TONY’S TIME: Limón looks back on 10 years as superintendent

10 years gone San Benito CISD Superintendent of Schools Antonio G. Limón is seen Thursday outside the John F. Barron Administration Building, where he’s worked for more than a decade. (Staff photo by Jacob Lopez)

10 years gone
San Benito CISD Superintendent of Schools Antonio G. Limón is seen Thursday outside the John F. Barron Administration Building, where he’s worked for more than a decade. (Staff photo by Jacob Lopez)

Staff Writer

San Benito CISD is nearing the end of the Antonio G. Limón era.

Limón will soon be stepping down as SBCISD superintendent of schools after having served in such capacity for 10 years. He’ll be handing over the reins to Dr. Marc A. Puig after the Board of Trustees recently selected Puig to head the district.

On Thursday, Limón spoke candidly about his time with the district and looked back on that which garnered him praise and criticism.

The San Benito native, born at Dolly Vinsant Memorial Hospital in 1950, was delivered by Dr. CM Cash (the namesake of Dr. CM Cash Elementary School) and grew up in Rio Hondo before traveling the country.

Upon eventually settling down in San Benito, Limón brought with him education including a seven-year period in which he served as a news anchor in Laredo, where he conducted the weather forecasts and managed a radio station.

In his time as superintendent, a tenure which began in 2004 after serving the district as its Human Resources Director, Limón has overseen the construction of Bobby Morrow Stadium, establishing an on-site health clinic for district employees as well as insurance plans.

Regarding the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test, the predecessor standardized test of the STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), Limón noted increased student performance in all subjects over the life of the assessment.

“We were blessed … we had a steady growth,” said Limón, particularly in science. “Probably not as fast as we would want it to grow, but it was steady, and it was consistent.”

He also pointed to progress in STAAR testing.

“We met standard, except for one campus (Frank Roberts Elementary),” said Limón of the 2013-14 school year performance, adding, “The previous year, all our campuses met standard.”

Valley-wide, taking into consideration the 30-some districts’ academics performance, “San Benito would probably be toward the upper-side of the middle,” he said concerning the STAAR test.

While he said that there’s always room for improvement, Limón maintains, “One of the biggest satisfactions I have (is that) we graduate 500 to 600 students or more with a quality education, allowing them to be able to compete at any level at any university.”

He also expressed pride in the fact that San Benito High School was established as an “early college high school” before it became a widespread practice.

The district also organized a program to graduate “hundreds of students who were on the verge of dropping out or who were already dropouts” – this through the Gateway to Graduation Academy Alternative School.

“The main purpose of it was to reach out and recapture those students that had already dropped out,” he said.

After those students started going to school, the district began encouraging the students who were academically behind and unable to graduate with their peers in hopes of deterring them from dropping out.

Through Gateway, Limón estimates that 300 students have graduated who otherwise may not have completed high school.

“What I would like to be remembered for would be that I was a fair, caring, compassionate individual … whether it was discipline issues or any other issue that came to my office,” Limón said.

What’s more, the superintendent acknowledged that some of his decisions may have – at times – cost him favor among some in the community.

“Sometimes, decisions that were made, they were not very popular … but still, that’s part of the job,” he said, adding, “You have to make those rough decisions. But you have to realize that sometimes you’re making that decision that’s going to affect somebody’s livelihood, that’s going to affect somebody graduating or not … you have to be fair about it. You have to be consistent, and you have to be compassionate.”

Another struggle the superintendent faced was operating a district within its means – not an easy task, he said, when it’s one of the poorest in the state. Still, Limón pointed to initiatives such as the Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA) program crucial in the district’s construction needs.

“We were able to build over $70 million worth of facilities in this district,” Limón said. “We were blessed…”

He used the word “blessed” since the state “picked up another 85 percent of the cost of those facilities” – leaving the taxpayers with 15 percent of the costs.

The facilities in SBCISD, according to Limón, are “second to none” that he would “put up against any district.”

In the case of Bobby Morrow Stadium, which opened in 2006, Limón shared an amusing anecdote.

“Our scoreboard was supposed to be ready, and it was ready like 30 minutes before the start of the (inaugural) game,” Limón said.

The scoreboard’s key components came from Holland and had been held up in Customs, thus creating a delay before it was finally installed a mere half hour before kickoff. This was also the game in which San Benito’s own Bobby Morrow, the stadium’s namesake whose gold medal trifecta at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne earned him accolades that included Sports Illustrated’s coveted Sportsman of the Year honor, was in town to help christen the facility.

“Those were the stressing parts,” Limón laughed.

