The Marlin Independent School District Board of Managers voted 4-0 Tuesday to hire an Austin-based law firm to investigate district affairs and superintendent duties, with one board member absent from the vote.

The state-appointed board of managers hired the Walsh Gallegos Treviño Russo & Kyle law firm as “special counsel for matters pertaining to investigation regarding the affairs of the district and superintendent duties,” according to the agenda for the board’s meeting Tuesday.

Board member Danny Vickers was absent for the vote but arrived in time to meet in closed session.

Members of the board of managers declined to comment on what exactly the law firm is investigating or whom, deferring comment to board President Billy Johnson. Johnson declined to comment, as well.

Many Texas school districts hire Walsh Gallegos to investigate school matters or to conduct superintendent searches. It is unclear if the firm or hired investigator Ann Dixon is conducting an inquiry into suspended Superintendent Michael Seabolt.

Board members met behind closed doors for more than two hours Tuesday with Texas Education Agency conservator Jean Bahney, Dixon, Godfrey and school board attorney Pete Rusek. Dixon was not in closed session the entire two hours.

The five-member board of managers voted 4-1 on June 5 to suspend Seabolt and launch an investigation into his performance and the district. Vickers cast the sole dissenting vote.

Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey is serving as the district’s acting superintendent.

The vote to suspend Seabolt came a week after a similar motion made by board member Eddie Ellis failed. Bahney directed the board May 29 to place Seabolt on paid administrative leave, “pending further board action,” after the motion failed.

Meanwhile, Marlin ISD faces closure for the fourth consecutive school year, despite two years of state intervention in the form of a state-installed board of managers. The district has failed state academic accountability standards based on standardized exam scores for seven consecutive years.

As a result, state Education Commissioner Mike Morath revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 school year in February, according to a letter from Morath. He also appointed Bahney as conservator.

Morath states in the letter that the district could have closed as early as July 1. The closure of the district depends on the results of an informal review of its accreditation status by TEA. Marlin ISD requested this review, a remedy available to school districts in this situation. The results of the review are still pending, according to the TEA.

The district faced the possibility of closure the past three school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA.

TEA installed a board of managers at Marlin ISD in February 2017, in response to the district repeatedly failing state accountability standards. The board of managers effectively replaced the district’s elected board of trustees.

In January, Morath extended the appointment of the Marlin ISD board of managers for another two years, citing a “lack of improvement” at the district.

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Brooke Crum joined the Tribune-Herald as the education reporter in January 2019. She has worked for the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri, Abilene Reporter-News, Beaumont Enterprise and the Port Arthur News. Crum graduated from TCU in Fort Worth.

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