2 Canutillo ISD board members meet with TEA commissioner behind closed doors

Canutillo ISD board president, VP meet TEA commissioner behind closed doors

EL PASO, Texas - The president and vice president of the Canutillo Independent School District board of trustees both spoke with Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams behind closed doors early Thursday afternoon.

Their conversations came just hours before the board's special meeting on the future of Superintendent Damon Murphy.

The closed-door meeting with Williams,  which also included State Rep. Marisa Marquez,  took place at Region 19 headquarters after Williams held a news conference to announce he was appointing a board of managers to oversee El Paso Independent School District.

After the meeting, Canutillo ISD School Board President Armando Rodriguez declined to say what he spoke to Williams about and would not say if the conversation had to do with any previous communications he may have had with Williams. He did say this is the first time he has spoken to Williams in Williams' four visits to El Paso.

"I wanted to personally see what information he was going to provide," Rodriguez said of why he attended Williams' news conference.

As for Thursday night's Canutillo ISD meeting, Rodriguez said he expects  for the district to listen to the report.

"From there (we will) go into executive session and see if there are any personnel issues that we have to address," Rodriguez said.

He added he expects Canutillo ISD to make the right decisions, as it has in the past.

The Canutillo Independent School District will have a special board of trustees meeting tonight to discuss the superintendent's contract and possible action on his employment.

Murphy's contract of employment with Canutillo ISD, and possible action, will first be discussed in executive session and then in open session, according to the agenda that was posted Monday night.

"The Canutillo Independent School District has received preliminary information from its legal counsel and internal auditor staff regarding certain matters," Canutillo Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday. "We expect an audit report on those issues to be completed and presented to the Board on Thursday. The agenda posted (Monday night) is written in a manner that will allow the Board to act accordingly if it is determined action is necessary. Until that time, I cannot comment any further on this matter."

Murphy has been superintendent of the Canutillo ISD since Feb. 2010 and his contract is scheduled to end on Feb. 28, 2013 unless it is extended. He earns $170,000 a year.

Also on Thursday's agenda is "discussion with and receive report from Internal Auditor regarding review of transfer credit process, procedures and student cohort information."

It is not immediately clear if the report, which is to be given before discussion on the superintendent's contract, has to do with Murphy.

The special meeting will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Canutillo ISD Administration Office, 7965 Artcraft, El Paso, Texas.

In September, the school board evaluated Murphy's performance. Board members told ABC-7 at the time of the September meeting that the board was going to take into consideration Murphy's work at the El Paso Independent School District when he was Associate Superintendent for Secondary and Priority Schools

In April, EPISD revealed that a federal investigation had uncovered a four-year-old email from Murphy's account that gave principals and administrators a directive to make incoming foreign high schoolers and high school freshmen be placed in ninth grade even if they deserved to be placed higher than the ninth grade.

"I have no comment about what happened two years ago in a different district. I have no idea what Dr. (Terri) Jordan put forth in that press conference," Murphy told ABC-7 in May at a Canutillo ISD board meeting.

Murphy maintains he did nothing wrong.

In the Aug. 12, 2008 email from Murphy to Bowie High School Principal Jesus Chavez and other principals and directors, Murphy said, "A student coming in from out-of-country should be placed in 9th grade regardless of out-of-country transcript notations. The student may accelerate to a higher grade level based upon those out-of-country transcript notations, but not during the initial year of U.S. enrollment in EPISD."

"Ladies and gentleman, that is a stunning and deeply troubling directive from a former top official of this school district," Jordan said in a statement in April, while she was interim superintendent of EPISD. "Such an order disregards district policy and causes great harm to children who have received some education in another country and who should be immediately placed in the correct grade. To order such students held in the 9th grade for an entire year is unconscionable. The email directive from Murphy is especially troubling when considered in light of the district's own internal audit and the ongoing federal investigation into whether students were improperly retained in ninth grade or promoted to the 11th grade to avoid being tested in 10th grade and counted as part of the school's rating Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind education law."

EPISD's former superintendent, Lorenzo Garcia, this year, pleaded guilty to steering an expensive, no-bid district contract to his then mistress. He also pleaded guilty to manipulating the district's test scores by not allowing who he perceived as low performing students to enroll or forcing them to skip or be held back a grade. Garcia would get bonuses when the district met state and federal standards that included passing the tests.

Murphy, who has worked in the education field more than 20 years, worked at EPISD for four years as Associate Superintendent for Secondary and Priority Schools.

"He led the charge to turn-around many of the district's failing schools," according to Murphy's bio on the Canutillo ISD website. "When he began, EPISD had over 25 campuses in some sort of state or federal sanction. Under his direct supervision, that number was significantly reduced. As a result, Dr. Murphy and his team were awarded a "Top 10" school improvement program designation by the Texas School Business Organization.  Dr. Murphy has become well-known around the entire state of Texas as a leader who knows how to improve schools and turn-around school systems."

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