It’s Official: Palazzolo’s Head is on Johnson’s Platter

17
Posted October 24, 2010 by betty.brink in Blotch

At this coming Tuesday night’s school board meeting, Fort Worth schools superintendent Melody Johnson will recommend to the trustees that Joe Palazzolo, former assistant principal and the whistleblower in the Arlington Heights High School scandal, be fired.

This will come as no surprise to readers of this paper. Fort Worth Weeklyhas been reporting on the Palazzolo and Arlington Heights controversy since August. Palazzolo had been warned as early as last May that he was a target of the district’s ire for reporting a litany of illegal and unethical wrongdoings that had been occurring at the school for years with the knowledge and in some cases the collusion of the school’s principal, Neta Alexander.  Eleven teachers at the school provided Palazzolo with signed statements detailing their first-hand knowledge of the illegalities which ranged from sexual harassment to falsification of attendance records, triggering an internal investigation that lasted five months.  In a report released last week, district investigators confirmed almost all of the charges including the fact that three of its former administrators — Principal Neta Alexander, assistant principal Harold Nichols and girls athletic director Isabelle Perry — had committed fraud by falsifying attendance records, a criminal offense under the Texas Penal Code. The report also found that assistant superintendent Chuck Boyd, now on administrative leave after being implicated in the scandal, was guilty of “unethical behavior” and “poor judgment” for protecting his old friend Perry’s illegal actions and borrowing $4,900 from her putting him in a position of being beholden to one of his subordinates.

Ironically, Palazzolo, who was never named by the teachers or anyone else as one of the perpetrators of the illegal and unethical practices that were going on at the school is the only person involved in the controversy to face termination — in spite of the fact that the district investigators received over 80 emails from Heights teachers in support of Palazzolo. One wrote that a number of positive projects that he started would be lost if he is not allowed to return to the school.

That fact that only Palazzolo has been targeted has enraged board member Carlos Vasquez, a former school employee who represents District 1.

 “I am very angry that they want to fire the whistleblower and take no action against those who committed the misconduct he reported,” Vasquez said in a telephone interview yesterday after receiving a letter from Sylvia Reyna, chief of administration of the Fort Worth schools, notifying the board of the superintendent’s decision. In it she said the reasons were based on “concerns … raised during the course of the District’s investigation of matters pertaining to Arlington Heights High School.”

“How does this look to the public,” he said, “to fire the person who brought the charges in the first place?  This is all skewed. It is so wrong.”

Vasquez said he didn’t care what the charges are against Palazzolo, Johnson will not get his vote. “Whether he was an exemplary employee or not, is not the question,” he said. “This has been a witch hunt, to get the whistleblower who spoke out and brought attention to serious violations of the law. …This culture [of retaliation] permeates the district, if employees speak out, [the administration] goes after them. We are not supporting our employees and this has got to stop.”

Trustee Tobi Jackson said in an email response, “Out of respect to Mr. Palazzolo and his family, it would be appropriate to comment post the conclusion of this matter.” She also said she hopes the district will “insure that every member of the FWISD team knows they can move forward without the concern of retaliation.” Norm Robbins also mentioned to another newspaper that employees should not fear retaliation if they come forward with allegations of wrongdoing.

Board members Ann Sutherland and Juan Rangel have expressed concerns about the district’s sudden turn from investigating the serious charges Palazzolo brought to light to an investigation of the whistleblower.

“The intensive investigation against Joe Palazzolo began only after he reported problems to the district.  After spending hours reviewing documents, I have concluded he did not commit any offenses that warrant his dismissal,” Sutherland wrote in an email response. Rangel said in an earlier interview, based on the evidence he had seen so far, he would vote against termination.

 Judy Needham, who represents the district and was named by dozens of Heights teachers as having knowledge of the corrupt culture there but failed to do anything about it, has said she will recuse herself from voting on the termination.

