Although a District of Innovation (DOI) designation died in Edinburg CISD when the school board unanimously (Trustee Robert Pena was absent.) voted it down in March, the aftermath of it can still be felt in Central Office.
I attended the District-Level Site-Based-Decision-Making (DL-SBDM) meeting March 20, the day before the school board vote and witnessed the chaos that led to Edinburg AFT filing a subsequent grievance. I had no intention of videotaping the meeting via Facebook Live; however, soon after the chair called the meeting to order, things went south…far south…so I decided to “go live.” Many of you have viewed this video and have agreed that the level of intimidation and disrespect shown to teachers and other employees on the committee is impossible to justify.
According to a Texas Education Agency module published in January of 2010, The basic premise of site-based decision making is that the most effective decisions are made by those who will actually implement the decisions. The belief is that people involved at the campus level have a greater opportunity to identify problems, develop problem resolution and change strategy than people located off-campus. Site-based decision making concepts also recognize that people at the campus level are more likely to internalize change and to support its implementation if they are involved in the decision making than if they are not.
The Texas Education Code (TEC) mandates a campus-based and a district-level SBDM committee for public school districts in Texas. This is not a Central Office committee. Rather, it is comprised of professional staff (normally teachers), parents of students enrolled in the district, community members, and business/industry representatives.
Edinburg AFT filed their grievance against ECISD Superintendent Dr. Rene Gutierrez. Although Edinburg CISD (108904) District Policy DGBA Local under Personnel-Management Relations – Employee Complaints/Grievances reads (bolding mine), COMPLAINTS AGAINST SUPERVISORS: Complaints alleging a violation of law, policy, or regulation by a supervisor shall be submitted to the Superintendent. The Superintendent shall appoint a hearing officer to hear the complaint at Level One. Complaint forms alleging a violation of law, policy, or regulation by the Superintendent may be submitted directly to the Board or designee, rather than the grievance going directly to Level III to be heard by the board, Dr. Gutierrez declared it a Level Two grievance to be heard by him.
At the Level Two grievance hearing May 5, Edinburg AFT members asked for the following remedies as a direct result of the March 20 DL-SBDM meeting:
1. A determination that the administrators’ actions violated the cited laws and policies.
2. A communication from the board that the district will not tolerate retaliation of any kind against AFT members for questioning or opposing the DOI or questioning or opposing the actions taken by administration at the March 20 District-Level SBDM committee meeting.
3. Training for administrators and all district personnel in the proper role of the SBDM and the anti-bullying features of DH (Local) and the right of the employees to free speech under DGA (Legal).
4. All administrators with items to be discussed at District-Level SBDM meetings must have those items approved and initialed by the Superintendent and a digital copy sent to the DLSBDM Executive Committee members so they may be included on the agenda.
5. All ballots and lists of ballot results which were collected in the non-confidential Edinburg CISD District of Innovation vote be placed in a secure location. This is to deter any form of retaliation against principals/teachers that voted against the implementation of the District of Innovation plan for Edinburg CISD.
May 24, the final allowable date for a decision to be rendered (according to district policy), Edinburg AFT Steering Committee members Marsha Gonzalez, Amado Balderas, and Leticia Palacios Quintanilla, along with their local AFT representative, Zoltan Csaplar, and the organization’s legal counsel, Martha Owen, received notification from Dr. Gutierrez that their grievance was denied.
In his six-and-a-half-page response, Dr. Gutierrez covers a number of points, from a verbose declaration that SBDM committees are advisory, (sic) in nature to when their meetings fall under the Open Meetings provisions of the TEC and that The Operating Procedure does not direct how votes are to be taken. (For those unfamiliar with the March 20 meeting, Central Office administrators demanded that committee members vote on a piece of paper with their names and campuses on it rather than by secret ballot, which the committee insisted was necessary due to fears of retaliation.)
To me, the most shocking part of Dr. Gutierrez’s grievance response was in regards to bullying. Grievants presented some testimony that some campus administrators had expressed vigorous support of the DOI Plan to their staff. On some, but by no means a majority of campuses, staff were (sic) asked to register their support for or opposition to the plan on a tally sheet… The most shocking part of this paragraph, for me, came at the end: Notwithstanding the foregoing, there was no report of belittling or the threat of physical harm. No employee indicated a reasonable fear of physical harm. No report of belittling? Time to review the March 20 video, and that is only one example.
Mike Farias, an ECISD trustee, attended that DL-SBDM meeting and witnessed everything. That evening, ECISD staff members shared what happened on their campuses with him, and I feel certain he would consider their accounts to be, at the very least, intimidation. Furthermore, after the following evening’s board meeting, when DOI was officially rejected, I wrote this account of the meeting in the Edinburg Review: Board Secretary Xavier Salinas indicated he would like to speak. “Teachers are the heart and soul of our district,” Trustee Salinas began. He said he found it “disheartening” that teachers had been treated with such disrespect yesterday at the District-Level Site-Based-Decision-Making Council meeting. Trustee (X.) Salinas then recommended that Superintendent Dr. Rene Gutierrez bring in the administrators responsible for this behavior and reprimand them, write them up, or take whatever disciplinary action was necessary. “This type of behavior from administration will not be tolerated by this board, EVER!” he told Dr. Gutierrez.
Even the Level II grievance hearing could be considered bullying/intimidation. When Csaplar arrived for the hearing, he was told by an ECISD police officer that he could not enter the hearing, although attorney Kevin O’Hanlon was present to represent Dr. Gutierrez and the district. After some serious discussion, Csaplar was allowed in.
The final one-and-a-half pages of Dr. Gutierrez’s Level II response consisted of him telling the Edinburg AFT members who filed the grievance that “…the SBDM Committee should revisit its Operating Procedures to specifically address some of the issues raised by this Grievance (sic)” and then listing his recommendations for how the SBDM committee should improve.
Dissatisfied with the Level II response, June 1, Edinburg AFT filed an appeal, which sends the grievance to Level III, where a decision is made by the ECISD Board of Trustees. (Again, according to District Policy, this should have been a Level III grievance from the beginning.) They are awaiting word from the superintendent or his designee as to the date, time, and place for the board meeting. According to district policy:
The Superintendent or designee shall provide the Board the record of the Level Two appeal. The employee may request a copy of the Level Two record.
The Level Two record shall include:
1. The Level One record.
2. The notice of appeal from Level One to Level Two.
3. The written response issued at Level Two and any attach-ments.
4. All other documents relied upon by the administration in reaching the Level Two decision.
The appeal shall be limited to the issues and documents considered at Level Two, except that if at the Level Three hearing the administration intends to rely on evidence not included in the Level Two record, the administration shall provide the employee notice of the nature of the evidence at least three days before the hearing.
The District shall determine whether the complaint will be presented in open or closed meeting in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act and other applicable law.
Once their decision has been made, the board may give notice of its decision orally or in writing at any time up to and including the next regularly scheduled Board meeting. If the Board does not make a decision regarding the complaint by the end of the next regularly scheduled meeting, the lack of a response by the Board upholds the administrative decision at Level Two.
I will provide you with updates on the Level III hearing and the decision the board renders.
Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.