Still, Limón said his main goal was always “to help students.”

“Not only those that are your A-plus students, but those that may have gone astray a little bit,” he added.

Limón has spent a total of 26 years with the district. Ten of those years were spent as a middle school principal at Miller Jordan.

“In fact, I met the love of my life there — my wife (Linda) — she was a teacher there, and I was a middle school principal,” he said.

When asked about his greatest challenge, he said it’s to be able to provide for students and employees everything that they needed within budget constraints.

“If we were to get the same amount of money (per student) that some of the richer districts get, I’d have $20 or $30 million extra every year that I could give teachers raises with – teachers deserve a raise,” he said, adding that such funds afford the district to provide for the students as well.

Another note of interest is when Limón and several other superintendents from the state testified before Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz, resulting in his decision that the school finance system of Texas was unconstitutional. It’s something Limón hopes will lead to improvements that can level the playing field.

But there was also plenty of controversy the superintendent faced, much of which occurred the last few years – 2013 specifically when the Board of Trustees, then comprised of several different members, placed him on paid suspension pending investigation.

Limón was probed for allegations that reportedly numbered more than 60, but perhaps the most notable consisted of the accusation that he blocked the Harlingen Police Department investigation into Alfredo Hernandez Jr., who in 2012 served as the Berta Cabaza Middle School choir director and was charged with soliciting a minor.

Limón has since been cleared of the allegations following a year-long investigation headed by a private outfit, but he said the situation took its toll up until his reinstatement in May 2014.

“That was a time of growth,” Limón said. “I knew I had done nothing to deserve that (suspension and investigation). I knew that there wasn’t any truth to the rumors and allegations. I knew that.

“But once that’s out there, that’s difficult to deal with … That’s where you have to have your faith in God. If you’re going through it, there’s a reason you’re going through it.”

However, Limón said he does not hold resentment or anger toward any individual or situation, offering, “You forgive, forget, and move ahead, and you keep on going … or you’re just harming yourself.”

Of his time away, Limón said, “It was hard. It was very hard … for my wife … my daughter, but it made us stronger.”

Considering his investigation, suspension and a number of highly-publicized controversies over the years, Limón is considered by some to be a polarizing public figure in San Benito, but it’s something he said comes with the territory.

“You make decisions that either make people like you, or they make people hate you,” he said. “You can’t be worried about who likes you, or who doesn’t like you – you just do what you think is right.”

In the meantime, retirement from the school district remains a possibility for Limón, but it’s something he continues to discuss with his family. “I’m sure the district will be in good hands with Dr. Puig,” said Limón. “I wish him the very best. He’s coming into a great community.”


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    • John Holmes on November 20, 2014 at 2:07 pm
    • Reply

    “Well, back in the days”…

    I’d submit my CV but I’m pretty sure SBN would edit it.

    • Juan on November 20, 2014 at 9:05 am
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    Well,back in the days.long since past when I was in school a major in education.and the goal to be a teacher had purpose,not economic gain.The profession was held in high regards because of its objective,to educate young minds.Thats no longer is the case,especially in san benny.
    It is a job sought by whose wishing to put out the least amount of effort for the maximum monetary gain,and the most benies or perks they can squeeze out who they are working for.
    Education was a very easy major,no difficult courses,but it paid low,in those days,but it was easy to major in,and if you were persistent enough to finally get a degree, some elementary education majors I know of having to take elementary algebra three times to pass,and now they teach high school math.
    Now they seem to think their blessed with a divine gift,wrong.I think as I’ve said before that all administrators,teachers,aides,whatever you want to call the rest of the nose pickers that hang with that bunch should be required to submit a CV,and that CV should be made available to the public,lets see what we’re paying for,and if its worth it ?

    • Rosalinda G. Garcia on November 20, 2014 at 12:06 am
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    Mr. Limon:

    It is Wednesday, 11:30 at night,. This morning I just skimmed through the front page of the VMS. I finally sit at my table tonight and open the paper and find your letter addressed to the San Benito Community. I myself, am also grateful for all your contributions to SBCISD. Thank-you for being a strong voice to the unconstitutional school finance debate. I was glad to read that you, Linda, and Alexa will continue to be involved in the community/district. It is awesome that you are more than willing to assist Dr. Puig in the transition phase, which does not surprise me one bit. Most of the time a new superintendent coming into a district is not as fortunate as Dr. Puig is going to be with you being there to assist him. One last thing, I truly believe that you do pray with all your heart for the students/staff of SBCISD and that God’s grace guide Dr. Puig during his tenure here.
    My Best Wishes to You and Your Family.