Linda LaBeau, who ran against Needham last year for the board seat and who represented Palazzolo as a professional mediator, said that she plans to file “ethics charges against Judy Needham for her complicity with Alexander to alter testing and attendance records and her refusal to assist minority students in her district.” LaBeau said she bases her complaints on charges brought to her by teachers and parents in the district. LaBeau has also asked the Department of Education’s office of special counsel to open an investigation into the district’s handling of the Arlington Heights scandal.

“Everyone is going to wonder, ‘What happened to the other players’ in this,” said Larry Shaw, referring to the Heights administrators and Boyd. Shaw is CEO of the United Educators Association the largest teachers’ organization in the county.

He represented Palazzolo after he filed his first grievance against the district when it moved him to a smaller school and cut his pay shortly after he reported the allegations. The allegations brought against Palazzolo as a basis for firing him are highly questionable, he said, and are based on hearsay and mysteriously appearing documents that did not exist when Shaw met with Alexander and reviewed Palazzolo’s personnel file in June. “This simply doesn’t pass my smell test,” Shaw said. “It is one of the weirdest things this downtown administration has done yet and it is totally wrong,” he said.

 Since then, Palazzolo has been moved to another high school, then shortly after that abruptly put on paid administrative leave in late August based on a complaint the district claims was filed by a student six months earlier — but one that Palazzolo has never been allowed to see even though the district’s letter telling him Johnson wanted him fired uses the complaint as a basis for firing him.  The details of the complaint, without naming the complainant, were first officially released last Friday in the district’s report on the Heights investigation. The Star-Telegramreported two weeks ago that the complainant called reporter Eva Ayala telling her that she was a senior at Heights who was angered because, she alleged, Palazzolo turned her and her date away from last year’s prom because her date was believed to be drinking.

The district’s report claims that Palazzolo, on his own initiative imposed a breathalyzer test on the students, bullied them, tried to push the girl as he escorted them back to their chauffeur-driven limousine, failed to call the parents reporting possible alcohol use and then failed to take action against the students because they were white.

“If this is what the complaint states, it is all untrue,” Palazzolo told the Weekly. He remembers well the incident, but said that there were two or three police officers there that night and four other assistant principals and several teachers. “The Fort Worth PD did the sobriety tests,” he said. The young woman in question’s date was believed to have been drinking and was asked to leave, he said. “Their parents were called,” he said. “Another teacher was in charge of that and she reported to me that the parents were notified.”  As for the failure to take action, Palazzolo said that was Alexander’s decision. “Alexander told a teacher there that night that the police officers were corrupt and she would take no action against the students because she said, “I know their parents.”

Several of the teachers there that night support Palazzolo’s version of the events. None will speak publicly for fear of retaliation.

Several things are wrong with the complaint even beyond the facts of the incident, Palazzolo, his attorney Jason Smith and Shaw point out: State law and district policy require that any complaint filed against a district employee must be filed within ten days of the alleged incident, that the accused be told of the charges and the name of his or her accuser and that a conference with the complainant and the accused be established within another ten day period for resolution. None of those conditions were met. In addition, in June, Shaw said he asked Alexander specifically if there were any letters or reports of complaints against Palazzolo in his file and she said, “No.”

“So now, this complaint appears months later, but wasn’t there when I asked? No way,” he said.

Other charges brought against Palazzolo claim that he falsified information on his application when he withheld information regarding his “criminal history and previous work experience.” The district claims he had a “conviction in federal court” and a criminal conviction in state court, both in Oklahoma. The report, authored by Reyna, does not state that both were misdemeanors that occurred 13 and 20 years ago respectively and that one, an issue over a security guard’s expired license, a worker in Palazzolo’s security company long defunct, was satisfied by Palazzolo paying a fine and was expunged from his record. The other, he points out, was a child support issue filed by his former wife and “was never on my record to my knowledge,” he said. “I paid the back support she claimed I owed and I only made one appearance in court to agree to the terms of the settlement.”  Palazzolo said that the case was never officially filed until someone from the district called the Oklahoma federal court’s clerk seeking the information after being tipped off by an anonymous letter writer. “The clerk told me that she couldn’t find any reference to my file, but that the person from the district insisted that it was there. The clerk finally found the documents in an old filing cabinet and, noting that it had never been officially entered into the record, filed it on September 22, 2010 — 13 years after the fact.

