Second setback for lawyer fighting to save La Marque jobs

By Trishna Buch

THE ATTORNEY who last week tried in vain to overturn the firing of 19 La Marque independent school district teachers suffered the same fate again on Wednesday as 29 at-will and probationary contract employees were told a similar decision would stand.
The district’s state-imposed temporary board of managers voted unanimously to uphold a decision to continue the termination that temporary superintendent Willis Mackey made in May after the employees had protested their earlier blanket firing during a grievance hearing.
During Wednesday’s appeal, management-board president Jack Christiana said the grievances had been consolidated previously into two separate complaints.
One was that former Texas education commissioner Michael Williams had not had the authority to remove the district’s board of trustees, install a temporary board of managers and order the district’s annexation by Texas City ISD.
The second was that the fired employees had not been given proper notice of their blanket termination.
Amanda Moore, staff attorney for Texas State Teachers Association, asked the board to rescind the termination, saying it was not in the best interests of the community, students or employees.
“My clients did not engage in any conduct that would warrant a termination,” she said.
“This termination was not done in compliance with the law or board policy.”
Moore said that, while the schools and programs at which the employees had worked would remain, their employment would not.
“A name change is not a program change”, she said, adding that Williams, who stood down as commissioner on December 31, had had no authority to terminate the employees’ contracts and that it seemed as if the board did not care, evidenced by the fact that the employees had been told to “resign or be fired”.
She said: “Their lives will be disrupted and they will lose their salary. The years of experience for the employees range from two to 30. And, being with the district for over 30 years, the last thing you want to hear is ‘resign or be fired’.”
But Sarah Langlois, attorney for the district’s administration, argued that the management-board members had been hired to “ensure a smooth transition to TCISD” and that the employees’ contracts had been terminated because it was the only legal way to end their employment by the La Marque district.
“The grievance argues that these individual employees did not engage in conduct warranting termination,” she said.
“That is true. Their terminations were not based on any particular actions or misconduct of these individuals. Rather, these individuals’ employment at La Marque is terminated because the district will cease to exist tomorrow at midnight.”
That was a reference to the state-enforced takeover of the district by neighboring Texas City ISD from Friday.
Langlois said the management-board members could not rescind the decision to terminate the contracts because they had no authority to make appointment decisions for another school district but they did feel sympathy for the fired employees.
She said: “On behalf of the administration, we’d like to say we empathize with the worry and the sadness that the closure of La Marque has brought and the hardship of the termination of employment that this will inevitably bring to these individuals.”
But Moore would not accept Langlois’ sympathies.
“My clients do not want empathy or sympathy,” she said. “They want their jobs.”

Attorney: We’re not done yet

But former trustee says ‘the fat lady has now sung’

AMANDA MOORE reacted to Wednesday’s decision by announcing that she will be lodging appeals in both that day’s case and the management board’s June 20 decision not to reinstate 19 teachers formerly contracted by the district.
But Nakisha Paul, president of the district’s former board of trustees, told The Post she fears the battle could be part of a lost war.
Her comments came just days after the state’s supreme court denied the former trustees’ petition for a review of a decision by an Austin appeals court not to grant an injunction preventing the state closing down the district.
Lawyer Moore said she will lobby state education commissioner, Mike Morath, for the contract teachers by their case’s July 10 deadline to appeal and will also file an appeal with him on behalf of the at-will and probationary contract employees involved in Wednesday’s case before its mid-August deadline.
She told The Post she has 45 calendar days to file the appeal, which produces a deadline of August 13.
Speaking about the annexation, Paul said: “Our main focus is the students. We want the best for them. Everything needs to be fair, across the board.
“Whatever happens in Texas City should happen in La Marque. We have fought a long and hard fight and we want to see progress.”
Turning to the firing of the LMISD employees, she said: “I have a total problem with how the Texas education agency allowed TCISD to allow the board to fire them. There was no strategic planning, no process. It is unfair to not leave anyone of familiarity for the students.”
The decision for annexation came late last year after the state said LMISD had barely met its academic standards and had not met its financial reporting standards.
The then education commissioner, Michael Williams, removed Paul and her fellow trustees, hired a temporary board of managers and replaced superintendent Terri Watkins.
A still defiant Paul said that decision still hurts, adding: “I always tell media that it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. Well, I guess the fat lady has now sung.”