    Thanks for reading my blog.

    Rosalinda G. Garcia

    • Really on November 19, 2014 at 9:05 pm
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    Don’t expect too much about anything being addressed or changed because the new man in town is coming from a district of 430 students. Just a little more than Landum elem student count. Hear neighboring districts are looking for good teachers…. The great teachers of SBCISD will leave soon. I don’t blame them at least there they will be appreciated by all including their board members who know how to behave.
    People are lining up to vie for school board… Thank goodness as the three ladies need to go.
    We need people who have character and are not trying show everyone they are better than everyone else’s.

    • private on November 19, 2014 at 3:20 pm
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    Year after year we lose great teachers to neighboring districts like Harlingen because there is a $6,000 difference in pay. Does that make teachers greedy? No, why would they stick around for the same pay doing the same work. It’s not greed it’s common sense. In the Limon Era, only him and his buddies got raises while teachers have worked their tails off (because it’s not fair categorize all teachers as lazy) for years with a meager raise compared to thousands Limon received. I’m praying that this Superintendent will provide the leadership and sensibility that our district needs because our children deserve it.

    • Juan Ocha on November 19, 2014 at 11:42 am
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    In a world where taxes, cost of living, cost of goods, etc increases, it is natural for any person that is employed to want an increase in pay. As it it with housing, vehicles, or other property, competitive pricing (job pay in this case) is crucial if what is of value is to be gained (or kept in this case). It would be unwise to own a house that is worth $500,000 in a neighborhood full of $100,000 houses. It would also be unwise for a valued/skilled worker to take on a job with a salary of $35,000 when other employees of the same value/skill at the same place or close by are getting paid $45,000.

    That aside, as far as teachers/staff go and Triple P exhibiting a mentality that (in Juan’s opinion) has no care for students – Juan, have you ever considered that perhaps the reason the teachers/staff have the jobs they have and stick around (without pay raises and bonuses) is actually because of the students. It’s definitely not because of the pay, the school board, or politics. And it’s definitely not because they like reading or hearing about lame donkey comments like yours.

    • Juan on November 19, 2014 at 8:05 am
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    Triple P exhibits exactly the type of mentality that exists in the SB school system.Pay raises and bonuses for the teachers and staff,not a word about the students and their lack of ability to do addition,subtraction,or speak correct Spanish,or English.It’s not just the board that is at fault here,as I’m sure you already see,Mr. Puig,a whole bunch of others,teachers need to be changed out.They need to seek employment where they can make bigger bucks,not sure Walmart has that many greeter jobs available.

    • Triple P on November 18, 2014 at 9:15 am
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    ATTN: Mr. Limon
    Last topic to tackle (going away party): pay raises and/or Christmas bonus.

    ATTN: Mr Puig
    First topic to tackle (welcoming party): pay raises and/or bonus (Christmas if timing permits).

    • Como es Juan on November 17, 2014 at 11:03 pm
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    please keep your comments to yourself. This article is about Mr. Limon himself. Has nothing to do with politics. whether you like him or not, whether you thought he was a good superintendent, anyone that knows mr limon, would know what a good man he is to his family and to san benito. He will be missed.

    • FH out on November 17, 2014 at 2:45 pm
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    Mr. Limon, please take Fatima with you too. She has done nothing to improve this district, all she does is hide behind Yliana’s coat tail and nods yes or no. We ne need board members that have a mind of their own, that can advocate for our kids- doing it effortlessly and without hesitation. Fatima seems to sway which ever way is giving her and her family the biggest dinners and kickbacks. She doesnt speak! We need board members that can speak and be transparent about our school district.
    Fatima, do yourself a favor, don’t run because if you do, you are not going to win!

      • FH in on November 18, 2014 at 8:11 am
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      Don’t you mean riding Yliana’s coat tails? Get your idioms straight.

      But yes, she does need to talk more.

    • Davis Ezell on November 17, 2014 at 1:40 pm
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    I remember when I started my teaching career 8 years ago and meeting Mr. Limon. Here is this man I had only heard about calling me by name. I would see Mr. Limon from time to time and he would always call me by name. He would also tell me that if I needed anything for my students to let him know. I could tell by the look in his eyes and sincerity in his voice that he meant it. You have set the bar pretty high for the next person. Thank you for being someone my students could always count on.

    • Dr. Smetter on November 15, 2014 at 6:41 am
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    Mr. Limon, Thank you for providing the leadership and vision to create the sound, instructional programs at SBCISD. May God continue to bless you in your future endeavors.

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