Another Win for the AHHS Whistleblower

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Posted May 2, 2011 by betty.brink in Blotch

On Saturday, former Arlington Heights High School assistant principal and whistleblower Joe Palazzolo received a letter from the Texas Education Agency director of field audits, Dorinda Cavazos Wheeless, that “was music to my ears,” he said.  

 “The Division of Financial Audits has reviewed the documentation submitted by the Fort Worth Independent School District addressing your allegations that attendance may have been improperly changed at the district’s Arlington Heights High School campus. This review disclosed that the district erroneously over-reported days of attendance and we have made adjustments to the district’s funding,” Wheeless wrote.  

The finding means the district will get fewer funds this year for the school’s operation.  It also means that Palazzolo’s accusations of attendance irregularities at the school last year were vindicated, he said.  Palazzolo said he was thanked by a TEA spokesperson for bringing the issue to their attention. “I was told that [TEA] has heard of other similar issues at other schools in the district but that they cannot look into them without someone filing a formal complaint.”  

The beleaguered former administrator  was fired last year after reporting numerous allegations of misconduct at Heights including  an allegation that the school’s principal and several of her staff had engaged in falsification of attendance records that allowed at least 21 students to graduate who otherwise would not have due to chronic truancies. On August 6, Palazzolo took his allegations to the TEA by filing a formal complaint accusing the district of attendance fraud. A subsequent investigation by the district upheld his and other AHHS teachers allegations including a finding that the principal had actively engaged in fraud by ordering one of her staffers not to report truancy cases against “seniors, juniors and students of color” in order to keep the school’s completion rate high. The principal, Neta Alexander, was allowed to resign with “no further action” and to draw her full salary until July of this year.

Trustees Carlos Vasquez and Ann Sutherland said that the TEA report is another setback for the leadership of Superintendent Melody Johnson.

“It bothers me not only that there is a discrepancy in our reporting,” Sutherland said, “but that our staff investigated the allegations and found none.  I am wondering whether this also involves students graduating without completing all requirements.”

After Vasquez was told of the TEA letter by a reporter, he wrote to Johnson, “Please inform us if this is accurate as soon as possible. I am tired of finding out about school district matters from reporters or newspapers.”  Within minutes she wrote to her board that she had “received the official notification from TEA concerning this matter today, May 2.”  She said that the district was already investigating attendance reporting at Heights when Palazzolo made his complaint.

“A majority of the discrepancies identified by auditors involved the fact we could not locate documentation for 255 [Heights] students who were moved to the gym, cafeteria or auditorium [during TAKS testing ] in order to create an environment more conducive to testing.  Students were moved from their normal classrooms as is common during testing. …  However, the documentation as to exactly where they were could not be produced… …The [TEA] corrective action plan calls for all students moved to large areas during TAKS testing to sign in and be accounted for by teachers,” she wrote.  

However, one teacher pointed out that students have always been required to check into their homerooms on test days to have their attendance counted  before being moved to other testing sites.

Johnson did not return requests for comment from Fort Worth Weekly.

Vasquez said that Johnson’s actions in the case of Arlington Heights and the Palazzolo case throw serious doubts on her ability to continue to lead the district and certainly do not justify her high salary that carries with it a “pay for performance” annual bonus of $45,185. “She is one of the highest paid superintendents in the state, probably the nation, and she continues to hide things from this board, like this TEA investigation.  We were never told that this was going on.”  She makes $328,900 in base pay, he said, with a $7,200 car allowance plus $4,474 yearly for “Fortis reimbursement,” according to a spreadsheet with her pay that was provided to Vasquez. He thinks the Fortis pay is an insurance policy, but when he asked her about the Fortis money, he said she replied by email that she wasn’t quite sure what it was for.  Total pay: $385,759.

Vasquez said he is outraged at the bonus claiming that it was approved by former board members when she was hired and has been routinely given ever since.  “I would like to see her give that up,” he said. “It would be enough to save two teacher’s aides’ jobs.” 

