in Houston, Texas

Troubles swirling around Tornillo ISD superintendent echo his past

Thursday, May 31, 2012, 08:32AM CST
By Steve Miller
classroom

TORNILLO, Texas - Shortly before he left his job as superintendent of Lone Oak Independent School District in 1999, Paul Vranish and his spending habits had come under scrutiny by the state.

The Texas Education Agency had been contacted by a community member concerned about an increase in discretionary spending by the superintendant. State investigators found that because of "an oversight" Vranish had exceeded the $10,000 limit in one instance. Their report revealed that board members had been probing the daily affairs of the district, requesting credit card statements and line-item athletic expenses down to the middle school cheerleading team.

Vranish left for the top job with the Buffalo Independent School District.

Still, a pattern of rough-and-tumble politics with trustees and questions about how Vranish spent money was set. The trail of trouble, some that cannot be pinned on him or is simply allegation, has dogged the school official over the past 14 years.

In 2001, a Buffalo ISD school board member pleaded in a letter to the Texas Education Agency to step in as the relationship between the trustees and superintendent Vranish had become contentious.

The state obliged, and in early 2002, the district was placed under state oversight. 

Vranish moved on in June of that year to become superintendent of the Tornillo Independent School District, located 40 miles southeast of El Paso. He is now the target of a state investigation that alleges he spent unauthorized district money on electronics, including a cell phone and a tablet, and double billed for travel reimbursements.

Vranish declined to comment.

Employment checks are generally a given at the higher district ranks, but the very position of superintendent draws fire from someone regardless of proficiency. So a record of state involvement isn't always a sign of ineffectiveness.

Vranish’s past, though, could have informed his present. After the state investigation in Tornillo, Vranish declared in a letter he would resign in June 2013, taking with him a $276,000 payout. In an interview with Texas Watchdog in March, Vranish disputed the state’s charges.

In Lone Oak, the state inquiry in 1999 substantiated a number of allegations stemming from the citizen’s complaint. State investigators reported that while the spending limit on Vranish's expense account was $10,000, “within the past two years and due to an oversight, that limit was exceeded on one occasion."

The board responded by increasing the limit to $25,000, state investigators found. The limit was then changed to $7,500, then two months later switched back to $10,000.

The report concluded that “when a board fails to stand behind its policy decision and continues frequently to change such policies, the many changes can create a perception of inconsistency and disharmony.”

The report also noted strife between the school board and Vranish, resulting in packed board meetings that one interviewee described as "out of control."

“An administrator described the board meetings as ‘one huge filled room of tension,’" the report noted.

The state mandated that both the board and Vranish attend a team-building session and undergo training to improve “interpersonal skills," parliamentary procedure and a session that focuses on the “responsibilities of board members and superintendents."

In Buffalo, state education investigators were called in late 2001, finding again a divided school board.

A letter from school board president Eddie Harcrow to the TEA asked for help:

“At this time, our board is experiencing disagreement and conflict regarding goals for, and direction to, the superintendent,” Harcrow wrote. He asked that the state appoint a “master,” or a person with wide latitude to oversee a school district that is failing to perform.

The letter came following weeks of meetings that drew a reported 200 people from the population 1,800 town.

Paul VranishPaul Vranish

A story in the Buffalo Express newspaper on Oct. 17, 2001, reported that Vranish addressed the crowd. A teacher asked about the district’s development plan, which is to be developed in accordance with state law.

“…Supt. Vranish finally admitted that the school district had no such plan and had not had the required plan for two years,” the story said.

On Jan. 2, 2002, the Buffalo Express bannered a headline, “BISD leaders ask for help.”

A TEA report stated that investigators arrived to find two board members “determined to resign.” Vranish was hired by Buffalo to “improve the budget and ‘clean house,’" the report states, and that board members agreed that the budget is repaired but Vranish and the majority of the board also agree that there was still a need to "clean house."

“Although one might be inclined to let Buffalo take care of its own problems, instruction is being affected by the turmoil,” the report said.

Harcrow said in an interview with Texas Watchdog that Vranish did a good job during his tenure in Buffalo.

“Almost anyone who runs a business or school is going to ruffle some feathers when they make changes,” Harcrow said. “What happens is that you have some personnel issues and then get local people angry when their niece doesn’t get hired or someone’s nephew doesn’t get his contract renewed.”

In Tornillo, the district is waiting on the TEA after filing a required response to the findings of its preliminary audit, which reported possible criminal activity by Vranish.

In keeping with the controversy that follows Vranish, even the response to the TEA is in dispute. The law requires the response to be approved by the entire school board.

