It's not you, it's me.
We're experiencing an exodus of local leadership
In the span of about two weeks in November, the leaders of three of our major local institutions announced that they are voluntarily leaving their posts.
On Nov. 12, Pete Gallego, Alpine native and former state representative, announced that he would resign from the president’s office at Sul Ross when his contract ends in June.
Becky McCutcheon, who has served as the superintendent of Alpine ISD since 2015, announced on Nov. 23 that she is the lone finalist for the same position in Levelland, Texas, near Lubbock. “Lone finalist” is legalese for school districts. There’s a required 21-day waiting period once the finalist is named, but for all intents and purposes, she has the job.
Later that same day, while preparing for my bi-weekly podcast, I asked Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano when he intended to file for election next year. He told me then that he isn’t going to run.
As you may suspect, I have thoughts …
Pres. Gallego said he was resigning to spend more time with his family, particularly his teenaged son who is nearing the end of his time at home. It’s a good reason, but I believe there to be a few other things at play.
Gallego is a former politician and thus familiar with the dirt that comes with high office — one that, in the end, serves at the pleasure of the state legislature. With mere hours to go in the second special session, money for construction at Sul Ross (by my count $55 million) disappeared from the university revenue bonds bill. SRSU was the only university that started out with funds and ended up with nothing on final passage. I emailed current State Rep. Eddie Morales to ask why; I’ve not heard back.
Then, on November 15, a faculty committee voted 14-12 (with seven abstentions) to proceed with a possible vote of no confidence. Dr. Joseph Velasco presented the resolution, though it’s unclear whether he followed the proper protocol for doing so. In fact, Pres. Gallego argued in a letter to the committee’s leadership that there may not have been a quorum required for action. The actual vote will presumably take place at a meeting later this month.
I think it’s possible that of the 14 who voted to proceed, there are a handful who, in fact, lack confidence in Gallego. However, I wonder if there aren’t more who voted the way they did so that a public discussion could ensue. It’s not uncommon amongst governing bodies to get a second on a motion so that worthwhile discussion can take place in the open.
Becky McCutcheon took the reins at AISD within a year of our high school becoming ground zero for one of only three school shootings in the State of Texas at the time.
The event resulted in controversial security measures and the kind of scrutiny you would expect from concerned parents. There were public forums, both official and unofficial, to discuss exactly how safe Alpine’s public students are.
A bond issue which touted increased security narrowly failed in May 2018, mostly due to the inclusion of new athletic facilities. District voters didn’t think they were necessary. In November of the same year, the bond passed — barely — with the safety of the high school at the center.
It took around two years to break ground on the structure. Erroneous dimensions, followed by change orders, followed by contractor mistakes have made for a fraught construction timeline. Many school board members have expressed their frustration, as has McCutcheon.
Alas, Alpine High School students will soon have a safe school building, and McCutcheon has overseen the expansion of Career and Technology Education (CTE) opportunities for graduating seniors. The District continues to receive high marks for it’s financial management, and after a devastating standardized test score at the elementary campus in 2018, McCutcheon led her team back to a “B” grade, which was an unprecedented improvement.
The last several years have not been easy for educators as the system struggles to keep up with technology and the way we receive information. Efficient communication is key, and a crucial characteristic for whomever follows McCutcheon.
I wish her luck and I’m glad she’ll be closer to her children, both students at Texas Tech University.
I didn’t support Judge Eleazar Cano when he ran — successfully — in 2014 or 2018.
His lack of administrative experience worried me and as a county commissioner, I often disagreed with his assessment for progress and a path forward. Disagreement is good, by the way.
However, if I had to rank our local governments, I would put Brewster County at the top. It wasn’t exactly a smooth start, what with the learning curve that initially caused my concern, but he and the commissioners court have maintained a low tax rate, a balanced budget and high morale, and placed a premium on public safety.
Judge Cano is good at empathy; he is a therapist by trade, after all. I hope that whoever we elect to replace him will have that, too.
We must be active in that replacement process. Even if it’s not directly by election, like the County Judge, those who would appoint the next president of Sul Ross and superintendent of Alpine ISD have been put into place by we, the people.
Perhaps you’ve not been impressed with Gallego, McCutcheon or Cano, but this concurrent exodus will feel like a loss. We need to be ready for unforced errors and to understand that some things won’t work out. School superintendents don’t often hang around as long as Becky McCutcheon did.
We should make known our priorities. What are yours? Fiscal responsibility, clear communication, student safety, low taxes? Now is the time to say so. Start a letter writing campaign amongst your friends or in your neighborhood. Call your representatives. Tell them if you want to avoid politics as usual.
No matter how small our school district, county or university, the people in these positions make decisions that matter to you. Our own successes can be measured by theirs.
As they exit, make your ask, and then let’s get out of our own way and make room for what’s next.
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