C-P board appoints AD; soccer coach resigns

By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor

Feb. 13, 2007 - Como-Pickton school board trustees appointed an athletic director, accepted two resignations and discussed the screening process for hiring a new superintendent during a lengthy meeting Monday night.

The personnel changes were made after 11 p.m. following a closed session during the regular monthly board meeting at the school.

School trustees hired Coach Devin Gabbard as the athletic director. His contract includes the remainder of this school year as well as the 2007-2008 school year, and increased his pay to $55,500. Gabbard was appointed Jan. 22 as acting athletic director in place of Joe Ryzman, who was reassigned from athletic director to assistant secondary principal and power lifting coach in December during an administrative shake-up which affected at least 11 people.

The board Monday night also accepted the resignation of Antonio "Tony" Martinez, the soccer coach arrested Monday, Feb. 5, by Texas Ranger Philip Kemp and Hopkins County Sheriff's Investigator Lewis Tatum on a second-degree felony charge of having an improper relationship with a student. The resignation became effective immediately.

Martinez was initially accused of the offense two years ago by a teacher who contacted school administrators to report the alleged misconduct between Martinez and the female student. The teacher was not contacted regarding the allegation, which former superintendent Bryan Neal said had been investigated by then-principal Randall Wellman. Neal said Wellman concluded the allegations to be "nothing more than rumors," and no further action was taken.

The allegations of an improper relationship between Martinez and a student who has since graduated were brought to officers' attention in early January, and an investigation was launched. After obtaining information which investigators believe pointed to an inappropriate relationship on at least five occasions in April and May of 2005, Martinez was questioned. He was arrested after confessing, Hopkins County Sheriff Butch Adams said following Martinez's arrest.

Martinez was released from jail after posting $20,000 bond. A conviction will likely mean he will be barred from ever teaching again.

During the open forum portion of the board meeting, teacher Jodilyn Gardner expressed disappointment that nothing was done two years ago when she initially filed the complaint alleging the improper relationship.

"That's when most of my trouble started and I have been picked on since," Gardner said, referring to a complaint she filed with Texas Education Agency alleging retaliation by former superintendent Neal for reporting Martinez; Gardner was reassigned four times between November and December. "I have pushed this issue since that year. I presented documents, letters from her parents, and nothing was done. This girl was taken advantage of. We sent him to two other schools with other girls for him to work with. In the back of your minds, you have to know this shouldn't have happened ... What she has gone through at the age of 17 and had to deal with is something most of us have not ever had to deal with. I feel nothing was ever done, so my husband and I felt we had to step up. We saw in the paper in Sulphur Springs there were rules that were not followed.

"I spoke with her just yesterday. I'm upset. She's upset. I'm disappointed. You know and I know what we're supposed to do, that we have to step up as educators, " Gardner told the board. "I think you would have done differently if this was your daughter."

Also following the executive session Monday night, the board accepted Elaine Cashion's resignation as special education teacher, effective at the end of the school year, and discussed the recruitment and hiring process for selecting a superintendent. 

Sandra Billodeau stepped up from her post as assistant superintendent in January after Bryan Neal was suspended with pay after allegations of misuse of district funds. Following his arrest on two charges of fraud and one forgery charge, and negotiations between his attorneys and those of the school district, Neal tendered his resignation which became effective at the end of January. Billodeau was appointed acting superintendent Jan. 22.

School officials noted that the first steps posting the vacancy on their web site, with Texas Association of School Boards, as well as in the central office at the school. Applicants have until April 1 to get in their information to be considered for the superintendent's post.

Billodeau said the district has already received three applications.

It was recommended that the applications be reviewed, with the top finalists presented to the board during the April 9 board meeting, then offering a contract to the top candidate at the May 14 meeting. Also discussed was the possibility of holding special board meetings to discuss the finalists, review resumes, to call finalists in for interviews and to "ask a lot of questions." It should also give school officials time to check out each candidate's list of references and qualifications.

Board member Abbie Wright suggested adopting a scoring system for resumes and applications, assigning varied numbers of points based on how well the applicant meets the criteria the board will be looking for.

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