Another FWISD Teacher is Threatened With Retaliation

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Posted February 9, 2011 by betty.brink in Music

Blockbuster testimony today that Fort Worth school district lawyers threatened a friendly witness following his testimony yesterday on behalf of Joe Palazzolo may have blown the lid off the district’s entire case that Palazzolo’s firing last fall from his job as assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School was not retaliation.  Palazzolo has always claimed it was nothing but retaliation and that he was targeted after he reported serious wrongdoings at the school; now the district’s lawyers may have helped prove him correct. One can only ask, “What were they thinking?”

 

Sources at the hearing this morning reported to Blotch that Chad Whitt, a special education teacher and head coach of boys’ soccer at Heights, told the Texas Education Agency judge hearing Palazzolo’s appeal of his firing that he was threatened with termination yesterday after testifying for Palazzolo. It was a stunning revelation.

 

Over the district’s attorneys’ objections, Whitt was put on the stand this morning by Palazzolo attorney Jason Smith and related a chilling scene to the hearing examiner and observers at the public meeting. Shortly after he testified Tuesday that Palazzolo was one of the good guys at Heights and that he felt the former principal was fired in retaliation for reporting serious illegalities at the school, he said, he was asked to go into a private room by the five lawyers for the district, including three outside lawyers from the Houston law firm Walsh and Anderson and the district’s counselors, Bertha Whatley and Tanya Dawson.  At that point in the testimony, Whitt, a big man with a calm demeanor, lost his composure momentarily and as one observer put it, “The man just broke down and cried.”  When he recovered, he testified that a Walsh attorney told him “We have a problem.”

 

The seven-year employee said he was told that the lawyers were going to recommend to the “proper people” in the district that he be put on administrative leave with the possibility that he too could be fired because he had “lied” on his on-line application when he said he had not been convicted of a misdemeanor. “That is what this case is about,” he testified that he was told by one of the Walsh attorneys.  “And we have to treat everyone the same,” she said. Whitt’s misdemeanor was for “kicking a car” when he was 17; it occurred 21 years ago and had supposedly been expunged, he testified.

 

When Smith asked if he felt that his job was now in jeopardy, Whitt, who teaches emotionally-disturbed kids and is the head soccer coach as well, replied, “Yes.”

 

“I am shocked and appalled that the district would threaten termination of a witness in this case in the middle of the trial,” said Steven Poole, deputy executive director of the United Educators Association, the largest teacher union in the area, of which Whitt is a member.

 

If lying on his application about a misdemeanor sounds familiar in this case, it is because it is one of the reasons the district has stated for firing Palazzolo, claiming that he too lied when he answered “no” on his on-line application question as to whether he had ever been convicted of a misdemeanor. The district had found a 13-year-old misdemeanor in Palazzolo’s records having to do with a disputed child support case in Oklahoma, which was settled and, Palazzolo believed, expunged. He had every reason to think it was expunged, he testified earlier, because in eight criminal background checks, three of them with the Fort Worth district, the case had never shown up—and he introduced evidence in the form of an email from the district’s legal head, Bertha Bailey Whatley, to Superintendent Melody Johnson that stated that Palazzolo’s background checks were all clean. Also, no one in the district even began to look into Palazzolo’s background until after he reported the series of wrongdoings at Heights that have led to the pressured resignation and/or retirement of three administrators and a girls’ head coach. Whitt was one of the dozen or more teachers who also reported the wrongdoings at the school and has been a vocal supporter of Palazzolo from the outset even going so far as to speak publicly on his behalf at a school board meeting before the board voted to uphold his firing on a 6-3 vote.

 

Now it seems to be Whitt’s turn to be targeted, but the district may be on even shakier ground in his case. Under questioning from Smith yesterday, Whitt admitted that he had committed a stupid act as a teenager by kicking and denting the doors of a car of a guy who was flirting with Whitt’s girlfriend. “I kicked a car,” he said. “I was a kid.” He went on to relate that he paid for the damages, the guy dropped the charges and he was told by the judge in the case that the record would be expunged. However, the district has long been aware of his case, he said on the stand. When he applied in 2004, a fingerprint check found the “expunged” record. Whitt was asked about it at the time, explained it, he said, and was told by whoever was interviewing him (he could not remember the name) not to worry, it was so minor as to be insignificant. He was hired and has passed every background check since.

