Texas Education Agency officials have arrived in Manor to investigate opposing accusations that have embroiled the school district's top leaders, Manor school board members confirmed Monday.
The inquiries at the district, which include document reviews and interviews with employees and board members, led Manor district trustees to postpone a vote Monday night on whether to order disciplinary action against Superintendent Royce Avery.
Board member Matildy "Sam" Samaripa Jr. said he wasn't sure when they would take up the vote again, but he said it would make sense for them to wait until the agency's investigation is complete.
For months, Avery has been under the lens while the board reviews a "DIA" complaint, which is what school districts in Texas call grievances regarding possible discrimination, harassment or retaliation against an employee. The issue appeared again on Monday's meeting agenda.
"I'd just like to thank the community for being patient with the board," said board member Monique Celedon, who served as acting president at the meeting because board President Elmer Fisher Jr., who is a subject in the state investigation, did not attend. "There are several investigations going on through TEA, and I can only speak for myself when I say, guys, be patient. Thank you for your time and your understanding, and we're going to get through this together."
Manor's mayor appeared at Monday's meeting and told school board members that these issues have taken up far too much of their time and attention.
"If you have a disagreement with someone, discuss, argue — but come to some resolution," Mayor Rita G. Jonse said. "Dragging it on for months accomplishes nothing."
The board has held at least a dozen previous meetings since March about Avery’s performance, his contract and two grievances made against him by two employees. He had faced termination, but last month the school board voted 4-3 to have him continue his contract through June soon after some district officials stepped up to defend him and the state education agency got involved.
According to documents obtained by the American-Statesman, in one grievance against the superintendent, the district’s fine arts director alleged that Avery falsely accused him of sexual misconduct. In a second grievance, a school administrator alleged that Avery asked him to change some expenditure data.
The school board hired an outside investigator to review the grievances, but the outcome of those investigations has not been made public. The Statesman has put in a number of open records requests for such documents, but district officials have refused to release them and asked the Texas attorney general's office for a ruling on whether they must.
Some of Avery’s supporters saw the grievances filed against him as an effort to oust him, and three district officials filed complaints with the Texas Education Agency asking the state agency to intervene. The complaints filed with the state agency allege, among other things, that Fisher violated board policies and state laws, conspired with two employees and other board members to discredit Avery, and violated the Open Meetings Act by “discussing and agreeing to fire the superintendent while away from board meetings.”
Fisher did not return a call from the Statesman seeking comment Tuesday.
In a notice to the district dated Aug. 14, the state agency informed the district that its special investigative unit is reviewing the claims. While the letter says the agency is focusing on allegations of an Open Meetings Act violation and that Fisher unilaterally approved expenses, it also instructs district officials to submit various documents, including the grievances against the superintendent.