Diana Sayavedra will start as El Paso Independent School District superintendent on Jan. 4. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

The El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a three-year contract with a $277,000 starting salary for incoming Superintendent Diana Sayavedra, its first woman in that position.

The board voted 6-0 Wednesday to officially hire Sayavedra after it named her their lone finalist last month. Trustee Freddy Khlayel-Avalos was absent for the vote.

Sayavedra was most recently a deputy superintendent in the Fort Bend Independent School District outside Houston. She earned $232,472 in that role, according to that district.

“I’ve worked in education for 30 years now and every experience that I’ve had across the state, I truly believe that those experiences have prepared me for this moment in time, for this space, for this season of leadership in my career,” Sayavedra said after signing the contract.

Her first day will be Jan. 4, 2022, and her contract runs through January 2025, with the option of being extended.

Board President Al Velarde, right, congratulates Diana Sayavedra after the school board approved her contract Wednesday. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

“I think what we did was establish a contract that’s really more standardized for superintendents across the state. It’s not opening up the door for all sorts of other types of activities that we had previously,” EPISD Board President Al Velarde said, referring to former Superintendent Juan Cabrera.

Her contract explicitly prohibits her from consulting, an aspect of Cabrera’s amended contract that generated controversy and led, in part, to his November 2020 resignation. Her contract states that she “may not undertake consulting work or any other type of outside employment while employed by the District.”

During the final two years of his tenure, Cabrera was actively consulting for former Trustee Dori Fenenbock’s online school, as well as working for an education nonprofit, according to documents El Paso Matters obtained. His chief of staff, José López, was also involved in those ventures.

Sayavedra’s contract does encourage her “to participate in community and civic affairs,” and said the district may cover the costs of such activities.

The contract also lacks the special benefits Cabrera was offered, including a $1,500 monthly car allowance and $1,200 monthly office allowance. Sayavedra’s $12,000 moving benefit is also far less than Cabrera’s $35,000 relocation stipend.

The district will only contribute to her Texas Teacher Retirement System plan. Cabrera received such a contribution, in addition to district-paid premiums on his disability and life insurance policies and contributions to his annuity account.

When asked if the contract was fair, Velarde said: “There’s nothing in there that really is any different from what any other employee gets. I think that’s important because the message is being sent that while she’s a leader and definitely superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, she’s still a part of that team and she’s not above and better than, or singled out, as different than anybody else.”

Newly chosen El Paso Independent School District Superintendent Diana Sayavedra was greeted by County Judge Ricardo Samaniego at a reception Wednesday after the school board approved her contract. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Cabrera was initially offered a $285,000 base salary in 2013. He had never been a school administrator.

At the time of his resignation, he was earning more than $500,000 in salary and benefits.

Trustee Josh Acevedo said he also believes EPISD taxpayers will find Sayavedra’s contract fair, and said there is room for her base salary to be increased.

“We’ll evaluate her in January (2023). After a year I think we definitely want to see results and at that point it will merit a raise,” Acevedo said. “I think she’s giving us that trust to say, ‘we want to see you perform.’”

Trustee Daniel Call said he expects “big things” from Sayavedra. “There’s room (in the contract) for her to prove herself,” he said. “I totally believe in her.”

Cover photo: Diana Sayavedra will start as El Paso Independent School District superintendent on Jan. 4. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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.