  

Adding to the district’s woes on this one was the testimony today of Carla Kaufman, senior staffer over the district’s health and wellness department, who blew a hole in the “you have to be treated like everyone else” comment when she testified that there were multiple employees who had lied on their applications about criminal convictions and even their degrees, who are still working for the district.

 

Earlier this paper reported on at least eight employees found guilty of or arrested for serious criminal acts ranging from child molestation to rape to aggravated assault to DUIs who are still employed. And Whatley, under an open records request, released to this paper a list of 29 names of employees who had misdemeanor convictions in the past two years who are still employed.

 

Yesterday, five teachers besides Whitt spoke on behalf of Palazzolo, all testifying to his integrity, his ability to work with difficult kids and his contribution to the school and the freshman team that he oversaw. (See Static in this week’s print edition, Feb. 9, 2011.) Other witnesses on his behalf are scheduled for today.

 

All who have testifed so far confirmed that Heights was out of control when he came on as an assistant principal and that his leadership had gone a long way toward turning the school around. They also said that he did not discriminate against minorities, another accusation that the district has used against him. Quite the contrary.  His supporters have said that he helped all students without regard to their color or class. It was the principal Neta Alexander who discriminated against minorities, favoring the richer, white kids at the school, they say. Alexander was forced to resign after the district investigation found that she had ordered a staffer not to report certain truancy cases in order to keep her completion rates high and that she oversaw falsification of attendance records that allowed at least 21 students who were chronically truant to graduate who otherwise would not have. Both actions are violations of state law yet no charges have been brought against the former principal or her cohorts who helped her falsify documents.

 

The hearing, which is one of the longest in TEA history, is scheduled to end tonight. A report will be issued in a few weeks. Whatever the hearing judge’s decision, Palazzolo and his attorney say he will see the district next in district court where he filed a whistleblower lawsuit late last year against the Fort Worth schools for his retaliatory firing.  The next such case to hit the district could be Chad Whitt’s.  


16 Comments


  1.  
    FWISDleaks

    On behalf of the children and taxpayers of Fort Worth, We would like to commend Ms. Betty Brink and Fort Worth Weekly for bringing justice to the public. You are getting closer to what is the most aberrant behavior of some “higher” employees in FWISD.

    Are you sure these things happen in an educational institution funded by taxpayers in the 21st Century? Are we reading an article from the 1930’s? Is this report about a third world country?

    The problem of Fort Worth ISD is power, dishonest and incompetent leaders. The tactics used by them generate cases like this. Sometimes we do not know what to think about some board members. We are not sure that their personal interest is interfering with the public business. Our guess they could not believe the argument and they chose to fire Palazzolo. Now what?

    Bertha Whatley and Tanya Dawson has been the gatekeeper of corruption in FWISD. If you check the record of so many teachers who have violated State and District Board policies and the office of professional standard has substantiated the violations but still those employees are in the system.

    This group of “Chiefs” has always operated using intimidation, dubious negotiations and has created an ambience of “false power.” The more we look in their personality trait we find they have something in common: they are bullies.

    We guess that the board members, who are blindfolded by the technicality of the “Mafia” style lead by the superintendent, will take the recommendation of TEA very seriously and fire all employees who are responsible for this type of management. The Board must fire all employees responsible starting from the superintendent to all of those who operate this system for her. Don’t hesitate to take action because if you pardon this type of behavior, you are going to be treated as perpetrators too.

    We can guarantee you Board Members that each school will continue functioning fine without the central administrators. You could be astonished that if you shut down the central administration for the rest of the school year, the chances of increasing students’ scores, teacher’s moral and better performance would occur. Many teachers are tired of this nonsense.

    By fortune and by virtue, this case will open the door to so many employees to come forward and argue their cases openly. Unfortunately, this is an embarrassment for the community, it will cost millions of dollars in settlements and it will put us on the public scrutiny.

