Embattled, Targeted Texas Border School Superintendent Suspended with Pay

Donna ISD, Texas
Breitbart Texas/Ildefonso Ortiz

The embattled superintendent of a Texas border school district, who has been the target of a political witch hunt, was suspended with pay following his recent arrest on bribery and retaliation charges.

On Saturday, June 13, trustees of the Donna Independent School District (ISD) school board met behind closed doors for approximately one half hour in a special session. The only item on their agenda was to discuss Superintendent Jesus Rene Reyna’s employment.

All five board members voted unanimously to place Reyna, 56, on indefinite suspension with pay, effective immediately, as the criminal investigation into alleged charges that he bribed the district’s police chief continues.

This decision came weeks after Reyna was arrested and charged with one count of bribery, a second degree felony, and retaliation, a third degree felony.

According to KGBT-4, this was the first time school board member met since Reyna was arrested. The charges in the criminal complaint against him stem from allegations that Reyna attempted to suppress a “criminal investigation on Mr. Reyna and his family for insurance fraud and theft against Donna ISD.”

However, Breitbart Texas reported that the bribe claimed by school district police chief Roy Padilla was, in fact, a $400 gasoline reimbursement voucher.

Reyna and his attorney, Juan “Sonny” Palacios, Jr., were not present. School district attorney Robert Salinas told KRGV-5 News, that Reyna and Palacios were not banned from the meeting, but would not have been allowed into the closed session either, if they had shown up.

Salinas declined to comment on any specific details discussed during the special meeting, yet spoke to KGBT-4. “The board is trying to get all these problems behind us and get the district going again to address the most important functions of the district and that is the safe education, the good education of all students here,” he said.

He also told the Monitor, “The board considered certain factors and some of them are the problems presently plaguing our superintendent.”

Salinas continued, “A suspension was justified and merited in view of the seriousness of the accusations — a suspension with pay was proper under the circumstances and in the best interest of the district.”

Donna ISD campus police launched an inquiry into Reyna and Ernesto Lugo, a school board member, after officers said they attempted to pay off Police Chief Roy Padilla to drop a case investigating theft and insurance fraud involving the superintendent and his family, according to the Monitor.

Yet, Breitbart Texas has been following this unfolding story at Donna ISD and has found it to be riddled with questionable ethics at every turn.

For starters, Salinas, who represents the school district, is a convicted felon who was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison on money laundering charges tied to drug trafficking, and relinquished his law license in 1995 rather than face disciplinary action and having his license stripped. Ten years later, in 2005, Salinas was reinstated to practice law.

Despite a criminally checkered past, Salinas is paid $25,000 per month to represent a small Texas border school district as general counsel. The previous Donna ISD lawyers, Guerra & Farah, billed $8,000 a month on retainer.

Salinas was hired directly by Board President Alberto Sandoval, circumventing the proper channels where the Board of Trustees vote on the hire, which Breitbart Texas reported.

In series of soap-opera-worthy twists and turns, a situation with little to no evidence in some cases spiraled into Padilla charging three school employees with having improper relations with students. One of those employees was Carlo Cordova, Reyna’s son-in-law.

Breitbart Texas also reported that the school board and Padilla “have created a scandal as part of a power grab in order to fire the current superintendent Jesus Reyna.”

Previously, Padilla was fired by Reyna, but was also hired back by a new school board faction that was elected last November. Breitbart Texas reported that since coming back as the district’s police chief, Padilla appears to be working with Reyna’s biggest opponent: Sandoval.

KGBT-4 reported that Palacios, Reyna’s attorney, also said the charges against his client were political. What appears to be quite a feud between Padilla and Reyna may also be a conflict of interest. Padilla, who was fired by Reyna, conducted the investigation involving Reyna and his family. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has launched its own investigation following Reyna’s arrest.

Earlier in June, Breitbart Texas reported that Reyna fought back to stop a move by the school board to push him out.

A federal lawsuit was filed against the Donna ISD school board in February. It claimed a series of politically motivated retaliations at the hands of Board President Alberto Sandoval and two of his closest cronies on the board, Breitbart Texas reported.

Also in February, the unsavory Salinas, Padilla, and the school board manufactured a scandal in an attempt to oust Reyna – who, along with the minority of the school board, faced off against Sandoval and his faction in a special board meeting called to discuss firing the superintendent.  The coup backfired amidst public pressure and media attention. The board voted to keep Reyna despite Sandoval’s dismay.

The latest corruption spin-off involved Padilla’s son Danny, who was arrested on class B and C misdemeanor drug charges after being pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy over the weekend. Police K-9 led authorities to small amounts of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, as Breitbart Texas reported.

Ironically, the elder Padilla’s brother Jose, former commander with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office, is currently serving a federal prison sentence for having taken money from a Mexican drug lord.

Now with Reyna gone as superintendent, the district indicated that they have a “plan in place” to KRGV-5. Deputy Superintendent Fernando Castillo, a former Donna High School principal and assistant superintendent, will take over Reyna’s role immediately.

Reyna could be slapped with additional disciplinary actions as the criminal investigation continues. He was arrested nearly three weeks ago and, if convicted, would face up to 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.