A Texas Education Agency conservator directed the Marlin Independent School District Board of Managers during its meeting Wednesday to place Superintendent Michael Seabolt on paid administrative leave, but it will take further board action to make the move.
Conservator Jean Bahney declined to comment after the meeting. Seabolt said the board would have to wait until it holds another meeting to officially place him on leave. He said he expected TEA to try to suspend him.
Initially slated for the closed session agenda, Seabolt opted to hold open discussion on several items related to his performance, including one to “consider and discuss contracting with an independent agency to conduct an investigation into district affairs as well as the superintendent’s performance of duties.”
“I think everybody ought to be able to hear it,” Seabolt said. “We’ll do it in open session.”
Newly appointed board member Eddie Ellis started the meeting in the Marlin Middle School library by making a motion to terminate Seabolt’s contract. He said “My reasoning is numbers don’t lie.” He started to elaborate.
Seabolt, who has the led the district of 835 students since 2015, asked if a motion had been made. Ellis repeated his motion to terminate Seabolt’s contract.
“You do understand my contract is not on the agenda,” Seabolt said.
“Your performance is part of your contract,” Ellis said.
Board President Billy Johnson stepped in and said the board could suspend Seabolt or place him on administrative leave, not terminate his contract.
“We got to do something differently,” Ellis said. “My children and this community cannot go through another four or five years with the same results.”
The Texas Education Agency installed a board of managers at Marlin ISD in February 2017, after the district failed state accountability standards based on standardized exam performance for six consecutive years. The board of managers replaced the district’s elected board of trustees.
TEA revoked Marlin’s accreditation after the district failed another round of accountability ratings, leaving the state education commissioner with broad authority to close the district if he sees fit.
Seabolt leaned over and muttered something in Johnson’s ear. Ellis told him to say something out loud if he had something to say.
“You asked for an open forum,” Ellis said.
Seabolt said the agenda item under discussion was not an action item and that the board could not take action on his contract at the time.
“This is the danger of putting a board with zero training in. It’s an obvious hit job,” Seabolt said. “Two board members were removed just a week or two ago in order to set this up, just like they did in July 2016.”
State Education Commissioner Mike Morath relieved two members of the Marlin board of managers, Rose Cameron and Marilyn Martin, of their responsibilities Wednesday, according to a letter from the commissioner. In their place, Morath appointed Danny Vickers and Ellis.
Vickers and Ellis now serve alongside Johnson, the board president, secretary Byrleen Terry and Sam Sinno. The board selected Vickers as vice president Wednesday.
“Dr. Seabolt, this is not a hit job,” Ellis said.
“It’s a hit job,” Seabolt reiterated.
“What I call a ‘hit job,’ sir, is what you have done to this school district,” Ellis said. “With declining enrollment, we lose almost $2 million a year. I’m just stating the facts, and I’m sick of my children and their parents running around, saying that we cannot prepare our kids for a better life because the education system cannot give that to us. Sir, you are the leader of this school district. Everything that’s on here falls directly on your desk. You’re responsible for all of this.”
Seabolt said he was not going to have this discussion.
“It sounds like to me we got a leadership problem,” Ellis said. “As an old military man, I know for a fact that when you have a decline in productivity it’s because of leadership.”
After back-and-forth during the meeting, Bahney handed Johnson a note stating they would suspend Seabolt but would have to wait until the next board meeting to do so. Johnson adjourned the meeting shortly thereafter.
While the education commissioner appoints the board of managers and the superintendent during the state’s intervention, the board of managers has the same powers and duties as a board of trustees, including the ability to hire a superintendent, according to the Texas Education Code.