Sitting at a back table Wednesday evening at the “Pettus Country Club” (the Dairy Queen), Constante defended the board’s action while acknowledging that the inability of the board to explain its action is one of the causes of so much enmity from part of the community.
What occurs in an executive session is protected.
“It was justified,” he says, remembering something he says he learned from Erasmo Rodriguez, who is the assistant superintendent for the Beeville school district.
“He said that if you lose any sleep over a decision you have made, then you made the wrong decision.”
Did Constante lose sleep over the decision to fire Thompson?
“No, no. He was a good person, and I enjoyed being around him. We would go out together and eat. I could talk to the man. He was a good person in general; he was a friend. But, my job as an elected school board member is to vote in the best interest of the kids and the school district.”
Would he do it again?
“Yes. Sometimes you have to make decisions that aren’t very popular. But, I’m not here to be popular.”
Constante, who is 54, is a senior field service technician for the Newpark company—a job that demands his attention over much of South Texas. He has been a board member since 1996. In 2012, to his surprise, he was elected president.
The split in the community is mirrored on the board itself, which usually votes 4-3.
Mending that split is a priority, he says.
“We need to unite the board. One thing we really need to do is to have board training in team-building. But, we need to go into it wanting to get something out of it, not just to get training hours out of the way. It’s like going to church—you get out of it what you want.”
Constante speaks from experience. At the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church here, he is the music director — he plays the guitar, bass guitar, drums and the accordion and also sings — and, he is a lay reader and a Eucharist minister. He often performs at funerals, for free. When he was younger, he considered entering the priesthood.
God gives you certain talents, and He wants you to share those talents.”
When he joined the board, most of the problems facing the district, he says, were financial. Today, with the influx of money from Eagle Ford Shale operations, the problem is not in obtaining funds but how best to handle them.
He would like to place a $20 million bond issue — to build a new elementary school — on the ballot for the November election, nine months away. Five of the seven board members also are up for re-election.
“If we get re-elected, fine, but if not, the money would be there.”
However, his vision extends beyond this November.
“I have always envied the Skidmore-Tynan school district. Since I have been on this board, I’ve always asked, how can we get our schools to have the ratings and be that good of a district that everybody wants to go here?”
The combined 2010 population of Skidmore-Tynan is 1,200 compared with 558 for Pettus, but thanks to Eagle Ford Shale, PISD enjoys a larger footprint. S-TISD’s annual tax revenue is just short of $2 million; the Pettus revenue is $2.9 million, effectively placing both districts on a par.
“Why can’t we be like them?” he asks. “We have the resources. We have given the green light to hire the best teachers, hire the best-qualified principals, the best coaches. But, somehow, we’re not getting it done.”
On the bulletin board in the PISD administration office are job notices for six teachers. The district’s athletic director has resigned; three other coaches have resigned, effective the end of the school year.
“We can pay our teachers more than Beeville and more than Skidmore. We want to be at the top,” he says. “That’s what my goal is — to be the best school in our county. But, right now, we seem to be just spinning our wheels.”
Constante, the eldest of six boys and three girls, is a graduate of Pettus High School, class of 1978. He attended Coastal Bend College for two years.
He and his wife, Patricia, live in Tuleta. They have raised six children, all of whom have perfect attendance records at Pettus. “All of them graduated with honors,” he smiles.
“But, that comes from their mom.”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.