by BRAD ROLLINS
San Marcos CISD board members delivered a mild rebuke to fellow trustee Paul Mayhew on Monday following a weeks-long investigation into allegations that he pulled rank to keep his daughter on the high school varsity cheer team.
What did the SMHS cheerleader investigation uncover? We don’t know yet.
The San Marcos Mercury has filed a Texas Public Information Act request for the investigation report compiled by consultant Peggy L. Stark-Wilson, a former San Antonio ISD deputy superintendent.
Superintendent Mark Eads said the school district will seek a ruling from the state attorney general on whether the report falls under exceptions to Texas’ sunshine laws. Attorney Charles Soechting, who represented trustee Paul Mayhew at a special board meeting on Monday, also declined to provide a copy of the report to the Mercury.
Stark-Wilson, an education consultant who is not licensed by the state as a private investigator, was paid $100 an hour for her services. The Mercury has also requested documents detailing the cost to taxpayers for the cheerleading investigation.
After meeting in executive session for nearly an hour behind closed doors, the board voted 5-1 to require Mayhew to “adhere to board policy regarding ethical standards established by the board” and attend training on school district governance and professional conduct.
Trustee John Crowley cast the lone vote against trustee Lupe Costilla’s motion, saying the independent investigation he initiated more than two months ago falls short of the broad inquiry he expected into the cheerleader selection debacle. In addition, Crowley said portions of the report rely heavily on hearsay and unsubstantiated claims.
“Why were there so many irregularities in the cheerleading [selection] process? I’m disappointed that this report does not [explain] exactly what happened, not just in relation to Paul Mayhew, but also what did and didn’t happen in relation to the cheerleader tryouts,” Crowley said.
Said Costilla, “Other people might perceive this to be a witch hunt on one of our colleagues. I don’t see it that way. We didn’t create this situation.”
In a May 12 special meeting, trustees heard a formal complaint against Mayhew filed by Stephanie Kinslow, a San Marcos High School math teacher who coaches the cheerleading team. She claimed, in part, that Mayhew was abusive and intimating to her and other school district employees when the trustee’s daughter was not among eight girls named in April to the varsity cheer team for the 2014-2015 school year.
After Mayhew pressed the issue, Superintendent Mark Eads decided to allow four more members on the varsity squad, including Mayhew’s daughter.
In a letter to cheerleaders and their parents, Eads said he had “determined that there was no manipulation or adjustment of the process to purposely eliminate or provide an advantage to any cheer participant.” Nevertheless, Eads wrote, the high school’s “Cheer Constitution” requires a 12-member varsity squad, four more than were initially selected. In addition, he said, elements of the tryout process implemented this year deviate from established, written procedures for selecting the cheerleading team.
Rebutting the allegation that he improperly used his elected office on behalf of his daughter, Mayhew said he only asked to review scoring sheets used by judges to evaluate cheerleader hopefuls, information to which he said he was entitled under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
After initially being told the documents had been burned shortly after tryouts — a violation of the district’s records retention policy, he said — a pile of weathered, tattered documents were recovered from a trash pile in Seguin where they had escaped incineration because of the weather. His daughter’s scores on the salvaged documents did not match those on a scoring summary he had previously been given, Mayhew said.
At the May meeting, the board approved Crowley’s motion to instruct Eads to engage an outside party to investigate allegations against Mayhew. Eads hired former San Antonio ISD deputy superintendent Peggy L. Stark-Wilson, who compiled a report the superintendent has so far declined to release publicly.
Even if Crowley intended for an investigation to cover the full spectrum of apparent abnormalities — and absurdities — surrounding the cheerleading selection ordeal, one of his colleagues on Monday said that’s not what his motion called for. Trustee Judy Allen said Eads followed the direction given by the board when they approved Crowley’s motion.
“I assume the board will want to be very careful about the way we state motions,” Allen said.
San Marcos attorney Charles Soechting, who was on-hand to represent Mayhew but did not speak during the meeting, said afterward that his client could appeal the board’s actions to the Texas Education Agency commissioner.
“It’s certainly not a hell of a lot of punishment, but it’s certainly more than you should get when you’ve done nothing wrong,” Soechting said.
He added: “I think it shows that San Marcos has joined much of the state of Texas in the cheerleader drama business. Anytime a bunch of drama mamas can cause this kind of disruption of a school district, it’s a shame.”
COVER: MERCURY PHOTO ILLUSTRATION by BRAD ROLLINS