S-TISD could be headed to court
by Bill Clough
Oct 27, 2013 | 395 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The S-TISD board recently voted to begin the termination process for Dr. Brett Belmarez, superintendent. Shown here is Belmarez, on right, and Board President James Bennett in a meeting leading up to him being placed on paid leave.
The S-TISD board recently voted to begin the termination process for Dr. Brett Belmarez, superintendent. Shown here is Belmarez, on right, and Board President James Bennett in a meeting leading up to him being placed on paid leave.
SKIDMORE — In a brief meeting on Oct. 21, the Skidmore-Tynan Independent School District board named Dr. Ruben Corkill of Tuleta, interim superintendent.

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.

Between 1983 and 1990, he served as principal at the S-TISD elementary school and later at S-TISD’s junior high.

On Oct. 17, trustees voted 6-1 to place Dr. Brett Belmarez on paid leave with the intention of terminating him as superintendent.

The move followed months of enmity between Belmarez and the board during which Belmarez accused the board of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by trustees conducting “walking quorums” through the use of social media.

He then filed for whistle-blower protection for raising the issue.

Belmarez was attending a national conference in Denver of Latino school superintendents when the board voted to start his termination process.

Attorney Tony Connors of San Antonio, who is representing Belmarez, labeled the Bee-Picayune’s page-one headline Oct. 19 “Superintendent fired” as irresponsible, pointing out that numerous legal steps must occur before Belmarez could be terminated.

“A board does not have the right to unilaterally fire him,” Connors says. “Under state law, there has to be good cause to fire him.”

He says discussions were underway between the board and Belmarez to reconcile their differences, “but then the next thing we knew, the Bee-Picayune published an article (Oct. 12) that Dr. B. had filed a complaint with the district attorney and the county attorney. From that point on, the board put on its agenda the proposed action to terminate Belmarez and place him on administrative leave.”

Connors says that while the S-TISD board is required to explain, in writing, its reasons for wanting to terminate a superintendent, as of last Wednesday neither Belmarez nor Connors had received it.

“The board voted termination procedures, but we still don’t know what for.”

Citing a board news release issued by Board President James Bennett immediately after its Oct. 17 meeting — that quoted a letter from County Attorney Mike Knight to Belmarez — Connors says “obviously they were more interested in letting (the press) know.”

Details of the discussions between the board and Belmarez were mentioned in the news release. With a district admittedly in difficult financial straits — which brings into question how it would pay off Belmarez’s contract through 2019 — Belmarez suggested the district create a position which would not have required him to be present on district property.

The board rejected the offer.

Belmarez “offered other alternatives that equate to payment of about two and a half years of salary and benefits presumably in exchange for no work on his part,” the news release continues. “The board did not accept those proposals, either.”

Connors says as soon as he receives the letter from the board outlining its reasons, he plans to call for a hearing. “We don’t think they have good cause, we think there’s retaliation and we look forward to our day in court.”

That hearing, Connors says, would be conducted by an independent examiner with no conflict of interest with S-TISD.

Pending the outcome of the hearing, and the outcome of Belmarez’s whistle-blower grievance, Connors says there is the possibility he will file a lawsuit.

“The board cannot take away what a fine superintendent he has been.”

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 there.

However, that same tenure has been characterized by festering friction on the part of some trustees and Belmarez.

Connors questions Knight’s objectivity. “In all my years of practice, I’ve never seen a county attorney respond that way. He didn’t even bother to talk to my client (Belmarez). He’s already assumed my client was using ulterior moves.”

In an Oct. 21 letter to Knight, Connors says “we are reasonably concerned that you are biased and will not look at the evidence in a neutral manner” and requests the Texas Attorney General investigate the complaints and, if appropriate, “for prosecution.”

In the same news release, Knight is quoted in a letter to Belmarez, “I am skeptical and unwilling to be manipulated so that dissent on your board can be stifled or to help manufacture a ‘whistle-blower’ complaint on your behalf.”

Knight’s letter continues, “The Open Meeting Act is intended to create transparency in public affairs, not dictatorship in public affairs.”

A Freedom of Information request for the complete letter, and all correspondence between Belmarez and Knight during the past year, has not yet been answered by S-TISD.

Connors is confident. “I’ve been handling cases such as this for 25 years. They’ve picked the wrong lawyer to mess with.”

Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.
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