Other critics of Johnson have weighed in on this issue as well.  “We are very pleased with the TEA’s confirmation of  the ‘attendance scandal’ at Arlington Heights, however we are still concerned with how Superintendent Melody Johnson continues to engage in official oppression of the facts within the district,” said the Rev. Kyev Tatum, President of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“The question is, what else has erroneously been reported by this administration?  We are calling on the Fort Worth ISD Board of Trustees to require a district wide audit for the last three years of attendance, Tatum said, adding that he is filing a complaint with TEA.

The Weekly first reported this story on August 11, 2010 with numerous follow-up stories and blogs. Palzzolo’s appeal of his firing is now before the Texas Commissioner of Education. Following a ruling from the commissioner, the next stop is state district court where Palazzolo filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the district late last year. 

 

 

 

 

 


14 Comments


  1.  

    I APPLAUD REV. TATUM, DR. VASQUEZ AND ANN SUTHERLAND FOR THEIR DILIGENCE. DR. JOHNSON CONTINUOUSLY HIDES INFORMATION FROM HER TRUSTEES WHICH MAKES THE BOARD PRESIDENT AND ALL TRUSTEES LOOK FOOLISH TO THE PUBLIC. DR. JOHNSON IS PROVING SHE LACKS LEADERSHIP SKILLS REQUIRED TO LEAD A LARGE URBAN DISTRICT. DR. VASQUEZ IS CORRECT ABOUT HER PERFORMANCE BONUS BEING UNDESERVED. SHE WOULD NOT BE EARNING THIS COMPENSATION FROM ANY MAJOR INDUSTRY IN NORTH TEXAS WITH THESE MISTAKES. IN FACT, I DOUBT SHE WOULD BE EMPLOYED IN THE REAL WORLD WITH HER RECORD. IT WILL TAKE THE WILL OF THIS COMMUNITY TO VOTE NO CONFIDENCE AND TERMINATE HER CONTRACT FOR CAUSE ONCE TEA HAS FINISHED ITS COMPLETE AUDIT. IF SHE SMARTENED UP, SHE WOULD VOLUNATARILY RESIGN VERSUS FACING A VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE. LET’S NOT FORGET HER MISTAKES WITH THE CONNECTS CONTRACT AND THE MULTIPLE LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DISTRICT. IT WAS HEARTWARMING TO SEE SO MANY PUBLIC CITIZENS AT THE LAST SCHOOL BOARD MEETING. I HOPE CITIZENS CONTINUE TO TRACK JOHNSON’S PERFORMANCE AND THE PERFORMANCE OF OTHER BOARD MEMBERS WHO DISPITE JOHNSON’S POOR LEADERSHIP AND FWISD RANKING AS SECOND FROM THE BOTTOM IN THE STATE TO SHINE A BRIGHT LIGHT ON THE NEED TO REPLACE HER.




  2.  
    Teacher

    Johnson, Reyna, Dickerson, Needham, Menchaca and the FWISD Legal Staff should all resign over this cover-up.
    Palazzolo needs to be reinstated. This is not only outrageous – it is just the tip of the iceberg. It proves Cormier who was over attendance, should have been fired.




  3.  
    Maria

    We told from the beginning that Mr. Palazzolo had a case. Now, the organization that claims to “Put the Children First” would continue supporting the Fort Worth administration leadership?

    Dr. Johnson might be right about the dropout rate of 17% but with the kind of tricks played in AHHS about attendance to save the graduation rate. For how long this dirty strategy was going on? Are there other High Schools involved in attendance fraud?

    Congratulation Mr. Palazzolo.

    This is a shame for taxpayers, the students and the Fort Worth citizens.

    Mr. Dickerson, Mr. Robins, Ms. Moss and Mr. Sims, when are you going to stop this mess?




  4.  
    Teacher2

    The sad part is I remember Palazzolo asking Dickerson and the Board to wait on his termination until after the TEA investigation. Dickerson ignored him and Needham pushed his termination through (with Jackson’s help and Robbin’s support) just to silence him. How many have lost their jobs now and Melody “isn’t quite sure” why she is being paid what she is being paid? THIS IS WRONG!




