Calling the investigation into his duties a “witch hunt” and a “waste of money,” suspended Marlin Independent School District Superintendent Michael Seabolt said he believes it may be time he departs from the embattled school district.
The state-appointed board of managers voted 4-1 on June 5 to suspend Seabolt and launch an investigation into his performance and the district. Danny Vickers cast the sole dissenting vote.
Assistant Superintendent Remy Godfrey is serving as the district’s acting superintendent.
On Tuesday, the five-member board also hired the Austin-based 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.
While board members refused to comment on the subject of the investigation Tuesday, Seabolt said he has already met with the investigator, Ann Dixon, selected by board president Billy Johnson and discussed his contract, as well as district policies. He said no complaints have been filed against him but that Dixon would not tell him whether any allegations had been made against him.
“We talked about for three hours,” Seabolt said. “I didn’t have anything interesting to offer.”
Seabolt said Dixon asked him if he properly evaluated administrative employees and principals, following policy guidelines to the letter. He said he frequently informally evaluated administrators, offering verbal suggestions to improve their performance. They also spent a lot of time discussing policies he had never heard of before.
“I am not a perfect superintendent, and I don’t know every policy in the book,” Seabolt said.
Dixon said she cannot comment on an active investigation but that the board contacted her about a week ago to initiate the inquiry.
“I do them all over the state of Texas,” Dixon said of the investigation. “I don’t think there’s anything unusual about this.”
Dixon said she has been in education for 51 years. She served as superintendent of Somerset Independent School District, a district of about 4,000 students on the outskirts of San Antonio, as well as San Marcos Independent School District superintendent. She spent 19 years as an interim superintendent all over the state, from Del Rio to North Dallas.
Board member Eddie Ellis, a Marlin resident for 30 years, said this inquiry is not about Seabolt but about the students in the district.
“We all know this is not a witch hunt, and it’s not personal about Dr. Seabolt,” Ellis said Friday. “This is about the children in Marlin ISD and the education they’re receiving.”
Board president Billy Johnson could not be reached for comment. Board member Vickers did not return a request for comment.
Seabolt said he and Dixon also discussed several “personnel issues,” such as the state-mandated rehiring of teacher Claude Kelley last month. He would not disclose the other personnel matters.
The board of managers terminated Kelley’s probationary contract in May 2018, following a recommendation from Seabolt. Kelley filed a grievance with the board after his termination, then appealed the grievance to the state education commissioner after the board declined to rehire him.
State Education Commissioner Mike Morath ruled May 13 that the Marlin ISD board must reinstate Kelley’s employment and provide him with any back pay and benefits until the district provides Kelley with a new contract.
Seabolt said he discussed the possibility of a voluntary separation agreement with Dixon and his attorney, separately.
“If that’s what they want, then they don’t need to do an investigation,” he said. “I’ll sign. We don’t need to make this hard.”
Seabolt said Morath wanted him gone last year, but the board would not approve the voluntary separation agreement that would have released him from his contract.
“It is a waste of money,” he said of the investigation. “When you don’t have anything, you go looking for something. I love Marlin, but I just don’t see a situation working out with my remaining superintendent. We can all part friends.”
When Morath appointed the board of managers in 2017, he also declared Seabolt would remain as superintendent. Since then, the board of managers has renewed his contract twice after positive evaluations from the board, Seabolt said.
His most recent contract renewal occurred in February of last year and extends through Feb. 19, 2023. Seabolt’s annual salary was set at $140,000.
There are several ways to end Seabolt’s contract with Marlin ISD, according to his contract. The board and Seabolt can mutually agree to end the contract in writing and came to a consensus on the terms and conditions of that voluntary separation agreement. Seabolt may resign at the end of a school year without penalty by submitting his resignation in writing to the board no later than 45 days before the first day of the new school year.
The other option is to terminate Seabolt for “good cause,” according to the contract. A number of items are listed under clause for “dismissal for good cause,” including “failure to fulfill duties or responsibilities as set forth under the terms and conditions of the contract,” “incompetence or inefficiency” in performance, and “failure to comply with the board’s policies or the district’s administrative regulations.”
If the board of managers and Seabolt come to a voluntary separation agreement, it is possible he would be offered a severance payment, depending on the terms of the agreement established by the board, Seabolt and his attorney. The terms of a voluntary separation agreement are not set out in Seabolt’s contract.
If a district makes a payment to a superintendent who is departing early, the district must file a superintendent payment disclosure form with the Texas Education Agency, according to its website. But the district does not have to file the form for a payment already earned and payable under the terms of the contract, such as a payment for accrued vacation time.
But if the severance payment to a superintendent exceeds one year’s salary and benefits under the contract, Morath will reduce the district’s Foundation School Program funding by that amount the following school year, according to the TEA website. The Foundation School Program is the primary source of state funding for school districts.
Meanwhile, Marlin ISD still faces a threat of 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, Morath revoked Marlin ISD’s accreditation status for the 2018-19 school year in February, according to a letter from Morath. He also appointed a conservator to oversee the district.
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.