“We were aware that we all had to agree on the response, but three of us did not approve it,” said trustee Javier Escalante, one of three foes of Vranish on the divided Tornillo school board. “I have never even seen the response, but they submitted it anyway."

Another board member, Ofelia Bosquez, was serving when Vranish was hired. Although she gave him a low hiring score in her assessment, she was unaware of state actions in Lone Oak and Buffalo.

Bosquez said that Vranish has done a “good job. … He’s very intelligent, and he keeps records."

She, too, refused to approve the response to the state’s scathing preliminary audit, for which an outside attorney was hired.

“(Vranish has) blamed us for legal fees,” Bosquez said. “But I told him that he was the instigator for these fees."

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo from a classroom by flickr user Texas.713, used via a Creative Commons license.

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Comments
santosh
Saturday, 06/02/2012 - 01:40PM

wonderful piece of information, This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a ton once again, ibps recruitment 2012, ibps question papers , ibps, pnr status

Rosalee Silva
Thursday, 06/07/2012 - 04:26PM

Spending habits among other worst behavior this individual has enjoyed and gotten way with for so long and yet no consequences. I guess its who you know at the top and bottom that he can get away with it. I hope he doesn't back down on resigning June 2013, thats the only way this SOB will leave TISD. All that has been investigated about him has made no difference. He still remains KING of TISD:(

Bobby Stackhouse
Monday, 06/11/2012 - 08:40PM

See now all of the supporter's of Mr. Vranish can turn his words back on him. He always points to Escalante's past, now that his past has caught up to him what do you say? All of you need to ask yourselves this question, If this is Vranish's past, if he only shows us a few pages of a report that is over 100 pages long, if he has not come clean to us yet instead of waiting on TEA..........isn't there something wrong? Some of you are so blind..........Vranish has bluffed and bluffed so much he has no bark left in the bit. I wonder if only 2 board members signed his resignation in Buffalo? He will not get off. Remember people it has only been about 4 months since we started this exorcism......keep the faith. The majority of the town and school employees do not want Mr. Vranish here. I heard he had alot of dupport at the end of the year breakfast though....yea right. He is in so deep now that he has to try and minimize the damage. Don't be surprised if other people get thrown under the bus!

Julio Chavez
Tuesday, 06/19/2012 - 08:06AM

Steve,

Watch this tonight at 6:00 pm MT............. http://www.tisd.us/district_board.asp

Dick
Monday, 07/02/2012 - 06:43PM

I think that this guy is in pretty deep. I don't know a lot about the situation but I did hear the F.B.I. is involved and when they are involved, jail time always follows???

Lynn
Thursday, 07/05/2012 - 09:05AM

How many board members signed off on Paul Vranish's resignation at Buffalo I.S.D.?

OCTAVIO TRUTH
Thursday, 07/12/2012 - 08:07AM

School board, do not vote for a new auditor. Stick with the same one you have. This tactic in my opinion is Mr. Vranish trying to get someone new and inexperienced in a position that he needs helo in the bendong of numbers and rules. He likes to hire people like this all of the time so je can bully and manipulate his way to his goals.....this is just my opinion.

#1 stunner
Friday, 07/13/2012 - 09:20PM

Keep it comin baby!

#nevrdie

lawman
Saturday, 07/21/2012 - 08:57AM

For those people who think the TAKS trips were so great, I do too! But, when they clearly break state educational code and FERPA laws, you can not keep them going. I like money, does that make it o.k. to rob a bank? Starting monday I will be visiting Tornillo doors, and I am going to tell the community what we need to do in November. Here is my prediction......Bertha and Pat will not run, and when the numbers come in that night......Rachel will resign the next morning.........and the next board meeting after that will be pure bliss!!!! Thank you to everyone for there support!

Mimi Hernandez-De La O
Tuesday, 07/24/2012 - 09:34AM

If you support Mr. Vranish call Art Sanchez in Tornillo and ask him about all of the information he lnows.

R. Chale
Tuesday, 07/31/2012 - 07:03AM

Steve, there was a meeting yesterday at TEA headquarters in Austin. Can you see if you can find out anything you could report? This thing is close!!!!!

El Coyote
Friday, 08/10/2012 - 08:45PM

VOTE FOR MRS. SALDANA, SALLY UPCHURCH, AND COACH BULLARD! They all have school experience!!!! Do not vote for Stephanie. She does not even know what a board member is.In my opinion, she will be another Joe, Rachel, Bertha, or Pat!!!! November 6.........See you there!

Me
Monday, 08/20/2012 - 08:21AM

O.K. the final report is coming out, and is full of lies, just like the preliminary report? ???? Could it be that TEA is just RIGHT?

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