SAN ANTONIO – Dysfunctional school boards could impact district leadership in the future if the community and voters don’t take action to be involved and pay attention to who represents them on their local board.
David Dematthews, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at UT Austin, says politics and agendas often get in the way of effective leadership in school boards across the state. South San ISD’s problems are not unique, he says, hearing about them in a general context.
“I think in this instance where you see things happening over and over again, it’s really everybody has a piece in kind of creating the problem that this district is now confronting,” Dematthews said. “I think everybody has responsibility when a school district is failing. And so it’s convenient to pin it on one group. But really, voters need to pay attention to who it is they’ve elected to school boards. And often is the case, school board elections have a very low turnout.”
South San ISD has been making headlines recently regarding some disputes between the board and recently hired Superintendent Marc Puig and some bickering between school board members themselves. The board voted to reprimand Puig for some action that occurred behind the closed session.
Trustee Gilbert Rodriguez has been an outspoken critic of the board majority and a defendant of Puig, calling on the Texas Education Agency to step in and take swift action to investigate other issues he sees.
“Dr. Puig is what’s best for kids. And he’s what we need here. My hope is that TEA will move quickly and protect our superintendent because all the evidence, all the data (he has presented), if you go back and look at the meetings, is laser-focused on kids,” Rodriguez said.
His issues are with other trustees holding back progress.
“We’ve reverted back to what the communities have seen year after year for decades now and the South Side politics and those personal agendas that seemingly anyone will do anything to advance and accomplish,” Rodriguez said.
Board President Ernesto Arrellano, Jr. says the board majority is leading, and a few trustees aren’t happy. He says the district has made great efforts in moving forward and what’s happened recently is just a result of issues that come up with all districts that need to be corrected.
Arrellano said the board needs leadership to mature and lead.
“Are there opportunities on the board? Yes, a lot of opportunity for maturity, and that’s my goal as long as I’m president,” he said.
One of the longest-tenured board trustees, Connie Prado, said the board has no intention of jeopardizing Dr. Puig’s job.
“The five board members that you see there, we are dedicated, and we are going to support the superintendent when it comes to our kids. They are our priorities, and this district will move forward, and we will succeed,” Prado said.
Puig is the seventh superintendent to serve the district in 10 years.
The TEA has a history of being involved in South San ISD board leadership. The district was under a conservatorship from 2016 to 2018 following an investigation over board decisions.
In 2019, another investigation found the board operated outside its authority.
The TEA offered the following statement:
“TEA identified the placement of a monitor as being the appropriate course of action to resolve documented issues within South San ISD. As is the case with any monitor placement, the placement is reviewed on a quarterly basis to determine if either an extension of or removal of the monitor is appropriate.
“Once a monitor is placed within a school district, only the Commissioner of Education has the authority to remove them. A board of trustees can request a monitor to be removed, but the final decision is solely that of the Commissioner. In any school district where a monitor has been placed, the Commissioner has the discretion, if necessary, to expand a monitor’s areas of responsibilities.”
The next board of trustees meeting is on Thursday.