EL PASO, Texas - The El Paso Independent School board after an emotional and long meeting, reinstated all but one of the administrators who were up for termination.
Board members heard passionate pleas from more than 100 speakers; the overwhelming majority spoke in favor the principals and assistant principals. Parents, students and teachers implored the district to "reinstate the eight" administrators who's jobs were on the line because of findings by an audit.
The Austin-based accounting firm, Weaver and Tidwell LLC, conducted the audit, which found grade manipulation and enrollment discrepencies by the eight administrators. Community members said the audit was conducted with a preconceived notion and purpose to find wrongdoing and was flawed.
"They didn't talk to the people who work with me. They just looked at numbers and said 'you're a criminal', instead of asking me about those numbers", said Burges High School Principal Randall Woods, after the board voted to reinstate him.
Woods was implicated in the audit because the Limited English Proficiency population would fluctuate under his leadership. He said kids often move back to Mexico or with other relatives in the middle of the school year.
The sudden announcements that the Principals and Assistant Principals may be terminated during crucial testing and competition weeks for schools, mobilized hundreds of parents and students to call for their reinstatement.
Board members listened to their pleas for about five hours, despite the Texas Education Agency-sent Conservator's suggestion that the board only take an hour to listen to community members. Board President Isela Canstañon Williams said it would be a disservice not to listen to each speaker.
The administrators who had been relieved of their duties and will return to work are Burges High School Principal Randall Woods, El Paso High School Principal Kristine Ferret, Austin High School Principal John Tanner, El Paso High School Assistant Principal Grace Runkles, Burges High School Assistant Principal J. Manuel Duran Jr., Jefferson High Assistant Principal Adrian Bustillos and Austin High School Assistant Principal Michael Salcido.
The Board voted not to renew the contract of Luis Loya, the principal for the Center for Career and Technology Education. Loya has the option to appeal. He can request an independent hearing. The examiner of that independent hearing will make a recommendation to the board, who ultimately has the last word. Even if the examiner recommends Loya's contract be renewed, the board can still vote not to renew it, according to the TEA.
Loya's supporters at the meeting were notably quieter and fewer than the rest of the people who were there to call for the reinstatement of the other principals. Many of the speakers spoke in favor of Ferrett, Tanner and Woods. Students wore t-shirts with the words "TeamTanner" printed on them.
The experience may still taint the reputation of the reinstated administrators. Along with allowing them to go back to work, the board also recommended the Superintendent write them a "letter of reprimand" and place them on a "two-year growth plan.' It's still unclear what the growth plan will entail or if the letter will go on their employment record.
Board member Russell Wiggs said the audit "had found wrongdoing." David Dodge, another board member, said there were "voices that were not heard" in the meeting - from students who did not graduate, who were affected by the cheating scandal. He said the board had to keep that in mind when making their decision to reprimand the administrators.
Even after the board lasted more than two hours in executive session, hundreds of people waited at EPISD headquarters to hear the outcome. The room erupted in applause, cheers, tears and hugs every time the board announced they suggested the reinstatement of an administrator. It was a stark contrast to the still silence after the board announced it recommended not to renew Loya's conract.
Castañon Williams said the lack of supporters for Loya at the meeting did not sway the Board's decision. "The facts in this case are what guided our decision."
She later added that the community input made their decision easier and that the pleas from the students allowed the board to see the "humanity of the decision."