    We demand justice. Board members you have the final word. Our Respect to Dr. Vasquez, Dr. Sutherland and Mr. Rangel. You are trailblazing the spirit of public trust and showing respect for the children and taxpayers.




  2.  
    Employee

    Where is the School Board? Reyna testified that Melody Johnson INTENTIONALLY withheld from the Board an outstanding appraisal, numerous letters of support, and lied to the Board when she denied Palazzolo had been recommended for a Principal’s position in December. This is a witch hunt. Teachers and documents also revealed intimate details of Board Member Judy Needham’s lifestyle and relationship with Alexander and Perry. IT IS TIME FOR A NO CONFIDENCE VOTE




  3.  

    I couldn’t agree more with previous comments. Judy Needham is an empty suit with a questionable lifestyle. If you run a background check on her you will see she is listed as married but where is her husband? Needham boasts she will help parents with problems at AHHS but does nothing to follow through to correct issues for kids or parents with concerns. She partied hard with Perry/Alexander and Boyd…even at her age! The woman must have a hollow leg. She is tight with Johnson and given information other board members are denied. She funds board members without money to be re-elected to keep her “cadre” of votes on the board. Taxpayers of Fort Worth Unite! Support our honorable teachers who have been held down and forced to put up with the administration’s threats. The nepotism in the administration allows the Mafia style behavior. Some of these people in admnistration should be put under investigation for felonies/misdeamoners/and falsifying their educational credentials not to mention their familial relationships to higher administrators. The employee handbook is clear about hiring relatives. Some of these people make 5 to 6 figure salaries. is it any surprise our property taxes increase every year to support FWISD? Come on people if you cannot get angry about the wrong doing by MJ and her minions let’s at least get mad about the fiscal mismanagement coming out of your pocket!




    •  
      Kevin Wilson

      ECAP is also a Mafia style organization which drains the fruits of the educator in training to feed the old retired rich Principles whom do nothing but write negative words about the intern.




  4.  
    Maria

    We wish TEA take over the district. Maybe the recommendation of Susan Comb of dismantling independent districts will be the solution to solve the problems in Texas schools. At least, 125 millions can be saved in FWISD if the Region XI takes control of the district.

    I do not understand why these news are not covered by TV channels. It is incredible what we have to go through with a such embarrassment.

    Nepotism is a practice in the higher level. They do not have the same last names but… they are married to somebody else in the family.

    I do not think it will be worthy to wait until the election time for these board members. There should be a way to protest to overthrown some of the board members.

    Let’s make EDUCATION a priority to bring justice and establish an educational system that values ethics and works for the children. It’s not the money an issue in FWISD, is a lack of leadership and embarrassment.




  5.  

    How ironic that the district called Palazzolo a “bully” who created a hostile work environment, then turn around and threaten (bully) Chad Whitt. Excuse me but iisn’t these actions grounds for a hostile work environment. If this were a real trial vs. an administrative hearing, a judge would have thrown out the case long ago when it was learned documents were withheld from Palazzolo’s attorney which supported Palazzolo. That is cause for a mistrial, period. This hearing officer knows the law. I’m sure he was furious when he took all of the lawyers back into his chambers during the proceedings. Would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall for that trip to the woodshed! If this hearing officer does not find for Palazzolo and the board does not reinstate him even promote him, the entire community should put an ad in the Weekly and S-T stating the community is voting NO CONFIDENCE in MJ and her mighty minions. This is disgraceful behavior by Melody Johnson. She is an overpaid, incompetent, malicious person. When her lips are moving she is lying. The next scandal will be the Connects program. Another failure by our illustrious Superintendent. Where will this stop? When this community demands her removal along with Betha Whatley, Tanya Dawson, Robert Ray, Mike Sorum and board members Needham for her role in assisting Alexander manipulate federal school documents to improve AHHS rating with the state. Let’s keep the honest board members, Sutherland, Vasquez and Rangel. Mr. Simms sleeps through board meetings, Moss just can’t keep up. She gets so addled during meetings it is embarrassing to watchand Tobi Jackson doesn’t know who’s on first. Ray Dickerson is the ostrich with his head in the sand. Why would a former bank President want to relocate here to be the school board President. It can’t be for the salary. Just what is his agenda. It is time for Sutherland, Vasquez and Rangel to step up together with an amendment to sanction Needham and put out a vote of no confidence for the Superintendent. Palazzolo should be given a medal for taking his case this far. When he wins, the district judge will order a settlement conference rather than having to have the taxpayers sit through a trial. So FWISD get out your checkbook and start writing lots of zeros for every lie they’ve told the board and the community.before you embarrass this community further. This case deserves national attention. 60 minutes would be the best place to show a dysfunctional school district outside New York City. Right here in Cowtown. If this did not involve the lives of our children, their parents, teachers and honest administrators, it would be laugh out loud. But what is being done to our teachers and our children is a crying shame. This involves people’s lives and reputations who deserve to be treated honestly and fairly.




