By HEATHER CATHLEEN COX
“I reviewed all transcripts,” said Superintendent of Schools Antonio G. Limón on Friday evening, of former San Benito CISD Risk Manager Janie Gonzalez’s multi-page grievance with the district and Planner/Evaluator Ruben Franco’s written response, in which he elected not to reinstate Gonzalez. “Additionally, Limón said, “I still find I had cause to terminate Gonzalez, and my choice is not to reinstate her. That’s the bottom line.”
It was in May when Gonzalez was reportedly approached by School Board President Yliana G. Rodriguez to draft a letter that would have immediately canceled a contract between SBCISD and their present insurance agent, Bob Treviño Insurance, and instate Robert Champion Jr. of Salazar Insurance Group (SIG). This action broke board policy, which indicates such a decision must be made by the board as a collective unit.
Though the letter was retracted two days after it surfaced, fellow trustee Oscar Medrano requested a hearing to investigate the letter and its intents and purposes. He also requested an investigation into the district’s insurance consultant, Glenn Hillyer, regarding his affiliation with the SIG group and Champion.
The superintendent fired Gonzalez in September when Gonzalez was allegedly found to be dishonest regarding electronic communication she had had with Champion, in which Hillyer was carbon copied.
By the time Gonzalez’s grievance reached the penultimate Level 4, the school board voted 4-3 in favor of reinstating Gonzalez and recommended said reinstatement to the superintendent. Limón was in somewhat of a time constraint to make a decision regarding Gonzalez’s fate.
“I voted my conscience,” said Medrano of his vote not to reinstate Gonzalez. He added, “I knew that voting the way I voted was the right thing to do. [Trustees] were presented with evidence, and I believe Mr. Limón has made the right decision. He made his decision according to policy.” The evidence to which Medrano made reference was Franco’s documentation for denying her grievance at Level 3.
Members of the community also feel strongly about this longwinded battle between conflicting sides in the school district.
San Benitian Jesus Esquivel, 32, said, “I believe that Gonzalez got caught, and they got the proof. She shouldn’t be reinstated. She should be taken out.” Of the fact that her grievance even went to the school board level, Esquivel added, “They shouldn’t give her a second chance. If she did it once, she’d do it twice. She got caught. That’s it,” he asserted.
Comparatively, Jose Sanchez, 83, of San Benito said, “I think [Gonzalez] should be reinstated because I don’t think there was a reason for her to be fired. I think Superintendent Limón and the president (Rodriguez) should be fired.”
Aspiring police officer Danny Morin, Jr., 27, feels strongly about the goings-on within the district. Morin exclaimed, “No, Gonzalez and Rodriguez should both be terminated. How were they going to break a contract of a worker (Treviño) with no other cause except I want someone else (SIG) to come work? I don’t think it’s fair.”
Medrano also did not like the idea of policy being disregarded, yet he did not receive much support from his colleagues when he suggested launching an investigation into Rodriguez. According to Limón, district policy explains that one board member cannot initiate the launch of an investigation; such a probe would require the collective board’s consensus.
Attempts to reach Rodriguez for comment were unsuccessful as of presstime.
Medrano said on Friday, “I received support from some. My stance is: look at the facts, look at the evidence, and go from there. I’ve always said, ‘Let’s open up an investigation and clear the air, and let’s start making a decision for the education on our students.’”
“As school board members,” said Medrano, “myself and Ms. Rodriguez are no exceptions, and we should be held accountable. I’ve worked with my fellow colleagues. We’ve heard the evidence and seen everything that has transpired. Every board member will have to decide how to proceed from here… and decide how they feel about Ms. Rodriguez continuing on this board.”
Benito Canales, 80, a retiree of San Benito, said, “In my opinion, [Gonzalez] was railroaded. I think the president of the school board (Rodriguez) did in fact tell her to do what she said. She had to follow orders. The ones who should be fired are the president of the school board and the superintendent. If I were [Gonzalez], I would sue both of these people (Rodriguez and Limón) and sue the school district of San Benito. Janie deserves a lot of money and to be cleared of the whole thing.”
Car salesperson Juan A. De La Torres of San Benito said frankly, “I think the superintendent was right to fire her.” In addition, he explained, “[Gonzalez and Rodriguez] should both be fired.”
Medrano discussed issues relative to the school board’s power shift after the last election when he stated: “I think, since the beginning, I have asked and looked into this whole situation. I have always wanted to give the president the opportunity to tell us exactly what occurred and what transpired. However, I think we’re at the point…it’s evident and no secret that based on the shift of power that occurred in this last election that Ms. Rodriguez might have support to keep her on [the board].”
Medrano thinks he school board’s number one priority should arguably be the students’ wellbeing. He said, “I always concur to my fellow trustees to look at the facts and do what’s right for our students to help move our district forward. By doing so we can put this behind us and focus on the most important things, our students, academics, visiting schools, drafting policies that will be good for students. That’s what we should be focusing on, and I’m hoping that school board members will see it for what it is. It is what it is.”
“I really didn’t think we would still be talking about [Gonzalez’s and Rodriguez’s actions] at this time,” Medrano continued. “I believe Ms. Rodriguez has more she could tell us, but that’s her decision.”
According to Medrano, “Mr. Limón abided by policy. At the end of the day, he is the one who has to respond to all the employees of our school district. He has to abide by whatever message he is sending as a leader.”
Gonzalez’s attorney Cindy Garcia does not share Medrano’s faith in Limón. Garcia has gone on record as accusing Limón of failure to render an impartial decision in Gonzalez’s grievance.
In an exclusive interview with the News, Garcia said, “I think that it’s something that the school district should consider: They allow the superintendent – who was involved in the decision to terminate Janie – to ultimately make the decision to reinstate her after the board recommended to reinstate her. I think the superintendent or board should have recommended that someone else be involved in the decision, due to his conflict of interest. That only makes sense.”
Garcia continued, “Considering the superintendent’s decision after the school board made a recommendation to reinstate Janie, the school board should take a hard-look into whether the superintendent should have the authority to hire or terminate an employee with the school district, especially at the high level that Janie Gonzalez was in. At this time we are considering our actions and preparing our legal action against the school and in particular Mr. Limón.”
Read this story in the Oct. 21 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.