SKIDMORE – One Austin firm battled another for more than two hours behind closed doors here Monday night.
At issue are negotiations between the Skidmore-Tynan Independent School District and former superintendent Dr. Brett Belmarez as the S-TISD board met in executive session.
Unknown to a dozen audience members — which, during the executive session dwindled to seven — both Dr. Belmarez and his lawyer, Tony Conners, attended the executive session, entering and leaving through a back door.
The only action the board took when it reopened the public meeting was to approve a motion authorizing its attorneys to continue to seek a resolution.
The district is represented by attorneys Craig Wood and Paige Kyle of the Walsh Anderson law firm of Austin; Belmarez’s attorney is Conners, of the Brim, Arnett, Robinson and Conners law firm, also of Austin.
Because the talks occurred in executive session, the progress of the negotiations is confidential.
“Our side is looking for a resolution as well as his,” says S-TISD President James Bennett. “Information was exchanged and the attorneys are working on an agreement.”
Belmarez has filed for what is termed a level III grievance hearing with the board with the Texas Education Agency after it voted in October to place him on administrative leave with the intent to terminate him.
The vote followed Belmarez’s accusing some board members of conducting “walking forum” meetings in violation of the Open Meetings Act. He then filed for protection with the state as a whistleblower.
He has been on paid leave since Oct. 17; the board appointed Ruben Corkill as interim superintendent.
The levels of a grievance determine who conducts the hearing. Levels I and II are heard by teachers; A level III is conducted before the entire board of trustees.
The law firms and the S-TISD board are facing a deadline. The TEA has scheduled its grievance hearing on Belmarez’s termination Jan. 14 in Skidmore. Trustees would prefer an agreement to avoid a public hearing 35 days from now.
Bennett says that if the attorneys reach an agreement, he will schedule a special called meeting of the board to approve it.
“I hope to be able to schedule it next week,” he says. “Progress is being made, if things don’t fall apart at the end.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.