Tornillo ISD Meeting: Proposed Agenda Item, Interview Requests Denied

Item To Consider Placing Embattled Superintendent On Paid Leave Not Included On Agenda

TORNILLO, Texas - ABC-7 was the only media inside the Tornillo Independent School District's small board room during Thursday's public meeting.

On the agenda were some items relating to the investigations involving superintendent Paul Vranish's use of taxpayer dollars.

Vranish is accused of mishandling district funds for personal gain and is facing separate investigations by the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Department of Public Safety. He denies the accusations and has not been charged with any crime.

Vranish resigned from his position during a January board meeting, but he stated in his resignation letter his last day at the district would be in June 2013.

The first item on the agenda was the approval of legal counsel. TISD is currently represented by an Austin-based law firm, but trustees voted to hire El Paso attorney S. Anthony Safi.

Safi addressed the school board about a preliminary audit conducted by the Texas Education Agency. Vranish was required to respond to the TEA's preliminary audit by March 27. During Thursday's meeting, Vranish said he requested an extension for his response and that it was now due April 30.

The other item on the agenda had to do with a proposed change in district policy for compensation and benefits expense reimbursement. Vranish suggested adding new elements to that policy, one which states, "The superintendent?s travel expense report forms must be reviewed and signed by an officer of the board."

The other addition to the policy dealt with documentation required and states, "Tips given in situations where receipts are not feasible may not exceed $25 per day."

Both additions were approved by the board.

No action was taken on the final item on the agenda, which called for the appointment of a new board member.

The school board has been short a trustee since September when then-president Joe Tittle stepped down. The board is now deadlocked on many issues in a three-to-three split.

Some trustees have expressed frustration with the school board's inability to reach consensus on important issues.

The board's dysfunction is spelled out in an exchange between board president Rachel Avila and trustees Ofelia Bosquez, Javier Escalante, and Hector Lopez.

In a document obtained by ABC-7 dated March 21, the three trustees asked Avila to place several items on the agenda. The request included an item to consider placing Vranish on administrative leave with pay pending the results of the investigations and that an interim be named to oversee every day district business.

Avila's response to the trustees is dated March 26. She wrote, "I am not putting any suspension on any agenda until we get advice from an attorney. It looks to me like you three want Vranish out of the office so you can go in and intimidate the employees, maybe plant evidence. Not going to happen."

Avila's accusations of the three board members were not substantiated in the letter. She concluded her letter with "disgusted with this board" before signing it.

ABC-7 attempted to ask Avila why attorney consultation was necessary to put an item in the agenda, since a clause in Vranish's contract clearly states the following:

"In the event of the Superintendent's voluntary resignation, the Board may place the Superintendent on administrative leave with pay from the date the resignation is submitted until the effective date of resignation."

Avila did not want to respond to our questions about the agenda item and Vranish's contract. When ABC-7 approached Avila for an interview after the meeting, Avila said she would not speak with the reporter until the reporter apologized for allegedly harassing Avila's daughter-in-law.

The harassment accusation stems from a March 15 incident where the reporter tried reaching Avila at a home. Avila's daughter-in-law came to the door after the reporter knocked. Video of the incident shows the daughter-in-law shutting the door in the reporter's face mid-sentence as the reporter asked a question. The reporter had been asking the daughter-in-law to pass contact information to Avila since Avila had not returned any calls or emails.

ABC-7 also attempted to interview Vranish after the meeting. He said he did not want to be interviewed, despite having recently been quoted in a March 28 Texas Watchdog article online.

Vranish did not respond when the reporter asked him whether he did not want to be interviewed by ABC-7 or if he did not want to be interviewed at all.

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