A recommendation on whether ousted Robstown Independent School District Superintendent Roberto Garcia should be terminated by the school board is now in the hands of an Independent Hearing Examiner, after a two-day hearing was held last week.
The hearing was held Thursday and Friday before Mark Rains, of Victoria, an Independent Hearing Examiner appointed by the Texas Education Agency.
Garcia requested an Independent Hearing Examiner be appointed by the TEA to review his case in March, after the district's Board of Trustees voted 4-3 in favor of issuing a notice of termination to him in a March 3 meeting.
Board members Robert Tapia, Adolfo Lopez, Pablo Avila and Richard Gonzalez voted in favor of terminating Garcia based on findings in a report presented to the board March 3 by RISD Attorney John Bell.
During last week's hearing, Bell highlighted four areas of alleged wrongdoing on the part of Garcia, which had led to his termination.
The first of those was an allegation that Garcia had failed to follow rules established in the Public Funds Investment Act, which require the superintendent to present a quarterly investment report to the board.
During testimony Thursday and Friday, it was revealed that the reports were stopped at the request of the school board in May 2005, during a nine-month period in which Garcia did not work for the district. Upon his return to the district in Nov. 2005, Garcia said he was instructed by the board president at the time to stop presenting the reports during meetings in order to cut down on lengthy board meetings. Garcia acknowledged, however, that he had been instructed to forward copies of the reports to board members prior to meetings, so they might have an opportunity to question investment items. He did not do so.
A second allegation of wrongdoing involved projections of a $3 million deficit during the district's budget meetings in September 2008, which eventually led the board to lay off 42 employees. An audit presented to the board in January 2009, however, showed the district had an unreserved fund balance surplus of more than $3 million in August 2008.
In testimony Thursday and Friday, district business manager Jodi Schroedter and Garcia testified the error had been made in part because of lower than expected expenditures from the capital improvements fund and in part because of a glitch in the district's accounting software that showed expenditures for employee positions that were not currently filled. Those errors have since been repaired, Garcia said.
Testifying on the stand Thursday, Luke Womack, the district's auditor, was asked about the accounting problems by Garcia's attorney, Mark Paisley.
"Mr. Womack, in your opinion is the Robstown Independent School District in any financial crisis," Paisley asked.
"No," Womack replied.
Under cross examination, John Bell, the district's attorney, noted that if there is no financial crisis, there could not have been any substantial reason for laying off 42 employees at the end of last year.
Womack also testified that negative findings in several district audits, which were listed as a third reason for Garcia's termination, were minor and not unusual in audits of school districts.
A fourth reason given by the district for terminating Garcia was low marks given in evaluations by the board.
Adolfo Lopez testified the board had given Garcia evaluations that showed he was "not meeting expectations" in January 2008, three months before awarding him a three-year contract extension.
"So, your testimony is that the board evaluated the superintendent and found he was not meeting expectations, and the next thing they did was to turn around and give him a contract extension," Paisley said.
The fifth reason given for Garcia's termination was that he had failed to adopt a resolution required by the Texas Education Agency for school districts that have not met a standard of applying 65 percent or more of expenditures to direct education.
Garcia acknowledged that he had not posted the resolution Friday, although he said TEA does not issue penalties for failing to do so.
Now that the hearing has been concluded, both parties will have until June 8 to submit written closing arguments and proposed findings to Rains.
He will then issue a ruling by June 29, which he will submit to TEA and the RISD board president.
Should the board approve the termination, Garcia will then have the option of appealing to TEA, which would then rule on whether the termination was proper.
Should the district reach an agreement with Garcia in which he is paid more than one year's salary to settle his contract, the district will be penalized by TEA for any amount over the one-year salary. Garcia currently earns $102,000 per year.
Garcia has been on paid suspension since Feb. 17, and will remain on paid suspension throughout this process, district officials have said.