In the midst of the Texas Education Agency’s takeover of struggling Marlin ISD, the district’s board of trustees Monday decided not to renew Superintendent Michael Seabolt’s contract for another year.
However, this doesn’t mean the district will go without leadership the rest of the school year while the TEA works through the process of selecting a board of managers to take over district operations, including the possible appointment of a new superintendent, Seabolt said via email Wednesday.
Seabolt’s contract officially expired Nov. 30, but the board’s decision to not renew and decline to approve an interim contract prompted the TEA-appointed conservator to overturn the ruling and keep him at least through the end of the school year, he wrote.
Seabolt was brought in over a year ago to turn the foundering district around.
“I can’t speak to the reasoning (of the board’s decision),” Seabolt wrote in the email to the Tribune-Herald. “I will say the board of trustees in Marlin ISD was never a problem. It has been a great board that supported me and my efforts 100 percent.
“Unfortunately, the law requires TEA to remove the board at this time. That is unfortunate since this process has created a problem that Marlin simply did not have. The law needs to be reconsidered.”
Gene Acuna, TEA director of communications, confirmed that Seabolt was indeed still the acting superintendent, but he said the TEA was unaware of any motion made by the conservator to overturn the ruling and that if it was done, an announcement would be made publicly.
In September, the TEA announced the state would replace the board of trustees with a board of managers and promote the district’s TEA monitor, Rose Cameron, to a conservator who would advise the trustees and oversee day-to-day operations until the board of managers was selected, according to a letter from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.
The letter followed an announcement in August that the district failed preliminary academic accountability ratings for a fifth year in a row. Texas law states that school districts with failing financial or academic accountability scores for four straight years can be closed, but Marlin officials signed an agreement last year to give them more time, saying the state could appoint the board of managers if it did not meet academic accountability ratings this year. September’s announcement is directly related, Seabolt said.
Since then, the TEA has hosted a pre-selection board of managers training session in Marlin to explain the selection process and power the board of managers would have on student outcomes, according to a TEA press release.
The release goes on to state that the managers must consist of Marlin ISD residents committed to service on behalf of the students in the district and that the commissioner would appoint an interim superintendent.
Those interested in applying for the board had to do so by Nov. 28, and the TEA is reviewing applicants, Acuna said. Selections are anticipated to be made in January after the holiday break, Acuna said.
TEA officials could not answer whether Seabolt still had some sort of contract and referred the question back to local school officials. This ultimately leaves Seabolt in limbo after Monday’s decision, because he does not have an interim contract, he wrote.
Under state law, Cameron has the authority to overturn any action the board of trustees takes, Seabolt wrote, emphasizing that he wasn’t fired but his contract simply expired. In fact, he has worked every day since the expiration, he wrote. But he said he knows once the board of managers moves in, his time could be cut short based on its decisions if it doesn’t ask him to stay.
“Continuity and stability are always important. Marlin has gone through a lot of superintendents over the last 10 years. Certainly, the lack of stability has contributed to the academic problems in Marlin,” he wrote. “Marlin is on a good path to improvement, and that cannot be stopped or delayed.”
Until the change-in-leadership bridge is crossed, Seabolt will continue to serve and won’t see any change in his responsibilities, he wrote.
But he said he doesn’t know whether he will be paid to finish out the year, because the district’s abatement agreement signed by Marlin officials stipulated two things: The board of trustees would be dissolved and a board of managers installed, and the TEA would appoint a superintendent. He said he is relying on the second stipulation because that is what the board of trustees agreed to do.
TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson confirmed that Seabolt would be paid for his time, and Acuna said the TEA is working closely with the superintendent and board of trustees as it installs the board of managers.
Regular communication between the two entities isn’t unusual during this kind of transition, and the TEA is making the transition as smooth as possible, Acuna said.
“We are sorting out some governance issues, but that was to be expected since the board is being replaced,” Seabolt wrote.
“Those issues have not and will not impact operations or learning in the classroom. That simply can’t be allowed to happen.”