  6.  
    indygirl

    Who are you FWISD ickLeaks? Very insider, very pithy comments. Why are you so silent on board member Norm Robbines?




  7.  
    Observer

    A more important question is; why does the Star Telegram
    continue to misreport fact and act as a PR rep for Johnson? No where in the article is there a quote from Chad Whitt, Larry Shaw or UEA and all were interviewed by Ayala. And the quote: “They (FWISD attorneys) approached Whitt to make sure he was all right after becoming visibly upset about retaliation during his testimony, she said.” IS AN OUTRIGHT LIE.
    This gets worse with each passing day.




    •  
      Kevin Wilson

      The Star Telegram published a story involving CTE in Fort Worth ISD. It states many students have obtained ASE certification over the years. This is LIES. ASE has certified nobody in 6 long years.




  8.  
    Gator Boy

    When you call out individual board members, you might want to speak with them individually and truly determine their intellect. One you’ve called out stopped the entire gas well debacle with two votes. You’re right, she doesn’t know who’s on first, she scored a home run! If you don’t get it review the tape! I did so after reading another comment posted in the weekly.




  9.  
    Parent

    Virtually everything MJ claimed about Palazzolo has been proven to be false. Maybe the “slugger” on the Board should have used her “intellect” at the time she voted to terminate Palazzolo. She should have seen there were gapping holes in the information the Board was being provided – including his outstanding evaluation from last year and all of the positive teacher statements. MJ told the entire Board he had not been recommended for the Principal position at Metro, and had to recant that in testimony. So when does doing the right thing out-weigh another Board member paying your campaign debt if you vote her way on issues?




  10.  
    AHHS Teacher

    As one of those who endured Perry, Alexander, and their fav drinking bud, Judy Needham for years, I was curious. Did Judy ever disclose to the other Board Members (prior to the vote to fire him) that Palazzolo had suspended and taken her grandson to a Central Office Hearing? Isn’t that a conflict of interest?




  11.  
    employee

    Board Members: If Chuck Boyd was forced to resign for a loan he received from a subordinate, why is Robert Ray still here? He loaned $10,000.00 to a member of Menchaca’s investigative team during this mess. Get it? He made the decision to move Palazzolo, and is loaning money to one of the employees investigating his actions.
    You also removed Perry and Nichols for their alleged “affair”. What about Monnig the Principal who had not one but SEVERAL affairs with teachers on her staff? Wake up BOARD!




  12.  
    Kevin Wilson

    In reviewing this statement it is important to keep five contributing factors in mind. First, the time period this statement reflects Sept 5 thru Oct 15, 2012. I did not have a planning period. Moreover, Mr. Walz, the Automotive Teacher at OD Wyatt, began a restoration on a Cadillac for TA Simms and needed me to take several of his classes so he could work on the vehicle. My time at Dunbar High school went from 4 hours a day to 2 hours a day. This freed Mr. Walz’s schedule to work on the Cadillac restoration without the students getting in his way. Second, the time period this statement reflects Sept 5 thru Oct 15, there were no procedures for disposing donated (donated vehicles do not have any titles attached to them) in the Fort Worth School District. Third, at the time this statement reflects a Fort Worth Fire Marshall and Mr. Carlos Walker ordered the vehicles removed for safety concerns. Fourth, around Sept. I asked Mr. Walker what to do with the vehicles and Mr. Walker told me to get rid of the vehicles by the end of the day and signed a disposal order. Fifth, the two vehicles had sat since Nov. of 2011 and were the subject of over 49 e-mails, an investigation and four attempts by three different principals to be hauled off (See EE#8).
    The assumption is that I did not obtain disposal certificates. I believe I followed procedures to the best of my ability. Copies of the disposal information were provided to _______________________.

