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Arlington schools chief is returning $3,400 check

Superintendent Hector Montenegro said Tuesday he is returning an uncashed check for about $3,400 as his lawyer and school district attorneys look into whether he violated any laws by accepting the honorarium from a nonprofit that does business with the district.

Montenegro said he was unsure what the law would allow when he was given the honorarium from Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID. Montenegro served as the San Diego-based nonprofit’s keynote speaker in March.

Honorariums are gifts or payments given to a professional that are not directly related to a service performed.

Montenegro said he will return the $3,400 and will decline any future honoraria. He said while he was superintendent of Ysleta schools in El Paso, he donated honoraria he received.

“I wanted to donate any honorarium to a scholarship fund set up through the AISD Education Foundation,” he said. “I donated $8,000 a year for five years to the education scholarship fund in Ysleta for students who planned to go into education as a career.”

Trustees asked Montenegro late last week for details of any compensation he has received from outside the district. Montenegro turned in that information Monday.

Trustees also gave him a July 21 deadline to submit detailed documentation of his relationships with AVID, the HOPE Foundation and five other education groups going back one year.

Montenegro said school officials started reviewing those relationships and state law after he received the AVID check.

Board president Jim Ash said reviewing state law and Montenegro’s documentation and establishing reporting procedures, which trustees did last week, will help the district comply with the law.

“We have an ongoing program to ensure that the district is in full compliance with the law,” he said.

Other foundations

HOPE Foundation president Alan Blankstein said most presenters do not receive honoraria, though he could not say with certainty whether Montenegro received one or not. Montenegro has said he did not.

Some teachers in the Arlington district have questioned how ethical it is for the district to use the foundation’s book, Failure is Not an Option, while Montenegro is listed as a presenter for the foundation.

Montenegro has also been a panel speaker for the Lockport, Ill.-based Education Research and Development Institute, which does pay honoraria, an official said.

Paul Dulle, president and CEO of ERDI, said the group pays honorariums to the superintendents who serve on panels during its twice-a-year institutes. Montenegro said he has not received any compensation from the group since coming to Arlington. The institute sends honoraria out in late November, Dulle said.

Dulle said the superintendents are paid $500 per panel served and for chairing a panel. A cap of $2,000 per institute or $4,000 per year is imposed for any given superintendent. Dulle said many superintendents have their honorariums donated directly to charities or other organizations.

Trustees have also asked for information about Montenegro’s relationships with the National Association for Bilingual Education, the Oregon Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, Bilingual Educators Emphasizing and Mastering Standards and the Texas Association of Bilingual Educators.

State law

The Texas penal code states that a public servant commits a Class A misdemeanor offense if he accepts an honorarium for services that he would not have been requested to provide but for that servant’s official position or duties. Public servants can receive transportation and lodging expenses under the law.

Montenegro’s attorney Neal Adams said much of the law is still unclear, including whether or not it is permissible for a public servant to donate his honorarium.

The state’s education code states that superintendents cannot receive any financial benefit from entities that do business with their district. However, trustees can approve superintendents to receive a financial benefit from other entities on a case-by-case basis.

Trustees have also directed Montenegro to submit detailed documentation of his outside activities going back one year. Those documents are due July 21.SHIRLEY JINKINS, 817-548-5565, EVA-MARIE AYALA, 817-548-5534

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