Civility in the FWISD or Politics as Usual?

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Posted April 23, 2011 by betty.brink in Blotch

Is civility, like beauty, only in the eye (or ear) of the beholder? 

That’s what some Fort Worth school board trustees are asking after discovering that a group is organizing under the banner of “Put Our Students First,” with a goal of bringing “civility” back to the board meetings.  The group is urging members to show up at the April 26 meeting to “express alarm” at what organizer Ed Lasater writes in a draft letter to the board is a continual show of “disrespect for one another and incivility directed towards the staff” by “some members of the Board.”  Lasater sent the draft to potential members of his group for their approval and signatures before sending a copy to board members.  “I have softened the tone a little,” he wrote, “I still need volunteers to sign [the letter] from each district.”

A final copy went out to board members this weekend signed by one parent or “concerned citizen” from each district.  What was taken out is instructional. In the draft Lasater wrote, “Fort Worth is fortunate to have a nationally recognized superintendent working with a highly skilled team of professionals.” In the final draft the reference to the superintendent was deleted.

While not naming the disrespectful board members, the April 14 email from Lasater that was obtained by Fort Worth Weekly from a confidential source, attaches a link to a video of the April 12 board meeting. That meeting became heated over a proposed cut of a popular and by all accounts successful mentoring program for troubled students, mostly minority, in an effort to reduce the district’s $30 million budget shortfall.

The 15-year program, run by a group of mostly African-American men, known as UMOJA, costs the district $208,000.

The email directs the reader to “The comment by Dr. [Carlos] Vasquez regarding the buyout of [Superintendent Melody] Johnson’s contract,” even giving the time Vasquez appears, “at about 3:11.07” into the video.

Vasquez, who strongly supports keeping the UMOJA program, became visibly angry when it was compared to other programs the district did not plan to cut totally, such as the one situated on the Lena Pope Home campus that costs more than $2 million to operate for a student body of 112 with 10 teachers.  It too deals with troubled youth. It is listed on the Lena Pope web page as an alternative program for students who have “trouble in traditional classroom settings.”  

Hank Johnson, chief financial officer planned to cut $1 million from the program.  Currently it is costing the district around $18,000 per student.  District-wide per pupil costs are $7,508, according to district data.

 Some board members seemed startled to find out that night the Lena  Pope  program’s total cost to the district: “I didn’t know Lena Pope had all this stuff,” trustee Christene Moss said. “This [budget crisis] is almost a blessing,” she said. “We’re finding out a lot about programs we didn’t know about.”

Adding to the controversy is the fact that trustee Judy Needham sits on the Lena Pope board of directors along with her close friend Marty Leonard, daughter and niece of the late Leonard Brothers retailers.

Vasquez, comparing the costs of the two programs, mentioned the  politics of the Lena Pope connection and said he wondered “if we’re pushing budget cuts here or if Dr. Johnson is looking for a buyout” of her contract.

That throwaway line seems to have set the stage for creating Put Our Students First. The group — calling itself a “district-wide grass-roots coalition” — is being organized by Lasater, a Fort Worth attorney and son of  former school board president Molly Lasater, with help from Lou Ann Blaylock, an officer with the Roach Foundation, a multi-million dollar non-profit headed by John Roach. Roach was the long-time CEO of RadioShack and for 15 years the chairman of TCU’s board of trustees; he has been a major political power force here for years.  Molly Lasater is a member of the school district’s redistricting committee established this year to determine boundaries for additional single member districts based on the 2010 census which shows a large increase in the Hispanic population district-wide.

“This is a group of well connected individuals who sadly do not understand the depth of our problems. If their goal is truly to improve our schools, then we have a common mission,” trustee Ann Sutherland wrote in an email to the Weekly. “I fear, however, that their goal is instead to silence the few voices on the board who hope to raise us to the level we enjoyed five years ago. “

Sutherland was referring to the drop in achievement scores since Johnson took over a little more than five years ago.  In 2005, she writes on her web page, Fort Worth children were second from the top in TAKS test scores among the six urban districts in Texas: Fort Worth, Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and Houston. That year Fort Worth was outpaced only by Austin.  By 2010, she writes, Fort Worth has dropped to second from the bottom. Only San Antonio kids scored lower.