  5.  
    PriceHirtLane

    Ah, Fort Worth: a city of cowboys, culture, and corruption.




  6.  
    Sonia

    It is such a relief to know TEA was able to substantiate Palazzolo’s concerns. Dr. Johnson’s minions have bullied and threatened many other administrators with similar concerns. It is sad that so many excellent principals and teachers have left FWISD since Dr. Johnson became superintendent. The hostile environment has been more than some people were able to bear. TEA should look at the turn-over rate under Johnson’s supervision. The numbers might surprise the public. The message was always clear, “You disagree with me and you no longer will have a job.” TEA should dig dipper and determine why Dr. Pat Linares, Dr. Johnson’s right hand left the district so abruptly. Shame on you Dr. Johnson. You have earned the title of the most unethical, immoral, deceitful superintendent in FWISD’s history. I was an employee for over 25 years and just couldn’t bear Dr. Johnson’s beat downs any longer. Vasquez, Sutherland & Rangel keep uncovering that which has been buried and hidden. You will find more corruption than you can imagine.




  7.  
    Insider

    Retired Air Force General Fred Van Valkenburg served only briefly as Melody’s chief of staff. He was also horrified at the corruption and her erratic personality.




  8.  

    Since the Startlegram has blocked me from commenting and after I took the documents showing the attendance fraud at AHHS to Ava Ayala which the Startlegram didn’t print, it is heartwarming to see so many current and former FWISD personnel, making comments to Betty Brink’s excellent and honest reporting of the facts. My youngest daughter graduated AHHS 2010. I heard from my daughter about the fights, drugs, and guns on AHHS campus. Most recently another student brought a gun to school but did you read about this in the Startlegram? Was the school locked down? Were the police notified? No because just as it was last year when a gang fight broke out at AHHS in Spring 2010, Melody Johnson ordered Principals not to call FWPD until they saw blood. Fellow Citizens we have a Superintendent who is putting our most precious assets, our children and teachers, in harms way. Why?




  9.  
    Heights Parent

    Actually Linda, for the incident with the gun this year, the police were notified. As well as, all of us parents received a letter. I understand that things happened at Heights in the past with guns and fights etc. But the gun issue was handled this year.




  10.  
    Southwest parent

    I am still looking for answers from the recent death of a student in the middle of the morning who managed to get off campus to have a fight with another student that ended up in a death. After the initial story broke, there has not been another word about it in the news. How did 14 students get off campus in the middle of the morning with no one seeing them? Why are there always so many students out and about during the day around that campus?




  11.  
    Staffer

    It is at all campuses in this District. At Heights, Palazzolo actually stood on Hulen with the campus monitors, responded to calls from residents in the surrounding neighborhood, and even went after students who were going off campus – sometimes with adults they had met.
    Cannot imagine what next year will bring without the Monitors.




  12.  

    Staffer is absolutely correct. Monitors and Campus PD are vital to the safety of our teachers and our children particularly in middle and high school. Parents with children with learning disabilities also need to be assured their child’s IEP is being implemented. With cuts to diagnosticians and special education teachers, parents need to be vigilant. It was rumored that in 2009/10, one AHHS counselor did not distribute IEPs to regular ed teachers. Now with the Connects problems, children with learning disabilities are at greater risk of being “left behind”.




  13.  
    Parent too

    I did not receive a letter about any of the FOUR gun incidents at Heights this year.




  14.  
    Insider

    Voters and taxpayers need to remember that NONE of this could continue without the approval of Ray Dickerson and Judy Needham along with their trusty supporters Tobi Jackson and Norm Robbins. Needham had been corrupt for a long time and don’t forget the duplicate letters favoring gas drilling by Needham and Jackson. You can bet that all four of these Board members knew of the bonuses. With so many losing their jobs, we should demand Johnson return her bonus for 2009-2010, Someone on the Board needs to ask how much Reyna is ACTUALLY making. It is more than you realize.





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