Rodney Albright will oversee College Of The Mainland for the next few months while it searches for a new president. Trishna Buch sat down with him on Wednesday for his first media interview after becoming the college’s interim president on Monday.

COLLEGE Of The Mainland’s new interim president is a movie buff who also likes nothing better than to settle down with a good book or two within reach.

Rodney Albright with COM students 2016Rodney Albright began meeting COM’s students when he moved in this week. Photo courtesy COM

Rodney Albright is no stranger to education, having earned associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as a doctorate in jurisprudence, before becoming president of Alvin community college.
He took the COM reins from its fiscal-affairs vice president, Clem Burton, this week after Burton had filled in as acting president following previous president Beth Lewis’ resignation last month.
A resident of Alvin, Albright worked at Alvin community college for a total of 45 years, working first as a teacher and then spending 38 years in the president’s chair.
When we sat down in the president’s office at COM’s Amburn Road campus, Albright told me that his job at ACC was his introduction to a school system in a professional capacity before explaining how he came to be the college’s long-serving president.
“I was teaching behavioral sciences and criminal justice classes,” he said.
“I was also going to law school. I then started working for the college president as his assistant. He had to take an emergency leave and the board appointed me temporarily. I then, sort of, inherited the position.”
When I asked about his reasons for taking up the interim presidency at College Of The Mainland, he replied: “I came over to talk with the board of trustees about the situation and they asked me some questions about Alvin and about what went on there,” he said.
“They then asked me about the position as interim president. I went home and spoke with my wife and, knowing that the search would be around four to six months, I spoke to them again and felt that I could serve in an interim capacity. They assured me that the faculty and staff were stable.”
Albright told me he particularly hopes to accomplish one major task in the next few months.
“Number one on the list is to develop a proposed budget for submission to the board of trustees,” he said.
“That budget will be operational for the college for the next 12 months, starting on September 1. It’s very important to get a budget that is developed from the ground up so that the departments have submitted not just a budget request but justifications. And that justification goes with the budget figure to the board.”
I asked about Albright’s background and his interests. He told me that he earned his associate’s degree in the arts from Navarro College in Corsicana, his bachelor-of-science and master-of-arts degrees from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville and his doctorate from South Texas College Of Law in Houston.
The father of twin daughters enjoys movies and reading. “I like to read mysteries and science fiction,” he said.
“Among my favorites are the Jack Reacher books. But you could pick almost any author and I like to read them.”
Albright could not resist telling me about his proudest moment in his professional life. It came when he was awarded the title president emeritus by Alvin community college’s board of regents.
“I was the first person they ever bestowed that honor on,” he said.
“It really surprised me and I was very touched. The culmination of my career was getting that neat title.”
Our conversation ended with me asking him what his next steps will be on leaving his position as COM’s interim president.
“I don’t know; I’m a licensed attorney and certified as a hearing officer for the Texas education agency,” he said.
“I might do that again. Right now, though, I’m focusing on the college.”

Lewis’ interim replacement moves in

By Trishna Buch

RETIRED community-college president Rodney Albright took over as College Of The Mainland interim president on Monday after a unanimous vote of approval by the college’s board of trustees.

Albright, Rodney alvincc_pres    Rodney Albright

The former 30-year president of Alvin community college, who had kept the board waiting for several days while deciding whether to accept its offer of the position, took over from acting president Clem Burton.
The college’s fiscal-affairs vice president, Burton stepped down from the presidency during the meeting, saying: “College Of The Mainland is a great place. There is a great staff, a great cabinet and you made it easy.”
Albright’s appointment comes after COM president Beth Lewis resigned at a board meeting in May.
The approaching termination of her contract and tensions between her and some of the trustees had played a part in her decision.
Lewis had taken the presidency on January 1, 2013, and her contract was due to expire on December 31 this year. She has since become provost and academic-affairs vice president at Del Mar college in Corpus Christi.
Monday’s meeting included no details of the college’s search for her full-status replacement.
During the meeting, Albright said: “I’ve known College Of The Mainland since I first started teaching college at Alvin Community College. “We’ve had successful partnerships. I consider College Of The Mainland a
sister institution.
“I’m here to work with you. It’s a team approach and no one person is going to accomplish what needs to be accomplished to make this a continuing success.”

