La Joya ISD names superintendent lone finalist as TEA decision looms

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Beto Gonzalez

La Joya ISD trustees named Wednesday current Interim Superintendent Beto Gonzalez lone finalist for the permanent post just 12 days before a Texas Education Agency hearing that will determine whether or not the state intervenes at the district.

Some trustees expressed criticism of the search process and the prospect of naming a finalist prior to and during the meeting.

Trustee Roberto Zamora voted against the motion, while Mary T. Hernandez abstained and Alda T. Benavides was absent. She was being named lone superintendent finalist herself at Edcouch-Elsa at the time.

Gonzalez has led the district as interim since April, when former superintendent Gisela Saenz hastily stepped down from the post.

The district posted applications for the permanent position earlier this year with little fanfare.

Speaking before trustees tapped him as lone finalist, Gonzalez exuded confidence about the direction of the district.

“From the boardroom to the classroom, it is evident that La Joya ISD more than ever has been student-focused, data-driven and results-oriented,” he said. “I think that and believe with all conviction as a seasoned superintendent that this district has never, ever — the future of this district has never been brighter. And that’s because leadership begins from this boardroom and to the classroom.”

Gonzalez emphasized communication and fiscal accountability as being hallmarks of the district’s new direction.

“We are excited to report that we are in a new course of responsibility and accountability, such that this district has never seen before in its history,” he said.

Critical trustees, however, maintained that the timeline and manner in which the district selected Gonzalez demonstrated a marked lack of transparency and accountability.

In a joint statement last week, Benavides, Hernandez and Zamora said they felt the board as a whole had not been fully engaged in the search party in contrast to state guidance and criticized the possibility of naming a superintendent who would have to be bought out if TEA intervenes and replaces them.

That criticism was added to by La Joya AFT President Brenda Lee Salinas, who spoke in public comment and raised concern about being faced with a buyout should TEA intervene and replace Gonzalez.

“As the elected board, you will define your commitment, your loyalty and love to our students and dear community depending on your actions and vote on this agenda item,” she said.

Trustees appear to have taken some kind of step to mitigate that possibility indicated attorney Ben Castillo, who noted the board is expected to give legal counsel direction on contract negotiations during a customary 21-day waiting period, said that contract will account for the possibility of Gonzalez’s replacement by TEA, at least to a degree.

“Even prior to us getting to that meeting … the legal team has been directed to start off with a provision in the contract with the superintendent that if TEA were to take over the district that there would be a limitation on damages to the school district with respect to a potential buyout in that case,” he said.

Castillo said the process did follow legal policies in the search process. He said he wouldn’t recommend a contract longer than a year.

Zamora, who tried unsuccessfully to make a motion taking no action on naming a lone finalist prior to the board discussing it in executive session, said he still felt the district had failed to conduct the search appropriately.

“The point that I made earlier about this board not being fully engaged in the process stands. We never came together as a board to make the decisions related to the process,” he said.

Trustee Esmeralda Solis said it was disheartening to see the criticism of those trustees — frequently a minority on the board — appear in The Monitor. She said she hadn’t received any more information than they had.

“So by that being said, I just want to make that clear that we were all informed with the same information,” Solis said. “And I think our legal (counsel) just said right now that we did not go around, that everything was done legally and the time frames and everything was done accordingly.”

Zamora said he felt Solis receiving no more information only reinforced the argument that the board was not engaged as a body.

Board President Alex Cantu closed the meeting by trying to strike a unifying note.

“I do want to congratulate Mr. Beto Gonzalez for being named lone finalist,” he said. “We know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us, but at the end of the day we know that he’s the right person to lead the district in the direction that we need and he’s gonna do what’s best for our entire community, for our staff and most important for our children. And that’s what we’re here for.”


Texas Education Agency outlines prospective La Joya intervention