Palazzolo said he did not lie about his past record, but believed that only felony convictions were required to be reported.  His contract with the district and the district’s own employee handbook both refer only to felony convictions as reportable. He said he does not believe that his original application for employment, signed in 2005, referred to misdemeanors and felonies as reportable even though current applications do.

Palazzolo was also accused of “inequity” in assessing discipline to black and brown students as compared to whites, a charge he flatly denies, pointing out that in the original complaints from him and the 11 teachers at Heights, that charge was consistently raised by all against principal Alexander.

There are also two complaints from two counselors (unnamed) who claim that he bullied them. Another charge he denies. “I think I know who the complainants are, however,” he said. One, he believes, is from a counselor that he reported for interfering with a felony warrant for theft about to be issued against a Heights student by a Fort Worth police officer.  Palazzolo was told that the police were on the way to arrest the student and was asked not to let him know. The student’s counselor was also told but she warned the student’s mother who came to get him before the police arrived. Another had to do with a counselor “who failed to issue instructional modifications to more than 12 special needs students,” he said.  

But “To this day, I have never seen either of these complaints,” he said.

In the final paragraph Reyna writes, “A number of statements were received from staff members regarding your unprofessional behavior and bullying conduct,” without specifying who wrote the statements or of what exactly Palazzolo is accused.

 “I asked in August and September under the Texas Open Records act for all of the complaints, the names of my accusers, the names of the district personnel who investigated the ‘anonymous letter,’ and the investigators reports” he said, “which is my right under the law and due process, to know who my accusers are and what the accusations are, but the district keeps denying me the information, based on the fact that I am ‘under investigation,’” he said.

Palazzolo provided this reporter with three letters from the district’s legal department head Bertha Whatley, in which she keeps putting off a release date for the open records requests based on the fact that he is under investigation.  In the latest letter, she writes that he will get the information by October 29 — three days after the board will have been asked to vote on his termination.

 “How can I defend myself against these charges, when I don’t know what they are, who they are from and will not even get them in time to respond?  If this is how due process works under Melody Johnson, then I fear for everyone who works for this district,” he said

 


17 Comments


  1.  
    Jackson's backyard

    Time to wake up Tobi (finally). We reported the same things were going on here at Eastern Hills and there has been no response. Stand up for what is right Tobi. Don’t let Johnson crucify this guy.
    Hey Norm – Have you heard about problems in the District yet? Wake up Norm, Do either of you think we are CRAZY enough to come forward NOW and EVER report anything?




  2.  

    I hope the District Attorney for white collar fraud is reading Betty’s reports. The collusion at the very top of FWISD must stop. Whether you have children in FWISD or not, over 49% of your tax dollars are going to pay outrageous salaries to these white collar criminals. Terminating Joe Palazzolo will serve no purpose other than to bring more shame to Fort Worth’s inability to run an urban majority/minority school district. Joe was acting in accordance with his job assignment by Alexander. From the beginning Joe performed his job at “meets or exceeds” evaluations. It was only those currying favor with Alexander and MJ who complained about Joe holding to ethically performing his job. When this witchhunt concludes, we taxpayers will be the losers but more importantly we will lose good teachers. The education of our children is suffering. Many of the behavior problems in our school district originate with poor students not being identified as learning disabled students. The district prefers to pay high salaries to corrupt administrators versus spending money to identify students with learning disabilities. As an urban district we are sending children to juvenile court who belong in special education programs to allow these students learning opportunities. This is the true crime being perpetrated on our community. Disguarding our children to the court system versus providing them with a fair appropriate public education.




  3.  
    Tobi Jackson

    Casper aka”Jackson’s Backyard”,

    First and foremost give me a call, I’m listed in the phone book and my email is tobi.jackson@fwisd.org, or I presume as you claim to be in my backyard, just shout over the fence.

