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Top San Antonio ISD staff resign following widespread heater failures

The outside of San Antonio ISD's new Central Office Building in September 2021.
Camille Phillips

Two high-level employees resigned following widespread heater system failures in the San Antonio Independent School District.

In an email to staff Thursday afternoon, SAISD Superintendent Jaime Aquino said he accepted the resignations of Ken Thompson, deputy superintendent of operations, and Mike Eaton, chief of operations.

“We must admit that this was an error on the part of leaders in the district. We had a week to prepare. Our families count on us to be open, and we are obligated to be there for them,” Aquino said in the internal email. “Although I have accepted the resignations … I also recognize their significant contributions to our district on behalf of our students.”

Before becoming deputy superintendent of operations, Thompson was the district’s chief of information technology. When schools were closed during the pandemic, Thompson spearheaded a widely-lauded effort to get tablets and broadband in the hands of SAISD students. 

During a press conference Wednesday announcing all schools would be closed Thursday and Friday for repairs, Aquino said the inability to keep classrooms warm during the cold snap was due to a combination of human error and system failures, and he promised to “take a deep look not only at the infrastructure process of this issue, but [also] the personnel involved.”

Aquino added that the district planned to re-program heating systems during the cold weather so that the boilers would run 24 hours a day, but at some campuses maintenance “forgot” to manually override the system.

“That error led to major issues in our infrastructure in terms of the boiler pipes breaking down. They completely froze,” Aquino said Wednesday.

Both in the press conference on Wednesday and in the email on Thursday, Aquino acknowledged that some heater problems were due to other causes, possibly including deferred maintenance due to insufficient funds.

However, Aquino also said Thursday that he plans to work with an external investigative team to fully examine the causes of the heating systems breakdown and publish a report.

“We are painfully aware that San Antonio ISD was the only school system in the region to experience this significant of a systems failure,” Aquino said in the internal email.

Because of the resignations of the operations officials, Aquino said the senior executive director of child nutrition services, Jenny Arredondo, will take charge of the operations division with support from Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann.

“They are already working campus by campus to determine whether schools are ready for students beginning Monday,” Aquino said.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.