“I would like to see these downtown individuals focus on the achievement gaps of our students since Dr. Johnson took over,” Vasquez said, “instead of this ‘civility’ issue or who is rude on the board. We have serious education issues, failing students, high drop-out rates, and this is what we should be addressing.” 

Vasquez and Sutherland both believe the group’s real purpose is to organize to find opponents to run against them and fellow trustee Juan Rangel when their terms come up, Vasquez and Rangel in 2012 and Sutherland in 2014.  Vasquez said that individuals he would rather not name have already been approached by some downtown players to run against him. So far, he said, there have been no takers.  Sutherland and Rangel both expect opponents as well.  The three trustees are on Johnson’s and her supporters’ hit list because they continually raise questions about the district’s achievement gaps, the drop-out rates, finances, audits and retaliation against employees who speak out about wrongdoing.  Lasater did not return phone calls and emails requesting his comments.

 Both point out that no group formed to call for civility when Needham began sending ugly emails to Sutherland last year, with copies to all board members and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

In one  she called Sutherland a “crazy old fool of a woman,” and the “worst” elected trustee in Texas, because Sutherland took it upon herself to stop Chesapeake drilling company from using a loophole in the law that would have allowed it to drill within 200 feet of a school in spite of the fact that the district has a 1,200 foot setback from all schools.  (Needham’s hands are hardly clean on the Chesapeake drilling issues. She and trustee Tobi Jackson were recently caught sending identical letters to the state legislature opposing a bill by Fort Worth representative Lon Burnam that would have made it a state law that no gas drilling could occur within 1,200 feet of a school or any school properties. Both rescinded the letters after they were caught and exposed on Facebook, the Star-Telegram and this paper.)  

In another email Needham called Sutherland a “liar” and asked if she learned “to lie” at Berkley where Sutherland got her PhD. And in the latest one, sent after Sutherland was quoted in this paper as a critic of the district’s troubled student information software  known as Connects, in particular the nursing section of the program, Needham snidely wrote: “Ann—did your PhD make you an expert on nurses and ERP systems too?” She went on to say, “It would be nice if you were a positive team player.”

And therein, Vasquez and Sutherland say, lays the problem. They are not “team players.”

The board meeting begins at 5 pm in the board room on Shotts Street directly behind the school district administration building at 100 University Dr.

 

 


13 Comments


  1.  
    Maria

    This group is calling for civility to silence the board members who express their disappointment with the status quo created by Dr. Johnson and her few white-collar supporters. For Ed Laseter is okay that many students are not making adequate progress, minority students (Blacks and Hispanics) are educational neglected, and these administrators are fiscally irresponsible by maintaining many businesses benefiting from taxpayers. Civility is the key word of the oppressors when they want to keep their interest to the expense of the ones who don’t have voices.
    Election is going to change the status quo of some board members who believe the school district is the milking cow for certain businesses.
    We know they are not calling for civility; they are calling for insanity to keep all members of the board serving must dubious interest in the city. There are so many citizens that want to see some members of this board and Dr. Johnson cabinet changed to bring prosperity and educational progress to Fort Worth.
    Again, civility in this case is equal to corruption if the purpose is to silence or scare the people who advocate for the children.
    We have to question this “civility” group. We need to find three additional school board candidates similar to Dr. Vazquez, Dr. Sutherland and Mr. Rangel to bring this district to real civility.
    I just want to remain civil but not evil.