    Second, take a look around District 2 and see the changes. I am focusing on educating our 80K students and achieving outcomes that benefit our community. Follow me at http://www.tobijackson.org

    Third, I invite you to any board meeting, or for that matter any public place to discuss any issue with me at any time. It’s easy to hide behind the internet in the safety of your home. The challenge is to work within the system and evoke POSITIVE CHANGE! I opt for the latter!

    Fourth, I have received no reports on EHHS, other than positive ones. We have a great Principal, directing a superb faculty, and the students are responding beautifully!

    Until we meet, or you sign your name, I’ll hope you will accept the name CASPER and drop my surname.

    Hope to see you soon, CASPER!

    Respectfully,

    Tobi Jackson




  4.  
    maria Melo

    Board Members,

    This will be the “lemon test” for you. You should discuss this decision in a public hearing for all tax payers to be assured of transparency.

    Melody and her leadership team must go but soon. Teachers do not report what’s going on to you because they have been terrified by the intimidating and hostile environment imposed by central administration and some principals who are afraid of doing the right thing.

    It’s not okay campaign about bullies does not apply to Central administrators and some principals? Is it okay to kill the whistleblower, intimidate teachers, accuse without you not know who and what is you accused, retaliate and create a hostile environment for teachers?

    We, tax payers, will be monitoring how would you respond to this embarrassment. We will be in tune this Tuesday from 5:00 – 11:00 pm.




  5.  
    AHHS Parent

    Every parent who had to pay a fine in truancy court for Heights in the last eight years should get a refund. Johnson’s own report admits Alexander’s decisions were “selective” and not consistent.




  6.  

    District is a bunch of liars. Dr. Reyna the investigator is a personal friend of Melodies – they worked together in San Antonio. She one of the Good ol’ boy’s. You think this is a legit investigation- it’s a crock. Reyna is protecting her friend Melody who is protecting her friend Needham who is protecting her friends Izzy Perry and Neta Alexander oh and don’t forget Chuck they all were drinking buddies and hung out together. Such good friends that Chuck was borrowing $4900 from perry- wonder where that money came from???




  7.  

    Does anyone wonder why the hell they would investigate Joe when he brought the complaints to the District. Anyone wonder why Needham wasnt included or even mentioned in the report even though she knew what was going on months prior when she met with Tommy Elliot and Linda Bobo in person to discuss the attendance fraud??? How about the emails she failed to act on by multiple teachers discussing what was going on- You think she gave a damn- hell no. Neta and Melody are her buddies.




  8.  

    The District had this info. Weeks before graduation- and sat on it. why? who authorized it? Does anyone wonder why all this attendance was falsified in the first place if it didn’t affect graduation like they claim – what was the need then??? We know the truth – unfotunately. Think this is isolated to Arlington Heights – try South Hills, Eastern Hills, and Dunbar to name a few. They can’t hide this forever – you can kill the messenger but he is exposing the truth. thank you Betty Brink for exposing these frauds and cronies.




  9.  
    AHHS Teacher

    Joe P is a good man being made the fall guy. Why is Alexander still around? For years we heard Perry brag about loaning Boyd $5,000.00. Why all of the sudden is it $4,900.00? Sounds like cover-up to avoid a felony to me. Remember: it supposedly was booser Club money not Perry’s personal money. Why has she been allowed to return thousands of dollars since her “resignation”? Reyna is as unethical as the rest.




  10.  
    Jeepers

    Tip of the iceberg. One embarassing federal investigation finished at what cost to the tax payers and now I see another one on our horizon. Start at the top. Get rid of Johnson and it is high time the investigators and legal team at FWISD gets a thorough cleansing.. Nepotism? Cronyism? You betcha. It’s well known. Keep digging Ms. Brink, you will find it. Tip of my Stetson to you.




  11.  
    maria Melo

    Here I am go again:
    1- Closing the achievement gap – another joke. Robert Ray told the board: “The achievement gap pains me…” How come? You are leading the widening of the achievement gap. This happened in Melody Johnson previous district. Surprise!!!!

    2- Software glitches – poor handling and poor performance. What’s going on with the Tyler company. This is a bizarre commitment.

