S-T ISD: Proposed firing going to neutral party for review
by Jason Collins
Nov 10, 2013 | 531 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SKIDMORE – A request has been filed to have an independent hearing examiner review the evidence from Skidmore-Tynan trustees that prompted their decision to want the superintendent fired.

Dr. Brett Belmarez has been on paid leave since Oct. 17 when school board trustees voted to begin the termination process.

Board President James Bennett said that, during that board meeting, the trustees were given an update by their attorney on the status of the termination process.

Details about that presentation were not available as this was done in executive session.

He added that, throughout this process, the board has sought legal advice on how to proceed.

“Obviously, the attorneys had given us some direction and guidance,” he said.

Attorney Tony Conners, representing Belmarez, said that he has yet to be presented with the written evidence the board has against Belmarez.

“We never got the stated reasons for the termination,” said Conners, whose practice is out of Austin. “Typically, school districts give written notice of proposed termination...”

Bennett said that the district’s attorney would be the one to provide all of the documentation to Conners and Belmarez.

Belmarez, through Conners, has already filed a request with the State Board of Education to have an independent hearing examiner appointed to hear the evidence that the S-T board has.

“The school board has the burden of proof to terminate a teacher’s contract,” Conners said. “The definition of teacher includes a superintendent.”

The examiner would then make a recommendation to the board as to whether Belmarez should be fired or remain employed by the district.

“The board would then hear arguments whether to uphold the recommendation or not,” Conners said. “Most school boards in good faith accept a recommendation.”

Depending on the outcome, Belmarez could still appeal the decision higher — up to the state commissioner of education.

State guidelines mandate that the board receive a recommendation from the hearing examiner within 60 days of Conners’ making his request on Oct. 31.

The hearing before the examiner, a licensed lawyer independent of both parties and certified to handle this type of matter, could be open to the public.

“I would have to defer to my client on that, but I anticipate it would be open,” Conners said. “This one I think would be a very public hearing.”

With Belmarez no longer running the district, the board appointed Ruben Corkill as interim superintendent during its meeting on Oct. 21.

In his 15 years in education, Corkill has served as interim superintendent for eight separate school districts, including Beeville, and was superintendent for four years at Skidmore-Tynan.

The vote to begin the termination process Oct. 17 for Belmarez came 6-1 with Trustee Salvador Soto casting the lone dissenting vote.

Two years ago, the board nominated Belmarez as Superintendent of the Year. During his 10 years as superintendent, the S-TISD schools have achieved stellar scores from the Texas Education Agency for scholarship, exemplified by the school’s continuing waiting list of parents hoping to enroll their children.

That same tenure also has been characterized by festering friction on the part of some trustees and Belmarez.

That friction peaked when Belmarez reported earlier this year that he believed the board was holding what is called a “walking quorum.”

Back in April, Belmarez cautioned the board that some members may have participated in the use of social media to discuss and decide on subjects that should be addressed in a public meeting.

It was also at this time that he requested whistle-blower protection, saying that he believed he may be retaliated against for making the accusation of an open meetings act violation.

Neither Soto nor former board president Keith Petrus, who retired recently, were named as participating in these walking quorums.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at
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