  2.  
    cindy

    While I agree with your comments Maria, minorities have no one to blame but themselves. Unless they become engaged and get out and vote they will continue to be second hand citizens. Moss, Rangel, Sims and Vasquez represent minorities on the board. Unfortunately they are split. If they voted together along with Dr. Sutherland they would have changed the leadership of this district by now. I have followed Dr. Sutherland and find her to be the voice of reason on this board. I care about the quality of life for my children and my community. There are special forces who care only about making a quick buck. In the guise of this “civility grassroots effort” is Ed Lasater and former mayor Ken Barr who was not named in this article. Ken Barr is both a Chesapeake consultant and treasurer to Jim Lane who is running for Mayor. Barr is behind the scenes with Ed Lasater. Sal Espino is supporting Jim Lane. Do you see the picture? Vote for change in the Mayoral and City wide elections. Politicians cater to special interests. Gas drilling is big as demonstrated in this article by Tobie Jackson and Judy Needham . I challenge you and the rest of the community to show up at the board meeting and support the 3 asking for transparency. I bet if something happened at Tanglewood parents would be there front and center. It’s embarrassing when you have a twenty year veteran school board member like Moss stating that she is just finding out how much per student is paid to Lena Pope. Just like we need term limits at city council we need them at the school board! Read up on Cathy Hirt, I bet you would like her for Mayor! Hope to see you at the meeting on Tuesday!




  3.  
    Maria

    Cindy, unfortunately Hispanics and Blacks have been disfranchised when it comes to politics and education. Most of Hispanics and Blacks voters still don’t understand that their votes count to improve the quality of living and prosperity. This trend is going to change. Hispanics are still in the minority of voters due to eligibility status for voting in an election. You will see in five more years how Hispanics are going to participate in election when the % of eligible voters would be a driving force in this city. We have worked in several elections to recruit Hispanics and the reality check is they are so many in number but adults most are not eligible for voting. Their second generation is growing and we are working to empower these generations. Black citizens are not using their power to level the political field and that is a challenge. Many minority citizens are not pleased with the FWISD Board discourse of handling business and the student performance.

    You have the right picture about Ed Lasater; he is behind of the gas drilling in school perimeter and he is using the students as part of his political agenda.

    About the two Black Board members, we believe they forgot their roots and what it took them to be on this board. When you place a parrot near to dogs, you might expect to hear the parrot barking. Those two board members need to question themselves and realize that most of Black folks are moving out of their districts. They need to start learning how to fold the tortillas and learn how to digest the jalapeños in order to be re-elected in their districts, or they need to move out. (Another reality check)

    About Needham and Toby Jackson, I will reserve my comments to save some letters from the alphabet. These two ladies…and Dr. Johnson…




  4.  
    jimbob

    True conservatives desire accountability. MJ has overdrawn her welcome. They overspent on a payroll system that they are still trying to clean up. Spend spend spend and children are not educated. Forget civility, taxpayers should be packing the board meetings. No more taxes for FWISD, TCC or the city




  5.  
    Clarity

    Moss is bought and paid for by Needham who allegedly helped pay for Moss’ campaign expenses. Sims (when awake) sold out for a job for his son-in-law last October. You notice his job was not eliminated. Lasater is a fool who wants to preserve the good ole boy network. When you look at who i on the Committee, there is little doubt re districting will wind up in Federal Court. “Fortunate to have a nationally recognized superintendent…” Of what and by whom? Connects, whistle blowers, cheating on attendance, TAKS, discipline, nepotism, the list goes on and on. Why not expose Melody’s TRUE take home pay from ALL sources. Maybe that would wake Ed and other fools up.




  6.  
    Whitney Brown

    I know Ed Lasater personally. He has no gas interests in Fort Worth. He has no business dealings with the FWISD school system. His only “agenda” stems from the fact that he has 3 children in FWISD schools. Surely, we all want for every child in Fort Worth to have a top education. I think our take-away from this discussion is that every adult in our district needs to be aware of the current challenges facing FWISD and owes it to the kids of Fort Worth to be part of the solution.




  7.  

