By J. NOEL ESPINOZA
Special to the NEWS
A week after a visiting judge temporarily suspended Michael A. Vargas, head of the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees, the board president has decided to resign.
A press release issued on Thursday by SBCISD Public Relations Director Isabel Gonzalez states the board of trustees will meet to discuss and accept the resignation on Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at 6 p.m.
The NEWS attempted to reach Vargas, but he did not respond to calls.
The press release also asserts that under Texas Education Code, the remaining trustees are authorized to fill the vacancy by appointment.
“We must focus on the success of our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Nate Carman in the press release. “Our main priority is and will always be to produce graduates that are lifelong learners.”
Retired Judge Manuel Banales ruled Dec. 13 to temporarily suspend Vargas after school district residents filed a removal petition following his arrest for driving while intoxicated in the early hours of July 5 in Harlingen.
A trial had been also set for April 13, but with his resignation, that trial may not occur.
“We actually don’t know,” said Jose Caso, one of Vargas’s lawyers representing him on his petition removal case, when asked what will happen to the judge’s ruling and the April 13 trial. “At this point, we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”
If Vargas goes through with his resignation on Monday and the school board accepts it, Caso said they will meet with the court to check whether they want to proceed with the case or whether it’s finished.
“From our end, we think that they will be done,” Caso said. “But, maybe the court has a different point of view.”
In addition to the April 13 trial, Caso said they also have some pending issues such as a declaratory action in a counterclaim dispute.
“We filed a counterclaim,” Caso said. “Even if they dismiss the claim that they asserted, we haven’t dismissed ours.”
Caso said those claims deal with affirmative defenses and constitutional challenges to the statute.
“The question is ‘can we proceed with those’ or do they become ‘muted,’ meaning if, in fact, Michael is no longer in the board,” Caso said.
If the school board accepts Vargas’s resignation, SBCISD Vice-president Orlando Lopez said they will meet with the school legal counsel and discuss the options they have to appoint a new board member. Lopez and Vargas made up the school board majority along with Secretary Janie Silva, and board members Victor Eloy Rosas, and Sonia Weaver.
“If he feels that’s what he wants, then I support it 100 percent,” Lopez responded to Vargas’s resignation.
If it is feasible, Lopez said they will probably discuss in executive session any possible candidates to replace Vargas.
Angel Mendez, an outspoken member of the school board, said Vargas is making the right decision.
“At the end of the day, I think he’s doing the right thing so the district can move forward,” Mendez said. “From day one, all of this could have been avoided, but we went a different route. I think he just realizes it and thank goodness for that.”
Once the resignation is accepted, Mendez said he likes the idea of Judge Banales’s recommendation of taking applications or the alternative of waiting until May when a new election takes place.
Mendez said he hopes the next board member realizes that the appointment is a position to represent the people.
“They represent the students, they represent the community,” Mendez said. “In reality, now you are going to be in the public eye.”