Last hurrah for school district

By Trishna Buch

WITH little fuss, the state-imposed management board wrote the last page in the official annals of La Marque independent school district on Thursday, conducting its final meeting in just 10 minutes.
The sparsely attended meeting ended quickly and uneventfully, with some rubber-stamping of mundane administrative business accompanied by a couple of comments from the floor and board members.
One administrative matter the board addressed was the purchase of a two-year extension to the insurance policy that protects the district and its management from legal action.
The policy, provided by Texas Association Of School Boards, will continue to run from July 1 until June 30, 2018, the period covered by a two-year statute of limitations governing the right to sue school districts.
Interim district superintendent Willis Mackey explained that extending the policy was necessary because, although the district will no longer be in existence, someone could still sue its members.
A representative from TASB was in attendance to explain the policy further.
“It does protect you,” she said. “If there’s something brewing out there that you don’t know about but they decide they’re going to sue a board member and La Marque ISD, this coverage is what is going to protect you.
“Otherwise, you are exposed and you would have to find your own defense and pay for it yourself.”
Referring to the district’s behavioral adjustment class during public comments, one woman thanked Mackey and the board members for “all their support for the BAC class”.
Board president Jack Christiana then told the small audience: “This is the last meeting that we’ll have. I’m disappointed in the turnout but I’d like to thank the folks that come regularly since we’ve been at this for the last six months.
“I want to thank the administration for their cooperation and efforts.”
Turning towards his fellow board members, he said: “I’d especially like to thank all of you for your service and I’m sure the community appreciates it. I appreciate it. I think you’ve done a great job.”
And with that, all that was left to complete the history of La Marque ISD was the footnote that will cover the keep-safe work being undertaken by Mackey and his staff until Texas City’s district annexes its next-door-neighbor on July 1.

New job for Lewis, no interim for COM

By Ian White

BETH LEWIS has been hired by a south-Texas community college just days after The Post revealed the possibility.
But College Of The Mainland seems no nearer appointing an interim president to take her place after tapping retired Alvin community-college president Rodney Albright for the job on Monday.
Corpus Christi’s Del Mar college announced on Thursday that Lewis, who resigned as COM president on May 23, has been appointed its provost and academic-affairs vice president.

Keas, Lenora 2016               Lenora Keas

She had been in the frame for the job as one of three candidates for several weeks and took part in a meet-and-greet session with students on April 27, when COM board members were resisting public pressure to keep her as their executive officer.
Married to former county-based newspaperman Talbert Aulds, she will take over from interim Del Mar provost Lenora Keas on August 1, immediately becoming involved in completing a $157m capital-improvement program.

Lewis, Beth COM president-2014 web ready              Beth Lewis

It is believed that Keas, who chairs the college’s business administration department, will return to her full-time responsibilities as vice president of its workforce development and strategic initiatives.
Speaking during the April 27 event, Lewis praised Del Mar’s “great reputation” under the leadership of president Mark Escamilla and said: “I’ve known him for many years and I know what a great leader he is. Del Mar really has so much energy and so much growth that’s happening here.”
According to college newspaper The Foghorn, she told her audience her priority is commitment “from employees but especially from students”, and said: “We are here to help students get what they want and that’s what I look for.
“Are we doing everything, we as community colleges doing everything for students to get where they want to be? And if we’re not, then we need to do better, we need to do other things.
“As for employees, I expect the same amount of commitment as I am to expect from myself.”
This week, while Del Mar was announcing its latest staff acquisition, COM’s board members were being left to wonder whether Albright would take the interim presidency during their search for a full-time replacement for Lewis.
Although the trustees were expecting him to give them a decision on accepting the temporary role on Tuesday, they had yet to hear from him at the time of writing late on Thursday.
In the meantime, COM’s fiscal-affairs vice president, Clem Burton, is leading the college as acting president, a role the trustees said when appointing him on Monday they envisage lasting 30 days or so.