October 9, 1998
By Daniel L. Munoz
In a replay of events that occurred during the school year of 1991 at the Sweetwater Union High District, Superintendent Anthony (Tony) Trujillo was terminated, effective immediately, during an emotional Board meeting of the Ysleta (Texas) School Board of Trustees meeting on Friday Oct, 2, 1998.
Trujillo, who was hired in 1992 by the then Board of Trustees, was ousted on a 4-3 vote.
The Board immediately thereafter appointed Irma Trujillo, the district's bilingual education director, on a 5-2 vote, to replace him, as interim superintendent. She is no relation to the fired superintendent.
Trujillo was 58 years old when he was forced to resign in January 1991 as Superintendent of the 28,000-student Sweetwater Union High School District. Trujillo had no choice but to leave, he was fighting with the teachers, his school board, and important elements of the Chicano and Chula Vista political, social, and economic leadership.
In 1989, Trujillo had been charged by teachers of corruption involving thousands of dollars worth of missing computer equipment. The San Diego County Grand Jury and the State Auditor investigated him. The results led to his immediate resignation.
In spite of his shoddy record, a Ysleta delegation came to San Diego to check out Trujillo for the position of Superintendent of the Ysleta School District in 1992.
Former Superintendent Trujillo, according to the reports filtering out of Ysleta, apparently made the same mistakes there as he did in Chula Vista. He involved himself in the politics of the region instead of applying himself to the job as superintendent in the district.
It was not long before the El Paso Times, the main media in the area, was carrying headlines such as "Power politics and education just don't mix" It was Deja Vu all over again.
Sweetwater Union High District with a large majority of Mexican American students were beset with problems. The Superintendent prior to Trujillo was Anglo-European, as was the majority of the teaching staff. The culturally different student body was in chaos, no education was going on. Hispanic students were being `socially passed', and were graduating as functional illiterates. After a long and protracted struggle, the appointment of Mr. Anthony Trujillo came about.
The community parents and the Chicano activists, who brought about his employment, looked to a vast improvement in the operation of the school districts. This was not to come about. It was not long before Trujillo's real agenda for coming to San Diego County became clear. In a private showdown with the Publisher of La Prensa San Diego, then Superintendent Trujillo loudly and very clearly informed him "I DIDN'T COME HERE TO BE A SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT. I DON'T CARE ABOUT THE SCHOOL, THE TEACHERS NOR THE STUDENTS!" He then continued to make his position very clear.." I came here to build me a political base and nothing else!" Needless to say, speaking that way to a man who owns a printing press was not the smartest thing to do.
His days were numbered from there on in. Not too long after, he tangled with the Teachers Union and their leader, Jose Lopez. Allegations of forcing teachers to contribute to political campaigns, functions that suited his political agenda arose. Allegations of misuse of schools funds such as paying for his wife's health insurance to the tune of $4,500 per year, boasting his salary to outrageous heights, insuring himself for a $1 million dollars at taxpayers expense, creating a $50,000 expense account, creating a stipend for his wife of $1,600 a year to travel with him.
The Ysleta Experience
The Ysleta School District was soon to find out what a mistake it made to hire a Sweetwater Union High castoff.
Demonstrating that Trujillo learned his lessons well at Sweetwater Union High District he soon went to work on the Board and their money.
Item: Trujillo conned the Board into giving him a $1,000,000 insurance policy.
Item: Trujillo managed to get his friends on the Board to give his wife a yearly $1,650 travel stipend which would rise every time employees received a raise. His wife was not an employee of the school district.
Item: To insure the reelection of one of his `controlled' Trustees, Trujillo caused a special videotape to be made at a cost of $10,000 from school funds.
Item: Trujillo spent $500,000 to landscape a site for an entrepreneur center that would cost $1 million in school funds. Yet, he couldn't find the money to pay for therapists for the handicapped.
Item: Trujillo squandered $300,000 to buy a fancy new bus for athletics.
Item: Trujillo got his controlled board to give him a contract that allowed him to fire and hire employees and set the term of their employment.
Item: Trujillo launched a $50 million plan to buy computers and a plan to pay for them by refinancing the school debt.
Item: Trujillo managed to get, for himself, the highest salary of any state Superintendent. His $165,000 per year did not include a $10,000 guaranteed year-end bonus.
The end was getting close when Trujillo tried to set up the Board as a corporation able to borrow $25 million from a local bank!
New Board had it: Fires Trujillo
On a late Texas night, the battle at the OK Corral got underway. On one side were the opponents: Trustees Board President, Ronda Scrivener, Trustees Blanca Dominquez, Mike Portillo, and Chuck Peartree. Superintendent Anthony Trujillo, Trustees Ismael Legarreta, Fred Sanchez, Jr., and Carlos Sandoval were on the other side. Though outnumbered and apparently outgunned, "Tex" Trujillo had a couple of outriders to try and blast the opposition.
Trujillo tipped his hand when he had the "Heritage Foundation", a very conservative Republican "Think Tank" come out with a puff piece on his tenure as superintendent. Published in the NEWS by their Heritage Public Relations section, it was an obvious effort to burnish his image.
The title of their work: EL PASO SUPERINTENDENT SETS THE STANDRD FOR URBAN SCHOOLS. Tyce Palmaffy was the spin master who wrote the propaganda piece on Trujillo. (He could have gotten the name of city accurately. YSLET, TEXAS not El Paso). This was followed by a "Policy Review" piece sent to the media in September. Anthony Trujil-lo's political line was now becoming clear.
At the Board meeting, it was revealed by the El Paso Times, that Newt Gingrich had called Trujillo one of the nation's most innovative educational leaders! The question raised is: Does Newt Gingrich know a lowly Superintendent from a Southern Texas town? Especially when he is a professed Democrat?
In one of the strangest defenses that could be offered for his misdeeds, Trujillo, in a bid to influence the mostly Mexican American audience raised the name of Cesar Chavez, calling him "His longtime friend and mentor." Ironically after his firing Trujillo made one last pitch to ride on the Chavez coattails: "I will appeal this to the highest courts, not because I need this job or because I want to prove board members wrong, I will appeal because, to the day I DIE I MUST KEEP MY VOW TO CHAVEZ," he said. (Local Chicano activists can't recall Trujillo ever participating in a single event honoring Chavez or his supporting his efforts).
It is now clear the political line that Anthony Trujillo was playing in Ysleta, much to the detriment of the school district. Newt Gingrich and his boys were playing presidential politics.
Texas is crucial to Republican hopes of taking over the White House in 2000. Their possible candidate is Gov. George Bush. They need the Mexican vote terribly! This is were individuals like Trujillo become important and needed and must be maintained in their positions of influence At least until the election.
(Information for this article came from various parents, activist, and the local media reports on the occurrence. E-Mail has become a formidable way of gathering information from distance events.)