    My statement is organized into the following sections to facilitate your review and understanding.
    1. Statement
    2. Summary of Actions
    3. Concerns
    4. Documentation

    1. Statement regarding Certificate of Disposal
    When I arrived at PL Dunbar on Sept 5, 2011, the two vehicles were vandalized beyond repair as witnessed by Mr. Jeffery Rush the CTE staff member assigned to be my Mentor Teacher. The windows were broken, the wheels did not fit, the sheet metal dented, the paint vandalized with profanity and one leaking gas with no battery or key. I spoke to Mr. Williams, Principal of Dunbar High School and Vanessa Cantu-Berrera about the status of the vehicles at the time. I sent emails to Vanessa and Mr. Williams. The cars were a safety concern for the students. I sent Vanessa pictures and descriptions of the vehicles and conditions at PL Dunbar automotive.
    After discussing this for months I asked Vanessa if we could implement a plan to transfer the cars to OD Wyatt where there was room and resources to tear them apart. Vanessa thought we should just have them hauled off. However, Mr. Walz and I wanted to make trainers out of them. Please see the email I sent in October of 2011 regarding the conversation and plan (See EE #1).
    I was told verbally on the phone by Vanessa that permission was granted to make trainers as Walz and I recommended. I was also showed an email by Mr. Walz that he received from Vanessa stating permission was granted. I do not have a copy of this email. We then agreed to transfer the vehicles to OD Wyatt. Mr. Walz then got approval from Vanessa to dismantle the vehicles and contracted the custodians to haul the metal trash away. We used the engines, transmissions and parts to build trainers. These trainers allowed the students to work without all the tempting nuances a full car gives. Ex: Slamming doors, playing with radio and other equipment and attempting to drive off.
    In May 2012, Dr. Charles ordered an investigation after several students were caught cutting a car up (the Buick Century). The last two vehicles had been almost completely cut up and hauled away. What was left of the two cut up vehicles sat until Mr. Carlos Walker ordered them to be removed by Sept 28, 2012, (via email and verbally). I explained that I had followed the appropriate procedures but no salvage yard was willing to come and retrieve the parts for disposal. I was told emphatically by Mr. Walker verbally on about Sept. 27 to “get rid of the vehicles.” Mr. Walker signed the Disposal Order on or about Sept 28 (See EE#2 – email from Mr. Walker). It is a well known and documented fact that it is nearly impossible to dispose of vehicles that have no titles (See EE#2, EE#3). Another problem with the disposal of these two cars is that Mr. Walker wanted the vehicles gone. While on the other hand Vanessa wanted to now hold off until procedures were disseminated at the October 18, 2012 B&E Advisory meeting (See EE#5 page 2). Unfortunately, I complied with Mr. Walker’s directive to remove the vehicles. In any case, because I was in contact with Joe Thigpen, FWISD AYES representative, I was already aware of the unpublished disposal procedures for untitled vehicles.
    After exhausting all my options I found a company on Craigslist to remove the cars. The first time the company came out was to inspect what needed to be hauled away. The next time the company came out I was at OD Wyatt and could not make it back to PL Dunbar. The third time the company came out they hauled away a BMW ( that was my own personal vehicle) and the Buick Century. The company then returned for the Chrysler 300 on a Saturday. However, I was told the certificates of destruction must be issued at the salvage yard and they would provide me with the certificates. The company did not provide the certificates. Furthermore, the company did not call me back.
    Mr. Thigpen believes I have followed manufacturer procedures. Neither vehicle was nor is the property of FWISD. The vehicles in fact are considered destroyed. Mr. Thigpen and I have produced the necessary documents of destruction for FWISD. The matter is considered closed and I have been told I did everything right according to Manufacturer/Dealership procedures. (See EE#5)
    2. Summary of Action
    Sept 5, 2011 Report on Condition of Donated Vehicles
    Sept 29, 2011 Keys are confirmed missing – EE#7
    October 6, 2011 meeting at CTE
    October 15, 2011 conversation regarding cars
    Oct 19, 2011 Issue is discussed at the B & E Auto Meeting – EE#6
    Oct 19, 2011 Vanessa Cantu-Barrara gives authorization for vehicles to be moved and cut up- EE#1
    Oct 24, 2011 Ford Mustang is hauled to OD Wyatt- EE#3
    Nov 1, 2011 Dodge Dually and Dodge Extended Cab Pick-up moved to OD Wyatt – EE#3
    Nov 7, 2011 Chrysler EE#3 and BMW(my personal) are moved to OD Wyatt
    Nov 21, 2011 Cars cut up and most parts hauled away
    Dec 3, 2011 Buick Century motor and transmission hauled to OD Wyatt
    January 18, 2012 Vanessa offers verbally to help dispose of two vehicles
    February 9, 2012 Vanessa issues the following (SeeEE#3):
    FWISD should not dispose or surplus the vehicles until we communicate proper procedures with the title holders. In the future, vehicles will NOT be accepted without a title or Interlocal Agreement (to include of purpose and disposal procedures) and all titles and VIN #s will be documented at the CTE office, but originals will be housed in the Accounting Department.
    June 13, 2012 Angela Hodge at PL Dunbar issues this statement:
    I have just spoken with Michael Menchaca with OPS, and he has advised that no one be permitted into the auto mechanics area from this day forward until the investigation that has now started is complete. At this time he will be reviewing all of the communication that has transmitted via e-mail over the last 24 hours and proceeding with next steps of the investigation.
    Sept 14, 2012 a Fire Marshall orders the remaining parts of vehicles be removed.
    Sept 16, 2012 Mr. Walker verbally directs me to remove the vehicles immediately.
    Sept 26, 2012 Mr. Walker sends me an email directing removal of vehicles by Sept. 28.
    Sept 28, 2012 Mr. Walker signs disposal order for the vehicles
    Oct 15, 2012 I find a company off Craigslist to pick up and haul away vehicles.

