Monday, May 21, 2007

policy was instead an attorney general's opinion that had not been adopted locally. hear that?

Sunday, March 19, 2000
Trustee division continues after inquiry

By Darren Barbee

Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra's untruthfulness about spending district funds for alcohol has damaged his credibility with the community, three Corpus Christi Independent School District trustees say.
But other trustees say Saavedra's ability to run the district hasn't been affected.
Evidence presented at a court of inquiry last week showed Saavedra charged $344 for alcoholic beverages to his district-issued American Express card. In a September radio interview on KEYS-1440/AM, Saavedra said no such charges were made.
According to school district documents Saavedra has reimbursed $186.43 in personal expenses, some of which corresponded with trips during which alcohol was purchased. Some trustees say they were present when alcohol was purchased, but bar tabs always were paid in cash.
As the court of inquiry judge decides whether a grand jury should consider criminal indictments against Saavedra and trustees, some board members were considering the fate of the superintendent. District officials face allegations of abuse of power, theft and violations of the Open Meetings Act.
Trustee Dorothy Adkins said she wants to start as soon as possible the evaluation process of Saavedra's contract but wouldn't say if she wants to remove the superintendent.
But she said her trust in the superintendent has diminished.
"We're having to trust the superintendent with a $220 million budget," said Adkins, one of the three trustees who failed in an attempt to suspend Saavedra in January. "I just want a superintendent who, when he tells me something, I don't have to question whether or not it's a fact. That's why I say the trust has been damaged."
Saavedra said he is waiting for the judge's decision before commenting about his future or the inquiry. Before the inquiry Saavedra said his future would be dependent on what charges, if any, are sent forward but that he would continue to do his job until the board told him otherwise.
Trustee Vicki Rothschild said Saavedra has lost the trust of the community and should be fired.
"After we've had all this controversy, he goes on public airwaves to try to explain it," Rothschild said. "Then he says absolutely, unequivocally that the district has never purchased alcohol when 12 days before he had purchased alcohol on the district's card.
"It speaks for itself," Rothschild said. "The trust factor, the credibility factor is just shot."
Saavedra wouldn't comment about the remarks he made about alcohol on the radio program.
"When I say I'm not going to comment, I'm not stating anything presented at the court of inquiry was false, either," he said.
"I'm going to wait for the judge's decision, and then I'll deal with it publicly."
Trustee Bill Hamrick said he has full faith and confidence in Saavedra and that the superintendent's trustworthiness hasn't suffered.
"A lot of times we say things under pressure that ordinarily we wouldn't have said otherwise," Hamrick said. "My opinion of Abe (Saavedra) hasn't changed at all. Test scores and everything show he's doing a good job. He has my support, 100 percent."
Trustee Manuel Flores also said the superintendent's credibility isn't a problem.
"I think he did the right thing in all instances," Flores said. "He didn't testify against himself, he didn't perjure himself. I don't think it's an issue."
Trustee Frank Reyes wouldn't comment and Trustee Rene Vela couldn't be reached.
Saavedra, Flores, Hamrick, Reyes and Vela did not testify during the court of inquiry hearing.
'It's an ethical issue'
During the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Mark Skurka introduced six itemized receipts, which showed alcohol had been purchased on the district's card. A seventh was labeled as a bar bill, but wasn't itemized.
Saavedra's laywer, J.A. "Tony" Canales, said at least two of those purchases were to entertain business- related interests of the district.
And, even if the district was charged, Flores said it didn't matter.
"There was no policy against that at the time," Flores said. "It was just an unwritten rule that we don't do that."
Adkins said it doesn't matter if there wasn't a policy.
"I don't care whether we had a policy or not," Adkins said. "It's an ethical issue to me. And it's not ethical."
Lack of a board policy
The lack of a policy doesn't matter legally, either, said former District Attorney Grant Jones, who wasn't present during the inquiry but followed the hearing through the media.
Jones said it isn't necessary to have a written policy statement saying that money should be spent only for a public purpose.
Jones said that extends to the lack of a board policy prohibiting the district from purchasing airline tickets for trustees' spouses.
An audit prepared by the district's internal auditor, Philip Carroll, found that board members had the district pay for spouses' tickets. Trustees usually reimbursed the district for the tickets promptly, according to testimony at the hearing.
Judge's 'biggest problem'
In his audit, Carroll indicated such purchases were against policy. But in testimony last week he said he made a mistake in his audit by citing a board policy prohibiting the district from paying non-members' expenses. Carroll said the apparent policy was instead an attorney general's opinion that had not been adopted locally.
Jones said that even in the case of delinquent payments, not reimbursing the district doesn't necessarily rise to the level of theft. He said prosecutors would have to prove school board members intended to permanently take the district money.
"The biggest problem for the judge will be to determine whether there is probable cause to believe there was requisite criminal intent," Jones said. "Everybody may have an opinion based on moral principles or common sense or political opinion about whether the money was spent unwisely. But that's a different question than whether they were stealing money."
Trust has been lost
Still, some trustees say trust in the superintendent has been lost.
Trustee Pinky Brauer said Saavedra will have to regain the public's confidence, but said it would be difficult to do so.
Brauer said Saavedra's stature as a role model for children also has suffered.
"I think that's part of the problem kids have today," Brauer said. "They don't have any real heroes any more. Their sports heroes, their political heroes have all kinds of problems. It doesn't seem like there's a lot of heroes left."
'Start over again'
Jones said no one came away from the court of inquiry with his or her image unscathed.
"As a citizen, from watching the press accounts of all of this, I have a reasonable doubt any crimes were committed," Jones said. "However, I do not have a reasonable doubt that the school district is careless in the use of funds.
"It offends me that school board members can eat expensive dinners, drink expensive wine in nice hotels when teachers can't get enough books," Jones said. "I hold the board more responsible than the superintendent because they're the policy makers that are supposed to be watching that. They tell the superintendent what to do."
Jones said it might be up to the voters, and not the inquiry's presiding judge, Emil Karl Prohl of Kerrville, to fix the problem.
"It's probably ultimately a political problem for voters to solve at the next election," Jones said. "Maybe what's needed is a new school board and to start over again."

Staff writer Darren Barbee can be reached at 886-3764 or by e-mail at

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