The Robstown Independent School District is actively searching for a new maintenance director after the recent director for the past eight years accepted a similar position with a neighboring school district.

Interim superintendent Alfonso Obregon said Jesse Cortez, who had been the maintenance director with the RISD for eight years, left to the Tuloso-Midway Independent School District last month after receiving a "better offer" to be the TMISD maintenance director.

The position was created after TMISD trustees in August terminated a long-standing maintenance agreement with Aramark in a move designed to lower costs for the district.

The deal with Aramark had cost the district about $55,000 a month over the past six years. The district, with Cortez at the helm, is currently assuming all maintenance duties, school officials said.

In his place, Obregon said, the district has placed a three-month employee, Lupe Ramirez, as interim maintenance director. The move is not permanent and at least four applicants are being considered for the position on a permanent basis.

"We talked to him (Ramirez) and he is just someone to help keep the ship afloat," Obregon said, adding the maintenance director position requires the applicant have a college degree, which Ramirez does not possess.

Former RISD trustee and educator Oscar Lopez said Monday he had been contacted by former interim superintendent Tony Morales before Morales' resignation in November to apply for the position.

"I told him (Morales) that I was interested," he said.

Lopez said he was hired on Nov. 13 after speaking with Morales and filling out his required W-9 paperwork with personnel director Roel Lara, even undergoing a state-mandated fingerprint check. Lara then reportedly told Lopez to report to work on Nov. 16, Lopez added.

"As far as I am concerned, I was hired," he said.

But Lopez said he received a call after Obregon's hiring on Nov. 14 from the new interim superintendent allegedly telling him not to report as scheduled.

"(Obregon) told me not to show up until I met with him," Lopez said, adding the meeting took place on Nov. 17. "He told me he would call me in a couple of days. It is now a few weeks and I still haven't heard anything."

Obregon acknowledged Tuesday that he met with Lopez to tell him Lopez's hiring was being reviewed. The reason, he added, was that Lopez's hiring seemed to be "an 11th hour" move by Morales that cut across district policy with the hiring of department heads.

"It's a complicated issue because it's not the norm, the way it happened," Obregon said. "That person, Mr. Lopez, was not interviewed in the normal process."

Obregon said applicants are normally interviewed by a committee, with qualifications being analyzed, before a final appointment is made by the superintendent. That procedure was allegedly not followed by Morales, he added.

"It's not really a legal issue," he said. "It's more of a procedural, administrative issue."

Ramirez will serve as the interim maintenance director until a permanent replacement is found, Obregon said.

The district's attorney, John Bell, has also been asked about Lopez's hiring, he added.

Depending on Bell's opinion, Lopez may be allowed to assume the position for which he was hired, or the appointment may be deemed invalid, leading to a new search for more applicants, Obregon said.