    3. Concerns
    There are three concerns for me going forward. First, I am on a probationary certificate and enrolled in ECAP. ECAP maintains I must finish the semester teaching to be certified. I have spent almost $12,000 dollars and two years of my time pursuing my certification with ECAP.
    Second, I will be unemployed. It took lots of time and effort securing this job. In addition I have invested several thousand dollars of my own money in the program’s growth, my classroom and training. I have made partnerships, cleaned and organized the shop at Dunbar High School. I have prepared students for certification and worked on the shop’s Mid Term compliance with NATEF. I have done everything within my power to comply with and adhere to the rules. However there is only some much that one individual can do when faced with the impossible. Initially, there were no written procedures for disposal of vehicles. It wasn’t until after I received a reprimand for improper disposal, that I finally received written procedures. The written procedures did not address disposal of untitled vehicles. My principal, Mr. Walker was constantly on me about having the vehicles removed. Everyone was aware of the situation and the fact that it is nearly impossible to dispose of untitled vehicles. Vanessa initially gave permission in October 2011 to chop up and dispose of the vehicles. (This is why the first disposal of vehicles occurred, which I was written up for. There were still parts from two of these same vehicles remaining that required disposal). Then my principal was on me to dispose of the remainder of the parts even though he was aware I had contacted salvage yards and they all refused to come retrieve the vehicles. Vanessa even took pictures of the vehicles according to procedure.
    I truly believe that I did the best that I could under the current circumstances. I believe, for some reason I am being made the “fall guy” when all I have tried to do was follow the rules. I have invested my own personal money into the equipment; I have tried to keep necessary parties aware of what was going on, but I seem to get blamed for anything and everything. I am not saying that I am perfect. I make mistakes and will take responsibility for any mistakes I have made. But I feel it is unfair for me to be blamed for even things that are out of my control.
    Respectfully,

    Kevin Wilson





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