TO WHAT EXTENT CAN SUPERINTENDENTS DETERMINE SCHOOL DISTRICT LAND USE?
Case citation: Wilson v. Dripping Springs ISD, Dkt. No. 006- R10-1011 (Comm’r Educ. December 19, 2013).
Summary: The Dripping Springs Independent School District’s superintendent redesignated a portion of the Dripping Springs Middle School Campus for use as a new office site and for workshops serving the district’s Plant Operations Department. Curtis D. Wilson filed a grievance over the superintendent’s actions, claiming that the superintendent was not authorized to designate district land use without board approval. The grievance was denied at Level II and heard by the board at Level III. However, the board took no action on Wilson’s grievance. Under district policy, if the board does not make a decision regarding a grievance after it is heard, the lack of a board response automatically upholds the Level II administrative decision.
Ruling: The Commissioner held that the superintendent had the authority to designate the use of the middle school for office space and workshops without prior board approval. Wilson alleged that the superintendent’s actions violated Texas Education Code § 11.151, which states that the “trustees of an independent school district constitute a body corporate and in the name of the district may acquire and hold real personal property . . . [and] have the exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the district.”
The Commissioner concluded that, while the board is the “paramount authority to govern and oversee the management of a school district,” the superintendent is the chief executive officer of a school district under Education Code § 11.201(a). As the chief executive officer, the superintendent can designate the use of school property and facilities. Nevertheless, the board retains the right to govern and oversee the superintendent’s decisions in that regard. Thus, the board could have determined that the property in question should be used exclusively as a middle school campus. The fact that the superintendent designated part of the middle school campus for use as office space and for workshops did not violate Education Code § 11.151. Under district policy, the board affirmed the Level II decision denying Wilson’s grievance by not taking action at Level III. The Commissioner found no error in the handling of the Level III grievance, and upheld the decision to deny Wilson’s grievance.
Comments: The Commissioner notes that “How property is to be used is generally a responsibility of management and a superintendent is the chief manager.” Providing an example, the Commissioner notes that “Decisions as to how many classrooms are to be used for third grade math at a particular campus do not have to be made by the school board.”