The Texas Education Agency has been investigating former Marlin Independent School District Superintendent Michael Seabolt since at least early September, but Seabolt said he still doesn’t know why.
Seabolt said the state education agency contacted him Sept. 4 to discuss his educator certificates and again on Oct. 7 to inform him that his educator certificates had been flagged. The second contact came days after the Tribune-Herald revealed a board at the time member has a criminal background that the TEA says it did not know about.
An online search of educator certificates on the TEA website shows a note on Seabolt’s certificates that “this individual is currently under review by the TEA Educator Investigations Division.” That means that an allegation of misconduct is currently being investigated by TEA staff, but the certificate remains valid because no formal determination has been made.
TEA spokesman Jake Kobersky said the agency flags educators’ certificates anytime they are under investigation to show the public that an inquiry is ongoing. He said he could not comment further on the investigation because it is still open.
Seabolt resigned Aug. 8, saying he wished to end a “costly termination process” in “which he is certain he will not be provided due process of law,” according to his resignation letter.
The state-appointed board of managers, which has operated in place of the district’s elected school board for more than two years, suspended Seabolt with pay on June 5, after TEA conservator Jean Bahney ordered the board to do so. At the same time, the board launched an investigation into his performance and the district.
A month later, the board hired the Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle law firm to investigate district affairs and superintendent duties. A month after that, the day before Seabolt resigned without any buyout from his $140,000-per-year contract, the board voted to place him on unpaid leave and start the termination process.
The district spent almost $68,000 to remove Seabolt from his position, including hiring an investigator and a large Austin-based law firm to dig into Seabolt’s duties and performance, and paying Seabolt while he was placed on leave.
Seabolt said Monday that it is time for this investigation to end and for the TEA to inform him and the public what this inquiry is about.
“This is an abuse of office,” he said. “This is a malicious investigation initiated by TEA. It needs to end one way or another.”
Seabolt said he suspects but is unsure that the investigation stems from payment he received in 2016 that he said was part of his contract. When his initial superintendent contract with Marlin ISD ended Nov. 30, 2016, he received a check for $116,000 that was included in his contract.
But the TEA’s conservator, overruling the elected school board, decided to keep Seabolt on after the contract ended. In February 2017, State Education Commissioner Mike Morath installed the five-member board of managers after the district repeatedly failed state accountability standards. At the same time, he appointed Seabolt as superintendent. The board of managers renewed his contract for five years in 2018.
Seabolt said the $116,000 payment became a matter of contention with the board of managers once it hired the new law firm Walsh Gallegos. The board wanted him to repay the $116,000, he said.
“I wasn’t the problem here,” he said. “I was sent here by the TEA.”
In January, Morath extended the appointment of the board another two years, citing a lack of improvement at the district. The board is down to four members right now, after Eddie Ellis Jr. resigned earlier this month when his criminal background was revealed.
Ellis had pleaded guilty to defrauding the Veterans Affairs Department out of almost half a million dollars in 2017, two years before his appointment to the board of managers. The TEA claimed its background check failed to catch the conviction, but the Texas Monitor reported Sunday that the agency did not require Ellis to disclose any criminal record.
Seabolt said he believes the TEA knew about Ellis’ record and appointed him to the board anyway because he was a vocal opponent of Seabolt and was willing to carry out the agency’s agenda in Marlin.
In February, the commissioner once again revoked the district’s annual accreditation status because of chronic underperformance. He also appointed Bahney as conservator at that time.
After Seabolt resigned, Morath appointed Bahney to serve as interim superintendent.