2004-09-08 / Local

Superintendent placed on leave

Amy Seiford
Wilson County News
TEA rep says improvements in district are ‘imperative’

EAST CENTRAL -- The East Central Independent School District’s top leader has been placed on administrative leave with pay after a 4-3 vote on Tuesday. The move was met with boos and gasps from a crowd of more than 300 people who had gathered in support of Superintendent Gary Patterson.

Board members Larry Biggers, Esther Rendon, Noel Smith, and Colette Walls voted to place Patterson on leave, as well as calling for an audit of all the superintendent’s travel expenses and other expenditures.

After the board voted 4-3 on Aug. 19 to buy Patterson out of his contract, they met for more than three hours on Aug. 31 in an attempt to hash out a resolution with Patterson. Those plans were nixed when the superintendent decided not to resign or accept the buyout of his $120,000-a-year contract, which ends in June.

“I have made mistakes, but my decision not to accept this settlement and resign is not one of them,” Patterson told the board and community members at the meeting. “It is my choice to be a part of this community. This is the decision that is best for my family and me and I am willing to stake what is left of my reputation.”

Patterson apologized to his staff for the anxiety and distractions that the questions surrounding his future with the district have caused and commended his staff for their hard work.

“Anyone who knows me knows I try to avoid being the center of attention if it all possible and this has been a major distraction for the district,” Patterson said. “We have some of the finest staff in the region and the support has been truly overwhelming.”

Board member Steve Bryant, who voted to keep Patterson, said that the move to get rid of Patterson was another way that the board was not listening to the community.

“I think people have shown their feelings and made themselves very clear tonight on who they wish to remain as superintendent,” Bryant said. “This is something that is going to cost this district a lot of money. We are removing a vital and essential part of this district and I will continue to support him as long as it takes. This district needs him.”

Bryant also questioned board members’ motives for getting rid of Patterson and said that the superintendent has done everything the board has asked of him, including completing all portions of a growth plan and responding to board questions.

“For the last two years, the board has viciously attacked the superintendent. When is the point when we realize this is harassment and a personal vendetta?” Bryant asked. “We keep coming up with new stuff for him to have to explain and it’s the students who are going to suffer.”

Rendon said that she had neighbors who had called her saying they did not support the superintendent or the work he was doing. She also said she was tired of being “hassled by the media and the Texas Education Agency.”

“I have been quiet for way too long about this,” Rendon said. “We need to put this to rest because our children have already paid the price.”

Before the board went into executive session, Dr. Sharon Case, deputy associate commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, was presented with a petition. The document reportedly had more than 800 signatures in support of Patterson, according to audience members.

The board was also cautioned that continued complaints to the Texas Education Association could result in increased sanctions. TEA monitor Dr. Jess Butler, who has been present at board meetings since April, will now sit with the board during meetings to ensure that larger problems do not escalate.

Over the last few weeks, Case has continued to receive complaints about both board and audience conduct and cautioned those in attendance about the need for improvement or additional sanctions would be taken. Case has received reports of board members rolling their eyes and getting up and leaving while audience members were speaking. She also informed the audience that comments and outbursts would not be tolerated. Case told the board they were setting a bad example for the district’s students about how to handle conflicts.

“The animosity on this board has not gone away and improvements must be made,” Case said. “We have reports that indicated that adults did not behave like adults and a majority of patrons feel their concerns are falling on deaf ears. While I recognize these are allegations, a person’s perception is their reality.”

“Immediate improvements in the East Central Independent School District are imperative,” she said.

Board members Bryant, Gus Gonzalez, and Monique Presas, who all voted against placing Patterson on leave, left the meeting after the decision was reached, in a show of support for Patterson.

The four remaining board members reconvened in executive session and then appointed Jim Selby, assistant superintendent of business and operations, as the interim superintendent. They also approved a supplement to his salary of $100 a day while he served as the interim superintendent.

The board directed their general counsel to work with Selby regarding an audit of Patterson’s travel expenses and other expenditures, as well as all salary information.

Walls and Rendon both called for the audit to be expanded to include records for all paid leave, including vacation and sick leave.

“I’m interested in not limiting the auditor,” Rendon said.

After the meeting, Patterson’s supporters said they were still confused as to the reasons behind the board’s decision.

“We still don’t know why he was placed on leave and what he failed to do,” Bruce Campbell said. “This district is recognized as an exemplary school and consistently has good test scores. This could not happen if the superintendent was doing a sloppy job.”

Campbell said the board should have at least let Patterson serve the rest of his contract.

“The board is destroying our school district and throwing money away -- money that could be used for our students,” he said. “This is a sad day in this school district.”

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