.

With little fanfare, the district solicited applications for the permanent superintendent position earlier this summer.

The agenda for Wednesday’s special meeting, posted Saturday, appears to represent the first opportunity for the board to discuss the position as a whole since Gonzalez’s appointment.

LEFT: Gisela Saenz is seen in this 2019 photo. (Courtesy: La Joya ISD/Facebook) RIGHT: Beto Gonzalez

A minority on the board says that lack of discussion represents a break from Texas Education Code guidance.

In a joint statement from trustees Alda Benavides, Mary T. Hernandez and Roberto Zamora that was given to The Monitor by Zamora Friday, those trustees say they feel the Texas Education Code has been disregarded in the district’s search process.

The statement specifically cites the Texas Association of School Boards guidance that says school boards should be “fully engaged” in choosing the head of a district.

“The board as-a-whole has not been engaged in the process at all,” the trustees’ statement reads. “The posting of the Superintendent’s position was included on the district’s website without any formal action taken by the board approving the announcement nor timelines posted. I did not — nor other members Mary T Hernandez and Dr. Alda Benavides — receive any official information related to this matter from the Board President nor any other district official prior to the posting of the position.”

Earlier this year, a Texas Education Agency investigation yielded a recommendation that the state intervene at the district by appointing a board of managers following significant corruption.

TEA representatives told locals at a meeting last month that if the state intervenes it could replace whoever’s in charge of the district and that contractual issues “would have to get worked out.”

La Joya ISD operations building March 11, 2022, in La Joya. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

Critical trustees described possible contractual issues related to a prospective superintendent appointment as a problem.

“Given the pending decision by the Texas Education Agency that may result in the placement of a Board of Managers and the naming of a new Superintendent to lead the district, we believe it would be highly irresponsible for this school board to appoint a superintendent for which the district would be obligated to pay if and when the board appointed superintendent is replaced by TEA,” their statement reads.

La Joya ISD first responded to a request for comment on the criticism with attorney Jaime “Jerry” Munoz asking The Monitor to identify the trustees who complained and provide a copy of their statements.

The Monitor declined to identify those trustees to Munoz or provide the district with an exact copy of their statement.

In a subsequent statement given to The Monitor by spokesperson Blanca Cantu over the weekend, the district emphasized the quality of its superintendent search.

“In regard to the concerns raised about the superintendent search process this summer, the District is committed to ensuring a transparent and rigorous search to identify the best possible leader for our schools and community, our children and staff deserve a permanent leader to be selected,” it reads. “The Board respects the perspectives of all its members and always encourages open dialogue among themselves.”

The district’s statement also touched on potential state intervention.

“As for the potential TEA intervention, we are aware of the concerns, and it is of utmost importance for the District to stay proactive,” it reads. “Should there be an intervention, the District will collaborate closely with TEA to ensure the best outcomes for our students and the community. Board President Cantu is dedicated to working in the best interests of the District, and all decisions are made with careful consideration of all factors”