BY ROBERT MORALES
After almost three years as CCAISD Superintendent, Marc Puig has decided to call it quits in Van Horn. San Benito Consolidated Independent School District hired Mr. Puig last Thursday evening. San Benito CISD is located between Harlingen and Brownsville; it is a 5-A school district.
Mr. Puig arrived at CCAISD during a tumultuous period. The districtâ€™s budget was in the red thanks to former Superintendent Guillermo Mancha who did not believe in balancing budgets. After leaving CCAISD, the board hired Santos Lujan as interim superintendent, and that did not go very well either.
Mr. Puig had formerly served as assistant superintendent at Luling ISD near Austin. The CCAISD board of directors unanimously hired Mr. Puig in June 2012.
During his tenure here, Mr. Puig has recommended difficult and sometimes controversial decisions that the board of trustees have approved. For example, to help balance the budget immediately after his arrival, he promoted a Reduction in Force (RIF) that led to the elimination of several positions, including teachers.
The RIF was one element that in fact balanced the budget in 2013. Subsequently, CCAISD had a surplus budget, in part because of the rising property values and increased oil and gas drilling. Because of the stateâ€™s outdated and inefficient manner of financing public education, some districts, including CCAISD, would have to give a substantial amount of tax dollars back to the state.
The so-called Robin Hood plan forced even very modest districts such as CCAISD to return money to help finance other school districts.
After balancing the budget, Mr. Puig immediately recommended to trustees that the Van Horn High School campus shut be shut down and consolidate it into two schools.
Because of declining enrollment, students at Van Horn High School consolidated at the former Van Horn Junior High. It appears the plan has worked.
To prevent millions of local property tax dollars from going back to state coffers, Mr. Puig then recommended that trustees approve a new stadium, field house and track field. The project was approved, and for the first time in about 35 years, the Eagles played on a new football field this season.
Mr. Puig will be leaving before the end of the school year, and that decision may be viewed by some as unpopular. Mr. Puig answered this question and others for the Advocate in the following interview:
Some will say that you were here to build your resume and move on to another district as soon as the opportunity arose. For those critics, how would you respond?
I was hired in CCAISD to help rebuild the district. In short order, we have increased our fund balance by 90 percent, made several capital improvements, including a new stadium for our students and community. Equally important, we have improved our overall Van Horn brand and image, as evidence our Texas Honor Board distinction.
You arrived at CCAISD when the district budget was in the red, and employee morale was at probably at an all-time low. Please explain in detail what actions you took to immediately remediate the problems with which you were confronted during your first year. Please elaborate on your plan to improve not only the districtâ€™s finances, but the districtâ€™s image.
We took three basic steps: (1) We created a competitive pay structure, increasing teacher and auxiliary staff salaries by 15 percent over three years. (2) We took a zero-based budget approach and basically rebuilt the budget from bottom up, this resulted in a 25-percent savings during our first two years. and (3) we leveraged attrition and eventually called for a reduction in force via a program change, allowing the district to budget to formula for the first time, and focus on student outcomes.
CCAISD was your first superintendent position. When you reflect upon this job in five or 10 years, how do you think you will view your first job as superintendent?
This superintendency was an amazing learning experience. I hope we can look back in five or 10 years and say we made decisions that had a positive and lasting impact on the students and community of Van Horn.
You are leaving before the school year ends in June 2015. You will very likely receive criticism from board members in private and from the locals. What do you say to them?
For the first time in the history of CCAISD, the Van Horn is home to a Texas Honor Board. I am incredibly humbled to have worked for such a cohesive school board. They are truly amazing! They are the owners, and most importantly, co-leaders of this community; therefore the future success of the district will ultimately rest on their shoulders. I trust the school board will continue to advocate and promote positive change.
An interim superintendent will have to be hired very soon. Based upon the comments I have received from various persons at CCAISD and from the community, you will likely recommend to the board that a local administrator be appointed for the temporary job. Do you think this is a wise decision? If the answer is yes, why?
I will certainly make suggestions to the board regarding possible interim superintendents. But ultimately it is the boardâ€™s decision to select a temporary replacement and I respect their authority to do so.
Finally, please feel free to give me your comments about how you feel about your job as superintendent at CCAISD.
I am proud of the work weâ€™ve accomplished in CCAISD. There remains much more work to do. I know the board will select a person with the right gifts and skills to continue to take their vision forward.