By Becky Brewster
The Culberson County-Allamoore ISD Board of Trustees met again on February 2 in special session to consider a Level Three Grievance filed by District Business Office Manager Julie Uranga against Superintendent Dalia Benavidez. The Board approved an agreement with outside counsel to advise the Board regarding the personnel grievance, and immediately called said counsel via phone to advise them in closed session. Lisa Soto, representing Uranga, again requested that the Grievance Hearing be held in open session; and again, Benavidez chose to have the hearing behind closed doors stating that it was for the “betterment of the District” to have the hearing in closed session. So those in attendance were again excused from the board room to wait…and wait some more.
The grievance arose after Uranga was issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the Superintendent which is a disciplinary action. Uranga had contacted the auditor regarding apparent discrepancies in credit card receipts when she was unable to get the requested backup documentation on some of the receipts. She subsequently filed a report with the Texas Education Agency alleging misuse of District credit cards. In many instances, the actual credit card receipt was available but not an itemized receipt. At the Superintendent’s request, an audit was conducted on the use of the District credit cards and 185 transactions from August 2015 through October 2016 were reviewed. Of the 185 transactions, one was a personal expense, (ultimately reimbursed to the District), and 23 transactions had insufficient documentation to determine if a transaction was allowable or not personal. The majority of these were credit card receipts for meals that did not have the itemized receipt to show what was actually purchased. The audit also revealed that several items did not have the required approvals in place and several were miscoded in the accounting system. Although the auditor suggested that internal controls be enhanced, he stated that he didn’t “really see a huge concern, overall”.
This time, the closed session only lasted a little over an hour. When the meeting was finally reconvened, the Board addressed the grievance items one by one.
Item One: Rescind the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) issued by Supt. Benavides: DENIED. (The response to the Level One/Two Grievance informed Uranga that she could file a rebuttal statement to be attached to the MOU.)
Item Two: Allow grievant to communicate freely with the auditor, and any individual or agency with whom she needs to communicate to effectively do her job (including board members). DENIED. Uranga was advised that she needs to go through the chain-of-command.
Item Three: Allow the grievant to address the Board on the issues in the grievance and on the complaint filed with TEA. DENIED as being a moot point since Uranga has already been allowed to address the Board.
Item Four: That the grievant not be retaliated against or treated in a hostile manner for reporting the Superintendent’s activity or for filing grievance. GRANTED.
Item Five: That the Board approve assistance from a professional third party to mediate between the Superintendent and grievant. DENIED.
It was stated that this “addresses the Level Three Grievance. “
In other business, the Board also approved a Teacher Training Plan to allow 22-24 teachers to attend the Ron Clark Academy in Georgia using funds provided to the District by a grant from Chevron. The remaining grant funds are earmarked for math and science training and additional STEM materials.