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LJISD cabinet reduces from five assistant superintendents to three

Following this week’s regular called board meeting, only three Assistant Superintendents will serve in cabinet positions at La Joya ISD.

On Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021, an item on the agenda called for the approval of a resolution declaring a program change within administration at the La Joya Independent School District. According to the agenda package posted online, the district’s board policy authorizes Superintendent Dr. Gisela Saenz to recommend a program change to the board if “there is a need for a redirection for resources; efforts to improve efficiency, change in enrollment, a lack of student response to course offerings, legislative revisions to programs, or a reorganization or consolidation of two or more individual schools, departments or school districts.”

A program change is defined as “any elimination, curtailment, or reorganization of a program, department, school operation or curriculum offering.” It can include changing curriculum objectives, modifying the master schedule, restructure instructional delivery methods or modifying/reorganizing staffing patterns in a department, on a particular campus or district-wide.

The agenda package states that Saenz recommended to the board that the positions of Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources and Assistant Superintendent of Student Services would be the ones affected. It also includes that the duties of these two positions would be added to the positions of the remaining assistant superintendents “in the manner the Superintendent determines is in the best interest of the district.”

Board Vice President Armin Garza made motion to approve the program change, which was seconded by Board Secretary Dr. Alda Benavides.

The current total enrollment count as of Jan. 5, 2021 is 26,658, which is 722 less students than this time last year. Board members Dr. Nereyda Cantu, Alex Cantu and Mary Hernandez expressed concern over the program change, for differing reasons.

Alex Cantu first questioned the item, stating that all the departments have been working tirelessly since the COVID-19 pandemic started, and he strongly felt that the move should have been to implement the program change before moving into the addition of two new executive director positions. He also said the two positions in question in the program change were essential, and should not be altered at this time.

“Why don’t we start with positions that don’t directly affect our students?” Alex Cantu said. “We’re not going into any special projects, we’re not going into anything like that. Why don’t we just start looking in other areas where it doesn’t affect the students directly?”

Dr. Nereyda Cantu said the positions being impacted by the program change have been at the front lines of the district when it comes to facing the pandemic, and are essential workers.

“I’d just like an explanation,” Dr. Nereyda Cantu said. “We’re constantly praising the tremendous job our cabinet and our crisis team have done, including our superintendent. It’s really difficult for me to understand how, if we are going to make these adjustments or program changes, we are going to start with our frontline employees who have worked through weekends, through summers, through vacations.”

Prior to the program change, two executive director positions were approved by the board – Executive Director for Assessment & Accountability and Executive Director for Student Services. Mary Hernandez said she wasn’t sure why the two executive director positions were being brought back for approval, considering they were eliminated (and their duties reallocated) “not too long ago.”

“We’re opening them again?” Hernandez said. “To me, that doesn’t make any sense. We’re trying to cut down, and then we’re opening up some other positions? Something that we had moved on from already. Why are we doing this? Why are we closing positions and now bringing them back in? To me, it’s just contradicting itself.”

Board Secretary Dr. Alda Benavides praised Saenz’s initiative to make these changes in a timely manner, as they were “long overdue.”

“The district continues to lose students, and we’re seeing it,” Benavides, the former superintendent of schools, said. “I know when we had 29,000 students, we had three assistant superintendents. We were able to handle that. The work should continue, it’s not like the duties are not going to be done.”

The motion for a program change was passed by Board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas, Garza, Benavides and Espie Ochoa. Dr. Nereyda Cantu and Alex Cantu voted against the item.

When asked why the program change was being made only to bring back those two executive director positions, Saenz said they only brought the new positions up for approval in the event that they were needed.

“We just want to have these positions available in case we need them as we consider staffing for next year,” Saenz said. “This program change is very broad in nature according to the resolution.”

Dr. Nereyda Cantu and Alex stated that the newly approved executive director positions should be taken over by the cabinet members who were being shifted in the program change.

As Dr. Nereyda Cantu and Alex Cantu continued to ask questions, Board President Oscar “Coach” Salinas said that because the motion was made and passed, any further inquiries could be directed to Saenz at a later date. The board then moved into executive session.

The Executive Director for Assessment & Accountability position’s purpose is to “assist and promote a rigorous curriculum/instructional program that supports student success and achievement for the district.” The pay plan for this position is from $97,340 to $131,697.

The Executive Director for Student Services position’s purpose is to “assist and promote the implementation of a rigorous student support program that promotes student success and achievement.” The pay plan for this position is from $91,512 to $127,676.

Dr. Gisela Saenz sent a letter on Jan. 15, 2021 to all principals and department leaders informing them of the staffing changes. According to the letter, the Administration, Finance, and Human Resources Departments have been consolidated under Assistant Superintendent Joel Treviño.

The Operations and Student Services Departments will be consolidated under Assistant Superintendent Ricardo Villarreal, and the Curriculum and Instruction Department will be under the supervision of Assistant Superintendent Martin Munoz. Magda Villarreal (former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction) and Jose Luis Morin (former Assistant Superintendent for Student Services) were not named in the letter.  

In the letter, Saenz states that the changes were to “improve efficiency in District operations and continue to provide educational excellence for all students,” and also cited the global pandemic as making the 2020-2021 school year challenging.

“Student enrollment has declined substantially, impacting the District’s finances adversely,” the letter wrote. “This staffing change will allow La Joya ISD to maximize District resources while still providing excellent leadership.”

1 Comment

  1. Roel Benavides on January 16, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    I have always asked why we neede so many Assistant Superintendents, $ 500,000.00 + in salaries. This was long overdue, the pandemic has hurt our tax base, and come next year no assistant superintendent nor executive director should make more than $ 80,000.00. Great job Dr. Saenz.

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