    It is time to take back our schools from a corrupt administration led by Meldoy Johnson and her minions. Needham hides her true identity behind her “relationship” with Leonard and the good ole’ boy mafia. If the conservatives in this community knew the true lifestyle of Needham, they wouid be alarmed. When she is opposed for election, she is so confident the ole boy group will ensure her election. She didn’t show up for any forum or give any interviews to defend her record. She knew the fix was in. Let’s stop pretending she is a positive force on the school board. Anyone who resorts to calling a fellow board member “an old fool” and other such name calling, it appears she needs a lesson on civility. With Moss and Sims physically present but mentally absent, it is easy to see how Melody Johnson is able to run such a corrupt administration. Anyone who questions her leadership immediately becomes a target for retribution. The least of her work is about raising scores or implementing programs for minority children. But why would she resign when she has such a cushy pay scale. The Broad Foundation has even abandoned her since she was ignored by their national convention this year. She has no where to go. Fort Worth is crazy for keeping such an inept Superintendent. Numbers don’t lie but MJ constantly finds a way to fool the public with her breck girl persona. Ann Sutherland, Juan Rangel and Carlos Vasquez are the best board members we’ve had in a long long time. I hope everyone will turn out for tonight’s board meeting. It is time for this community to vote no confidence in Johnson and her minions. There is nothing to prevent this community from asking for her resignation post haste.




  8.  
    Interested

    Dear Whitney Brown;
    His mother is not only a former School Board President but also is sitting on the re-districting committee where the “fix” is already in. No agenda? Are you kidding?




  9.  
    Watching

    Just watched Mr. Lassiter. Please. Respect for the Board President and Superintendent? Perhaps Melody should stop living the lie. She has repeatedly lied to the Board. Dickerson has allowed this to continue. They are a joke.




  10.  
    Disgruntled...

    Amen to all of the board. Wake up Fort Worth! Tonights dog and pony show for Connects…please. No one can speak against Connects for fear of losing their job. MJ needs to go along with most of the head nodding, rubber stamping board. Norman Robbins, wake up and participate on behalf of Benbrook. Do you ever go out and speak to the teachers in your district? Stroll the halls by yourself and without guidance for MJ’s watch dogs. Nope–didn’t think so but I bet you show up for the food.




  11.  
    Disgruntled...

    ****oops typo****Happens when you don’t proofread.
    Amen to all of the above. Wake up Fort Worth! Tonights dog and pony show for Connects…please. No one can speak against Connects for fear of losing their job. MJ needs to go along with most of the head nodding, rubber stamping board. Norman Robbins, wake up and participate on behalf of Benbrook. Do you ever go out and speak to the teachers in your district? Stroll the halls by yourself and without guidance for MJ’s watch dogs. Nope–didn’t think so but I bet you show up for the food.




  12.  
    Maria

    Tonight I’ll celebrate my love to you…(this song was sung by Mr. Dick to Dr. MJ.) He invited several principals to the meeting to show support for the Connects fiasco. Melody is very skillful because now she passed the bucked to the principals about the Connects performance. The principals will pass the bucket to the teachers and employees. The elementary principal who spoke on behalf of her peers blamed a couple of her teachers for not using the Connects Parent Portal because they do not have the technology skills. It is easy to throw people under the bus. Principals don’t need to worry about Connects because they have staff members who have to go through the hurdle to have their job done.

    We are not surprise with Mr. Larry Shaw in supporting Connects and the administration. We bet you he is trading something.

    About the civility, we met so many civil people in the board last night. We are going to put the Children First because we believe they are getting behind. They do not want to question why they are getting behind.

    We loved how Mr. Robbins defended Dr. Johnson when referring about Vision 2010. We set high standards but it is okay not to meet them. (OH MY GOD!)

    Teachers, do not worry, if you need to take more time to deal with Connects, Melody is paying you for that. We are sorry you have to put the academics behind and the children will survive.




  13.  
    Teacher

    Lasater and his group are a last ditch effort to save Melody, Dickerson, Needham, Jackson and Robbins. The African American community must deal with Moss and Sims. Teachers and staff first hand last night why we stand alone in FWISD. Larry Shaw’s speech in support of Connects betrayed everyone. Other Districts faced the Connects problem head on and canceled the contract. We have no representation here. Melody must go!





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