Stunned. That is the best word I can think of to describe how I felt sitting in this afternoon’s Edinburg CISD district-level (D-L) site-based-decision-making (SBDM) council meeting. Keep in mind that, since 1992, public school districts in Texas are required to have an SBDM council/committee. On ECISD’s website, it reads: The District’s policy and procedures shall establish a District-level planning and decision-making committee as provided by Education Code 11.251(b)–(e). The committee shall include representative professional staff, parents of students enrolled in the District, business representatives, and community members. Education Code 11.251(b), .253(a) (Note that nowhere in this policy does it say the SBDM council includes Central Office administrators. That becomes important as you read on.)
Furthermore, Edinburg BQA (LOCAL) reads: In compliance with Education Code 11.251, the District-level committee shall advise the Board or its designee in establishing and reviewing the District’s educational goals, objectives, and major District-wide classroom instructional programs identified by the Board or its designee. The committee shall serve exclusively in an advisory role except that the committee shall approve staff development of a District-wide nature.
Each campus in the district has at least one representative. These representatives choose their executive committee. Currently, the chair of the D-L SBDM council is Mike Balderas. Vice chair is Amado Balderas. Both are ECISD teachers. The monthly SBDM council meetings are run by the chair and in his absence are run by the vice chair. Not so this afternoon.
For this special meeting of the SBDM council, there was only one item on the agenda—a yes or no vote on ECISD becoming a District of Innovation. However, instead of Chairman Mike Balderas running the meeting, ECISD Assistant Superintendent Ronaldo J. Cavazosquickly took charge of the meeting. Mr. Cavazos informed the SBDM members that they would be required to vote by “campus ballot,” which means each member’s name and campus was on his/her ballot. Despite adamant protests by the chair and vice chair and by some council members, Mr. Cavazos insisted, telling the members “This is not up for discussion” and “This is not complicated.” Amado Balderas said more than once that the ECISD D-L SBDM Executive Committee unanimously voted in their meeting before spring break to use ballots that did not include the name or the campus of SBDM members. This decision was made in order to avoid fear of retaliation expressed by many teachers on the council.
Early in the meeting, one SBDM council member stood and said the DOI plan the district posted on its website for 30 days, as required by the state, had the plan spanning six years rather than the required five. He insisted that the correct plan had to be posted for 30 days, which would bring it back to SBDM at the end of the 30-day period. Mr. Cavazos repeatedly insisted it was easy to fix this error and no such thing needed to happen.
When opposition to the “campus ballot” continued, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rebecca Morrison left the room. When she returned, she told council members that she consulted with Supt. Dr. Rene Gutierrez, and that he alone makes executive decisions in ECISD. Period! (In ‘educationease,’ this translates to being given a directive by the superintendent. If it is not followed, it is considered insubordination and is grounds for termination.)
Many of us in attendance were stunned by the disrespect shown to the teachers on this committee and by the members being forced to vote for such a controversial issue with their names and campuses on the ballot. And it only got worse.
The ballots were collected by Central Office administrators and were counted by them. The chair and vice chair of the committee were not allowed to count the “campus ballots” and were not given the ballots after they were counted. We were told the vote was 30 “yes” votes and 22 “no” votes. (The Texas Education Code requires that the vote pass by a simple majority of the total membership, which is half plus one.) That means DOI will move to the final step, which is a 2/3-majority vote by the ECISD School Board tomorrow (Tuesday) evening.
Although the “campus ballot” was already forced upon the SBDM members, the “no-name/campus ballots” the executive committee had unanimously voted to use were passed out, and members were asked to vote, knowing Dr. Gutierrez would not accept the results. When these votes were tabulated by SBDM Executive Committee members, the vote was 19 “yes” votes and 30 “no” votes, which means the DOI process in the district would have ceased had council members been allowed to vote by secret ballot.
Like me, Chairman Mike Balderas was stunned. “NEVER has the meeting been run by administration,” he told me.
Vice Chair Amado Balderas told me, “I think the whole process stifles this democratic process established by the State of Texas. It makes me sad. I have never seen Edinburg CISD this way. NEVER.”
ECISD Board Member Miguel “Mike” Farias witnessed the entire meeting. I spoke to him afterward, and he said, “It makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the atmosphere of distrust. The majority of people here are upset. There were two ballots. On the one with their names, the vote was 33-20. On the ‘secret’ ballot, it came out 19-30. Honestly, I find that troublesome. As a board member, I want to see this be a positive environment. That’s me, speaking from the heart. I don’t see that here.” Trustee Farias also said he will personally contact all council members to tell them he wants to know immediately if any of them suffer retaliation.
(As I was speaking to Trustee Farias, several SBDM members approached us and saidthat several district principals have put incredible pressure on the SBDM members to vote yes for DOI because they were told to do so by the superintendent. Some were also told by their principals that if they voted no for DOI, they would have no vacation days next school year.)
It all comes down to a board vote tomorrow night. Remember, Edinburg. Board meetings are open to the public.