    3- Arlington Heights – Embarrassment is the school house. From top to bottom. Coverup, corruption and disempowerment to teachers.

    These are three strikes Board Members. I do not know how many more strikes are you going to allow these administration and so called leadership. Are we racing to the top or to the bottom.

    Here is your homework: What are you going to do to eliminate this problem. If you pay the remainder of Johnson salary and benefits, we the tax payers will win. Don’t be afraid.




  12.  
    Eddie

    It’s classic Tocco and Needham.




  13.  
    eBetty brink

    My sincere thanks to all who are reading these stories and replying to them. The AHHS saga has gotten more hits than any of our other stories and is probably leading in the comments category. We at the Weekly are proud of the role we play in this community as watchdogs of the taxpayer’s interests. And we are more than grateful for our loyal readers support. This is what makes it all worth the effort.




  14.  
    Deputy DOG

    I say FIRE THEM ALL, Palazzolo, Alexander, Boyd and anyone else connected to this mess. Let them fight to get their jobs back. Jos Palazzolo is not the knight riding in on his white horse to save FWISD. He was the cause of alot of the mess at the school. Neta Alexander supported him and cover his butt when necessay. All this would have never came out if when Neta Alexander was transfer, she would have taken him with her. FIRE THEM ALL.




  15.  
    non-fwisd person

    AHHS teacher, your bitterness is so obvious. For you to allude to Perry stealing what she lent to Boyd many years ago didn’t come from the Booster Club. I know this for a fact.




  16.  
    Dog Catcher

    Reply to Deputy DOG: Since you are putting the same crap out on different stories, thought I would reply in kind: Obviously you are not a blood hound on the “trail”. Back to the pound. If there is firing to be done, it needs to start at the top. Fire them all wouls also include the three Assistants Principals they conveniently left out of the report. In particular, the one who personally changed/approved over 400 unexcused absences, was written up for falsifying over a dozen teacher evaluations. Time to move on a “no confidence” vote Board.




  17.  
    Frustrated

    I have been an employee for this district for a short while…it frightens me how corrupt things are internally. Unfortunately, districts hide behind the convoluted notion that “they” are a unique culture and “that’s the way it is”. It doesn’t have to be! People shouldn’t have to put up with racism, bullying, retaliation and so forth, just because “that’s the way it is”. I am a firm believer that organizations out there, big and small, need to adapt a “thinking out of the box” mentality, so their employees are treated like human beings. FWISD has always been a “good ole boy” culture; if you are not high up in the food chain, you are treated like less than. And when you are high up, you think it excuses you from not having decency and honor. I say FWISD needs to hurry up and do what it needs to do, so we, the employees doing a job we love, can get back to doing what we do best…helping students succeed. While you big wigs are up there covering each other’s behinds and wasting taxpayers money, we, the employees are in the trenches; teachers are teaching to TEA standards, Social Workers are ensuring students and their families have their needs met outside of the educational purview, janitors are cleaning up the messes people make daily, admin assistants are constantly dealing with disgruntal parents, so forth and so on!!! I say to the taxpayers, parents, employees, constituents…all of you out there…we cannot settle for “less than”. We need good administrators who understand the value of education and not just the value that goes into their check books every month! We need administrators who believe in justice and equality and higher pay for the teachers, b/c they have a hard time enough having to deal with the high demands of TEA. We need administrators who don’t come up with awareness campaigns, because “it looks good”, but more because it’s time to do something about our students, your children and mine, who exit this world before their time! Yes, we need to hurry up and put this debacle behind us and focus on the important things…our students! Fix the top and it will slowly trickle to the bottom. It’s time to wake up FWISD…we are watching and we will wait! Dr. Johnson, I was so wrong about you…unfortunately it took me a little while to realize it. You are a politician first and foremost…and the friends you bring in to investigate your messes are equally political. You all get to the places you are in because you all think alike…”me, me, me!” Well, it’s our turn…we are thinking of “us, us, us!” And you must “go, go, go!!!!”





Leave a Response

(required)


× 9 = eighteen