The El Paso ISD Board of Trustees are slated to discuss the contract of Superintendent Juan Cabrera Thursday evening, a move some on the board believe is motivated by the political alliance of Trustee Susie Byrd.
Byrd, who represents the Austin High School area, works as the campaign manager for Veronica Escobar, a candidate for the 16th Congressional District.
Byrd said her employment with the campaign has been touted as a reason by fellow trustees as a reason to not re-evaluate Cabrera’s contract.
“Me talking about his (Cabrera’s) leadership is now being used to try and discredit me,” Byrd said. “I’ve always been Veronica’s campaign manager, from the beginning. I didn’t think that was a secret. But that has nothing to do with the report and it’s findings.”
‘The report’ Byrd references is EPISD’s own internal audit released last month regarding how the district handled the bid process for GAFCON, a San Diego-based management company. The audit found signs of ‘vendor favoritism,’ but no laws broken following a controversial vote tied to the district’s massive $669 million voter-approved school bond.
As KTSM first reported, the EPISD Board of Trustees voted last summer to award a bid to oversee the bond projects to GAFCON. The contract was to be worth a minimum of $500,000. NewsChannel 9 learned GAFCON was introduced to Cabrera by one of Cabrera’s own paid consultants, a man with business ties to the company. The audit also revealed Cabrera helped craft some of the bid paperwork ahead of the vote.
According to district documents, EPISD auditors “…found the procurement process…was conducted in accordance with district policies and state laws/regulations. However, (auditors) found indicators of vendor favoritism, insider information, and bid tailoring.”
“I think that in light of the audit, clearly we had a problem with vendor favoritism tied back to the superintendent,” Byrd said.
The district ended up cutting all ties with GAFCON. In an interview with KTSM in August 2017, Cabrera strongly denied any impropriety.
“To me, it’s just happenstance,” Cabrera said. “I meet and talk to vendors probably three, four times a week just because we’re in the business of hiring folks to help the work. That’s just a big part of what we do.”
According to the audit, the district has already laid out a corrective action plan that was signed by EPISD management, leadership, and the superintendent.
Byrd said she has heard fellow board members raise issue with her interest in revisiting Cabrera’s contract because among the congressional candidates is former EPISD trustee, Dori Fenenbock. Fenenbock and Cabrera are dually credited with the passing of the district’s $669-million bond – the city’s biggest-ever.
“I don’t see how my working for Veronica is a conflict-of-interest for the district,” Byrd said. “How does the district benefit from getting involved in the congressional race?”
The special board meeting is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at EPISD headquarters, 6531 Boeing Dr.