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La Joya ISD superintendent abruptly ‘retires’ after reaching agreement with school board

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story was updated Friday, March 1, 2019.

Superintendent Alda T. Benavides abruptly “announced her retirement” Monday after three decades with the La Joya Independent School District.

Without any public discussion, the school board approved an agreement with Benavides on Monday night and announced her retirement.

DrBenavidesBoard President Claudia Ochoa refused to answer questions about the agreement or why Benavides abruptly retired. She referred The Progress Times to a news release, which attorneys for the district described as a joint statement by Benavides and the board.

“Dr. Alda Benavides has announced her retirement as Superintendent of Schools for the La Joya Independent School District. An Agreement has been reached which allows Dr. Benavides the ability to retire and to pursue other interests and permits the Board to pursue hiring another Superintendent,” according to the statement. “The Board and Dr. Benavides have entered into the Agreement believing it is in their respective best interests and in the best interests of the District.”

The statement didn’t explain why she abruptly retired or specify when, exactly, her retirement took effect.

The statement also didn’t explain why Benavides apparently walked away from her $319,000 salary and an employment contract that expired in August 2021.

Ochoa, who became the board president Monday night, said she considered the issue a personnel matter — and that, as a rule, she doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

Benavides didn’t attend the meeting and didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“We’re not at liberty to speak in regards to Dr. B at this moment,” said Trustee Armin Garza, who added that attorneys had advised the board not to make any comments beyond the prepared statement.

After approving the agreement with Benavides, the board announced that Assistant Superintendent Gisela Saenz would serve as interim superintendent. Trustees also authorized attorney Jaime “Jerry” Muñoz to start searching for a permanent replacement.

With guidance from the school board, Benavides steered the district through a period of steady growth.

The district opened 10 new campuses, including six new elementary schools, maintained an “A” financial rating and earned numerous academic distinctions during her tenure, according to the statement released Monday night.

“As a whole we just want to extend our gratitude to Ms. Benavides for everything that she’s done,” Garza said.

Trustee Oscar “Coach” Salinas, who made the motion to approve the agreement with Benavides, said she served the district well.

“I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart,” Salinas said.

Benavides graduated from La Joya High School in 1971 and earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Pan American University.

After seven years with the McAllen Independent School District and a stint at the Region One Education Service Center, she returned to La Joya as a counselor. Benavides earned several promotions before taking the top job in September 2006.

“The Board extends its best wishes to Dr. Benavides in her future endeavors,” according to the statement released Monday night. “On its part, the Board will soon begin its search for a new Superintendent as not to disrupt the District’s operations.”

Benavides wasn’t the only high-ranking administrator to depart in February.

Assistant Superintendent Alfredo Vela started taking personal days on Feb. 5. Asked whether or not he would return to work before June, when he plans to retire, Vela said he didn’t know.

“I doubt it,” Vela said. “But we’ll see what the future holds.”

Vela spent 17 years with the school district, where he supervised administration and finance.

“I enjoyed my time at La Joya ISD. They treated me well,” Vela said. “They accepted me as one of their own and I always got full support from the board, Dr. B and the staff.”

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