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McAllen ISD board taps Gutierrez for superintendent in 5-2 vote

The McAllen Independent School District Board of Trustees picked Rene Gutierrez, current superintendent of Brownsville ISD, as lone finalist to lead McAllen schools during a special meeting Monday.

Gutierrez has served as superintendent in Brownsville since 2019.

DR. RENE GUTIERREZ. Photo courtesy of McAllen ISD

Interim Superintendent Rosalba De Hoyos — formerly an assistant superintendent at the district — has helmed McAllen ISD since former superintendent J.A. Gonzalez abruptly departed to lead Harlingen CISD in July.

Law requires the district wait 21 days before Gutierrez can officially be named superintendent.

A McAllen High School graduate, Gutierrez told the Progress Times Monday evening he still lives in McAllen and described being chosen to lead the district as a homecoming. He said he hopes to finish his career at McAllen ISD.

“For me, to be back home and to be back with my community, and to come back and be the instructional leader of the school district, it’s a dream come true,” Gutierrez said. “It was time for me to see if I could move and get back closer to home. It was just the right thing for me at the right time.”

After working as a teacher, counselor and principal, Gutierrez came onto the scene administratively at La Joya ISD, serving as that district’s assistant superintendent for administration and finance.

Edinburg CISD’s board hired Gutierrez from that position to his first superintendent gig in 2009 — he was described at the time as a “finance guru.”

Finances are likely the most pressing issue currently facing McAllen ISD.

Declining enrollment and associated decreases in funding have led to exceptionally tight budgets in the district.

This year’s budget process included a little over $7 million in belt-tightening measures, mostly through a staffing adjustment plan aimed at reassigning some administrators and losing about 100 employees through attrition.

The district embarked on that plan earlier this summer, but it’s not clear how much progress it made before Gonzalez’s departure and a significant amount of high-level administrator turnover.

Gutierrez promised a collaborative and thoughtful approach to finances, noting that funding is an issue for districts statewide.

“So obviously I’m going to dive into the McAllen ISD finances and see where we need to make improvements, working together with the staff, the board and the community,” he said. “Just getting familiar with McAllen ISD and seeing where we can make some improvements.”

Gutierrez served as superintendent of Edinburg CISD for a whopping ten years, far exceeding the average tenure for a superintendent and earning the first of two Region One Superintendent of the Year recognitions.

A contentious Edinburg bond push that failed preceded Gutierrez’s departure to lead Brownsville — the largest traditional school district by enrollment in the Rio Grande Valley — in 2019.

Gutierrez steered Brownsville schools through the pandemic and earned his second Superintendent of the Year award, though in recent weeks outright hostility between a split school board has been the dominant trait of that district’s leadership.


In McAllen, Board President Debbie Crane Aliseda and Trustee Lizzie Kittleman voted against naming Gutierrez lone finalist Monday.

Trustees discussed the decision for almost two hours behind closed doors in executive session, though the board didn’t talk about it in public.

Crane Aliseda said after the meeting that she opposed the choice based on the salary difference between Gutierrez and Gonzalez — which is significant.

Last year, according to the Texas Education Agency, McAllen ISD paid Gonzalez a base salary of $267,300. Moving to Harlingen earned him about $30,000 more.

Gutierrez, in contrast, is being paid $354,128 in Brownsville — the highest base pay of any superintendent in Region One ESC, which consists of Deep South Texas.

“When our previous superintendent expressed his intention to leave for a higher paying district, we did not make him a counteroffer, because we believed his base salary was fair in comparison with our staff,” Crane Aliseda wrote in a text. “It is with that rationale that I voted no to the naming of Dr. Rene Gutierrez as our lone finalist because, while I value his lengthy experience and obvious expertise, I believe his current base salary in Brownsville presents too big of a challenge for successful negotiations during these 21 days.”

Crane Aliseda also expressed her hope that an upcoming McAllen ISD voter approved tax rate election could ameliorate some of the district’s employee compensation issues.

Gutierrez didn’t say much about the over $80,000 pay difference.

“So that’s going to be something that we’re going to be working on in the next 21 days to finalize a contract,” he told the Progress Times.

Kittleman, on the other hand, simply said that she felt Gutierrez wasn’t quite the best choice for the job.

“After extensively evaluating each candidate, I concluded that there are other candidates who are a better fit for the needs and the vision of McAllen ISD,” she wrote.

The McAllen board landed on Gutierrez after an exceptionally short search — a little over a month — prompted by an outflux of administrators this summer.

Crane Aliseda said last month that the district received a good number of applicants (though she wouldn’t say how many) and conducted interviews with four strong candidates.

Interim Superintendent De Hoyos previously said she planned to apply for the permanent post, though it’s not clear if she interviewed.

McAllen American Federation of Teachers President Sylvia Tanguma said Tuesday that she was surprised to see the board name a lone finalist — she’d expected another round of interviews or perhaps the search being winnowed down to two finalists.

“However, now that the school board trustees have made and voted on that decision, we want to welcome the new superintendent to McAllen ISD,” Tanguma said. “We look forward to working with him and the needed improvements that will be made under his leadership, specifically employee salary improvements.”


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