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EPISD board accepts Cabrera resignation; documents show his involvement in Fenenbock school

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Juan Cabrera’s seven-year tenure helming the El Paso Independent School District came to an abrupt end when the school board unanimously approved his resignation Thursday.

Cabrera, who was hired in September 2013, had more than three years left on his contract, which was set to run through Jan. 17, 2024.

The board approved Cabrera’s resignation agreement after more than two hours of closed door discussion. In a separation agreement, Cabrera’s resignation becomes effective Feb. 1, 2021 but he will use accrued leave between now and then. The settlement then calls for him to be paid $558,917.54 in early 2021.

EPISD also will fund Cabrera’s three supplemental retirement plans.

“Serving as superintendent of schools for the El Paso Independent School District for the last seven years has been a privilege and an honor. Together with the teachers and staff of the District, we managed to transform EPISD from a struggling (district) with a widespread cheating scandal into one that is seen as a leader in urban education in the United States,” Cabrera said in a prepared statement. He has declined to respond to questions from El Paso Matters.

Trustees also appointed Vince Sheffield interim superintendent, effective Monday.

Vince Sheffield

Sheffield has been with EPISD for nearly three decades and is deputy superintendent of administration and academics.

Cabrera was not present at Thursday’s board meeting.

His resignation comes three weeks after news surfaced of his involvement in a California civil lawsuit that seeks to recover $5 million that he and former EPISD board President Dori Fenenbock allegedly defrauded investors of in the online school she launched in 2019. Fenenbock disputes the fraud allegations and maintains Cabrera is strictly an unpaid advisor.

Whether he’s paid or not, Cabrera appears to be deeply involved with the online school, eSchool Prep, according to records obtained by El Paso Matters.

Dori Fenenbock

Fenenbock emailed Texarkana Independent School District interim Superintendent Autumn Thomas on Sept. 24 to discuss a future meeting between the district and eSchool Prep team. Texarkana ISD’s state license is used by eSchool Prep to operate the virtual school.

“Juan texted me and let me know you two connected by phone. Thank you for allowing us some time to calibrate on the expected revenue,” Fenenbock wrote. “ … Juan also mentioned that we’re trying to get on your schedule next week for an in-person visit. … Who knows when we’ll have another chance to get our teams together if we get hit with another outbreak.”

In emails to Texarkana administrators, Cabrera referred to eSchool Prep as “our school” and refers to Fenenbock as “my partner.”

On Oct. 21, two days after the lawsuit became public, Thomas emailed Fenenbock to set up a call.

“It is in regards to our phone conversation on Monday and a couple other items,” Thomas wrote. “It is very sensitive so please let me know when you can visit.”

That is the final email Texarkana ISD released to El Paso Matters in response to an Oct. 27 open records request seeking all emails exchanged between district administrators and Fenenbock and Cabrera. Texarkana has yet to fulfill the entire request for administrators aside from Thomas.

As part of the resignation agreement, EPISD board President Bob Geske wrote Cabrera a letter of recommendation for future employment.

“I highly recommend Mr. Cabrera for any position of responsibility, most especially as school superintendent. In conclusion, I know you will come to admire his dedication to children and learning as I do,” the letter says.

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Molly Smith

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014, with stops in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and now El Paso. She can be reached at mksmith@elpasomatters.org or 915-247-8857.

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