Over the 2023 summer, a Mission community member publicly requested a forensic audit of Mission CISD following the accusation that the superintendent’s contract was at risk of violating the Texas Education Code. Even though the district has not done a forensic audit yet, one of the board members says it is time for the trustees to reevaluate the paperwork themselves.
When the school board hired Superintendent Dr. Carol G. Perez in 2018, her original contract ended in 2021. In June 2019, the trustees extended her contract to 2024. Then, in January 2020, the board amended the contract again, extending it to 2027 for a yearly $275,779.20. Nine months later, they approved another extension to 2030. The problem is that section 11.201 of the TEA code states a superintendent contract cannot exceed five years.
However, Mission CISD attorney David Hansen said the contract is not considered illegal because of a provision that limits the terms.
He explained that the contract has a controlling law that basically overrides the document. Paragraph 8.1 states: “This contract shall be governed by the laws of the state of Texas and shall be performable in Hidalgo County, Texas, unless otherwise provided by law.”
“If that provision weren’t in there, then I think there would be a problem,” Hansen said. “But…having that provision in there says, ‘Texas law is going to prevail.’”
The attorney continued.
“So even if the contract says that it was 10 years or 15 years, as a matter of law, the contract itself says you have to construe it in the courts of Texas law,” Hansen said. “So it can never be longer than five years. So as I’m sitting here today, it’s a five year contract.”
Hansen, an attorney of the firm Eichelbaum Wardell Hansen Powell & Muñoz, P.C., said paragraph 8.1 is a rolling limitation. Because Texas law can change, the limitation ensures the contract is always compliant with Texas law as the state makes updates. The limitation also ensures that a school district can’t contract for so long that it is unable to buy itself out of a contract.
“So, let’s say a superintendent was suing for breach of contract and saying, ‘I deserve 10 years.’ Well, the court’s going to say, ‘Well, you may say that, but you can’t contract for something that is longer than that period,’” he explained. “So they’re going to construe the contract to be the maximum number of years, which is the five years, or whatever the statute is at the time.”
But Hansen could not speak to whether the board knew about the limiting contract provision before approving the extensions.
“That would get into matters of attorney client privilege and discussion about what kind of advice they would get. So that’s something I’m not really able to wave in terms of advice,” he said.
At the time of the contract extensions, the board members were Veronica “Betty” Mendoza, Petra Ramirez, Minnie Rodgers, Jerry Zamora, Charlie Garcia III, Patricia O’Caña-Olivarez and Dr. Sonia Treviño; the latter three are no longer on the board.
In the meetings where they approved the contract extensions, the board does so without dissenting votes and without public discussion. Following the decisions, the board members can be seen in the videos clapping, lightly cheering and congratulating the superintendent.
However, trustee Jerry Zamora said he doesn’t remember agreeing on the contract being longer than the state mandate.
“I don’t ever remember discussing extending her contract those many years,” Zamora said. “When that happened, I don’t recall, I don’t know. And that’s been my question — when did this happen? Because in other contracts, we’ve always gone with what the law mandates. And as far as I can remember, I never voted on extending a contract that long.”
And even though Hansen said the school district does not legally need to revisit the contract, trustee Jerry Zamora said he wants to reexamine the documentation, including the amendment that grants Perez a lump sum payment of $20,000 if she receives an evaluation score of a certain level.
“It was a surprise to me when I was made aware of the length and some of the incentives of the superintendent’s contract,” Zamora said. “But in light of the school district’s latest test ratings, I think we need to reevaluate the superintendent’s contract. This is one of the ways we can ensure accountability for the administration and reassess what our students need from us to succeed.”