The El Paso Independent School District board voted to hire a Texas law firm to take over the search for a new superintendent, dropping Texas Association of School Boards Executive Search Services.
Trustees voted 6-1 to approve retaining the services of Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle P.C. and education consultant Ann Dixon for the search, with only District 3 trustee Josh Acevedo voting no, at a special board meeting Thursday.
Acevedo listed the superintendent’s contract and equity in schools as top priorities in the hunt for EPISD’s next leader, and expressed concerns about search firms EPISD has worked with in the past.
“I’m more inclined to not support it, but I do ask that it be a search firm that we will be able to say ‘that was actually a good process, the community was included, there was accountability and there was transparency,’ and I think that’s absolutely important in the district that we have,” Acevedo said.
“Hopefully, you prove me wrong.”
Dixon is a former Texas school district superintendent and education consultant. She said she will be the contact person for the applicants during the search.
The Texas law firm also has offices in New Mexico and represents 500 school districts in Texas, according to Walsh Gallegos attorney Paige Kyle, primarily serving as general counsel.
Board President Al Velarde said at the meeting the board “had to cancel the last contract” and echoed sentiments from several other trustees, that EPISD’s troubled past might be a challenge in the search.
“You will have to sell EPISD to the candidates,” Velarde said.
The district initially hired the Texas Association of School Boards, a nonprofit education organization that also performs executive searches to assist school districts with finding leaders.
The board voted 6-1 with District 7 trustee Daniel Call voting no at the regular board meeting on Aug. 17 to terminate it’s contract with the organization; a $21,500 valued contract, at no cost to the district. The board initially contracted with TASB in March.
TASB Executive Search Services Director Butch Felkner learned one of his team members had a relative interested in applying for the superintendent position and notified the board about the potential conflict of interest.
“I thought it best to be as transparent and upfront with El Paso ISD as possible,” Felkner said.
TASB provided the work done so far to the district at no cost, to include the results of a community-wide online survey, as well as interviews with EPISD staff and administrators.
EPISD’s superintendent is a salaried position, and pay will be based on the contract the chosen finalist signs with the school board, said spokesperson Gustavo Reveles.
Former EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera was awarded a five-year contract through 2022 with a 15% raise that was valued at $348,827.38 in 2017.
Cabrera resigned in November amid fraud allegations connected to his consulting work with former EPISD school board president Dori Fenenbock’s virtual charter school business.
Cabrera was paid a $558,917.54 settlement in early 2021 “representing less than one year’s salary and benefits” according to Cabrera’s voluntary separation agreement.