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Board votes to extend Zendejas through 2021

October 4, 2018

Despite warnings the action could be illegal, Brownsville Independent School District trustees have voted to extend the contract of Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas by one year through 2021.

The action came after a closed-door executive session on the extension and other matters and near the end of Tuesday’s regular BISD Board of Trustees meeting.

The vote was 4-3, with board president Cesar Lopez and trustees Carlos A. Elizondo, Joe A. Rodriguez and Laura Perez-Reyes voting in favor, and trustees Sylvia P. Atkinson, Philip T. Cowen and Minerva M. Peña voting against.

During discussion in open session Cowen asked board attorney Baltazar Salazar to check “whether the board is even in order here and whether we can actually vote.”

Salazar responded that even though trustees were not voting to increase Zendejas’ salary, the contract needed to be “drafted up” and placed on the agenda for a properly posted and convened board meeting.

“The main issue is that Dr. Zendejas in the highest paid employee in the district and therefore you’ve got to give the public notice. … Then there is the question of surprise. You don’t want to surprise the public,” he said.

Salazar went on to say that the way the agenda item was posted was improper. Specifically, he said the contract would need to be voted on “at a properly posted and convened board meeting. … I want the board to know that the way you posted this today is improper. I just want to cover my bases, that the way this was done was totally improper.”

The item the board voted on is included on most if not all agendas: “Discussion, consideration and possible action regarding the appointment, employment, evaluation and duties of the Superintendent.” The item does not state who requested it be put on the agenda.

Zendejas’ contract is posted on the BISD website. It was approved in July 2015 and extended in August 2016, according to the document posted on the website.

During the meeting Zendejas said it is valid through June 2020. Discussion indicated the contract is for $275,000 per year, with these yearly increases built in: $285,000 for 2017-2018, $295,000 for 2018-2019 and $305,000 for 2019-2020.

Elizondo contended the extension was being done the same way it was done in August 2016 and the same way an extension for former superintendent Carl Montoya’s was done. Montoya preceded Zendejas.

Atkinson questioned whether the extension was being rushed through, while Peña said now was not the right time to be taking action on an extension.

Tuesday was the last regularly scheduled board meeting before the Nov.6 school board election. Three positions on the board are up for election.

After the meeting Cowen posted a commentary to his Facebook page in which he contended the vote denied BISD voters a say in the matter. He also said the board’s action could be ruled void.

“Candidates should trust the voters. Incumbents, if they believe in themselves and in their chances to win another term, should not remove this type of action from the forum of public opinion. Giving a superintendent a one year extension one month before an election expresses a distasteful amount of disdain for the election process. This was something the new board should have been allowed to decide. The vote tonight denied Brownsville voters any say as well,” Cowen wrote in the post.

glong@brownsvilleherald.com

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