|Suspended superintendent to resign|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
Jan. 25, 2007 - Bryan Neal is expect to formally hand in his resignation as superintendent of Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District within the next week, school officials said.
School board members made the announcement of the anticipated resignation following a 2 hour and 40 minute executive session Wednesday night involving telephone communications between the school board and their attorney, and the attorney and Neal's counsel.
"We have reached a tentative agreement with Dr. Neal. He will be resigning effective at the end of the month," board president Mark Humphrey said, reading from a statement the board prepared at the conclusion of the meeting.
Humphrey then made the motion, with Gerald Walters seconding, to "delegate the authority to Mrs. [Sandra] Billodeau to enter into the resignation agreement on behalf of the school board."
The board unanimously approved Billodeau to finalize the agreement on a 7-0 vote.
In order for the resignation to become final, Neal will be required to send in a letter of resignation to the office of Billodeau, who has been appointed acting superintendent. Once the resignation is accepted, the school will be released from its obligations regarding his contract including paying his salary beyond that date.
Neal had been placed on administrative suspension with pay following an emergency meeting Jan. 13 regarding allegations that he misused school funds and property. He was arrested Jan. 17 on three felony warrants, one for forging another administrator's signature to a check made out to him for $1,769.90, and two fraud charges for falsely obtaining a $19,134.60 Kubota tractor and an $11,806.56 all-terrain vehicle with district funds, then keeping them for himself. He was released from jail the next day after posting bond.
District Attorney Martin Braddy, who will be prosecuting the case, spoke to the board twice during the executive session. C-P CISD Business Manager Lenise Boseman and Billodeau also sat in on the closed session.
"I was invited by the board to update them on where the investigation is going and what to expect from here," Braddy said Thursday morning. "The board, I feel, spoke very freely about what is going on at the school, which is helpful on our end."
Investigators said the case is still ongoing and in the the early stages. The investigation is expect to be a lengthy process, but should move along a bit quicker with the Texas Ranger's assistance.
"He can access resources and has expertise that is not available to us locally, including financial analysts and databases for financial records," Braddy said.
Billodeau said that while school officials cannot comment on specifics of the criminal investigation, school personnel and board members will be working as quickly as possible on it.
"If we go back more than one year, it may take a greater length of time," Billodeau said. "We will expedite this case as clearly, completely and timely as possible. We'll continue to work and see where it leads us."
Braddy said that while his office has yet to have any direct contact with Neal or his attorney as of Thursday morning, he hopes the recent development and pending resignation "lead to Mr. Neal taking responsibility for his actions."
"I believe Mr. Neal is on the right path," Braddy said. "It's a good step for the school as a whole. I hope he will give us the option to talk to his attorney or come in and talk to us at some point."
How much money is involved and the extent of charges Neal will ultimately face is "still up in the air" and won't become clear until the investigation is complete, the district attorney said.
Both Braddy and Hopkins County Sheriff's Investigator Lewis Tatum praised the school board on their cooperation and swiftness in acting on their suspicions of misuse of funding by Neal, and in getting a full-scale investigation launched in a timely manner.
"This is a good, solid, strong board who did a good job. I am nothing but pleased with how they have handled things in regard to this investigation," Braddy said. "There's a saying: "pass the trash." That means letting a suspected violator resign instead of taking action, which would allow that person to then go on down the road and become someone else's problem. They did not do that. In Hopkins County we do not pass the trash. We take care of it and dispose of it. I'm proud this board made the decision to stand up and take action. I think it's important to all students in the area, not just Como-Pickton."
Billodeau said that the school district has contacted Region VIII Education Service Center representatives, as they are required to do when allegations are reported regarding an educator. The Region VIII representative then notified Texas Education Agency so that the appropriate action can be taken regarding Neal's certification. Generally, when an educator is suspended or being investigated, their certification is suspended or flagged until the investigation is complete.
While C-P CISD has yet to hear directly from TEA regarding the situation, Billodeau said school officials will "comply with whatever they need us to do through this process."
Braddy said that he also had been in contact with officials and that both TEA and local school officials will be kept abreast of the investigation as it progresses.
Currently, Neal is facing one felony check forgery as well as two felony fraud charges regarding property obtained with school funds for his personal us. He was arrested on all three counts Jan. 17, and is currently out of bond.