Wrap-Up of Things Not Reported At School Board Meeting

7
Posted February 22, 2012 by betty.brink in Blotch

Threatening to rain on the parade of Walter Dansby, the hometown kid who made good by being officially hired as superintendent of the Fort Worth schools a week ago, are two controversial issues that got lost in the love fest surrounding Dansby’s historic contract as the first African American to be named to run the district. Both issues threaten to give the new super immediate grief — over and above that of inheriting from former superintendent Melody Johnson a district with a $50 million shortfall and the highest number of failing schools among the state’s major urban districts.

The first was the potential for a settlement of the case of former Arlington Heights High School assistant principal Joe Palazzolo who was fired last year for what he and others claim was retaliation for his blowing the whistle on malfeasance at the venerable old school in 2009-2010. The charges were later proven by the district to be true, resulting in the forced resignation of three administrators and a coach. Still, the whistleblower wound up fired. His appeal of that firing made its way to the Commissioner of Education who ruled in his favor last year, ordering that he be reinstated with back pay and benefits and put back on the payroll. In the alternative it could have ordered a new hearing and paid him a year’s salary. (Once the administrative processes are complete, Palazzolo has a whistleblower lawsuit waiting to be filed in state district court.)

The board opted to reinstate him, without giving him a position. Then it appealed the commissioner’s decision to a state district court, where it lost in a precedent- setting ruling by District Judge Dana Womack in January. Womack ruled that the board had no “authority” to appeal a ruling by the commissioner. The board’s outside law firm immediately appealed that ruling.

However, after deliberating for more than an hour in closed session on what they hoped would be a final solution to the Palazzolo case, the board’s public vote left more questions than answers. The only clear thing it did was to order the attorneys to withdraw their last appeal. Cost was a factor, some board members said. (The case to date has reportedly cost the district around $400.000 in legal fees. Such charges do not include the $18,000 the district coughed up in an overpayment to a Texas Education Agency hearing examiner Rick Rickman who heard the Palazzolo appeal last year, ruled for the district and then handed it a fee for more than three times the amount allowed by state law. The commissioner wrote that the transaction had the taint of “bribery” on it and ruled in Palazzolo’s favor.)

Before the board came out of the back room to vote publicly on the latest Palazzolo issue, the district’s legal head Bertha Whatley was asked what the board was going to do. She said that it could “vote to reinstate him or offer him a year’s salary” under the terms of the commissioner’s order. No mention was made of termination. The whistleblower lawsuit would not be affected, she said. “It will still go forward.”

When the vote came, the board opted to pay him a year’s salary with no mention of termination. The motion stated the whistleblower lawsuit will proceed. So, was he terminated again? Trustee Ann Sutherland, who made the motion, said she did not see it that way. “The word termination is not in the motion,” she pointed out. Neither was an order for a new hearing.

Walsh Anderson has reportedly stated to the commissioner in earlier filings, that, according to his order, the board cannot fire Palazzolo again without a new hearing. WA attorneys could not be reached for comment.

Then what is his status? Smith, who was not there that night nor was his client, said later, “It is unclear whether the board intended to terminate Mr. Palazzolo. Clearly, the motion of the board indicated no such thing. … We will seek clarification.”

If the board wanted closure of this convoluted case, it seems to have been wrong again.

In the second issue to come to the board that night was the possible lawsuit and criminal charges threatened by a Dunbar High School parent for what she believes is the physical abuse of her son and other students by the school’s former principal and the district’s failure to notify her of the abuse and to fire the perpetrator. The principal, as first reported by this paper, admitted that he had been pinching certain athletes’ nipples for two years as a disciplinary tool. Her son was the first to report the abuse to the district in September. By October, a half-dozen more athletes had filed similar complaints. The principal is also accused of taking pictures of athletes in the field house after hours, with their shirts off while posing them in front of a black drop cloth.

District policy requires that parents be notified immediately of any allegation of misconduct by an employee against a student. It also prohibits adults touching students on “sensitive” parts of their bodies. Such touching can be construed as sexual abuse, according to the policy, and must be reported within 48 hours to Child Protective Services. The mother in this case (whose name is being withheld to protect the privacy of her son) said she was never notified by the district of the alleged abuse. She found out from her son, three months after he first reported the pinching to Dunbar’s security officers. One other mother has also complained that she was not notified, according to Dansby. CPS was not notified until three months after the allegations were first reported to Dunbar’s security officers. The agency opened an investigation, the results of which have not been released to the public.

In interviews for this paper’s series of stories on the pinching, Dansby told Fort Worth Weekly that the principal admitted to him that he had pinched the boys’ nipples and taken the pictures. He was removed as principal and kicked upstairs to a post in administration where he will stay until his contract runs out in August. His $100,000 plus salary stays the same. Dansby said he didn’t fire him in order to avoid a lawsuit.

The mother, who will not be identified to protect the privacy of her son, told her story to the Weekly in January. However, when she tried to address the board about it in public last Tuesday, interim president Juan Rangel asked her to stop and finish her presentation to the board in closed session. He told the Weekly it was because it concerned a personnel issue that could not be aired in public.

Even though the board is bound by law not to reveal what is discussed in closed session, the mother is not held to the same restriction. After the session, she said she was “highly dissatisfied” with Dansby’s response. She said he told her that the principal had denied the accusations. “When I challenged him stating that he had been quoted in news reports as saying that the principal admitted to the charges, he denied telling the media any such thing,” she said

However, Dansby told the Weeklyin two separate interviews that the principal admitted to him that he had pinched the students on their nipples and had taken the pictures. Dansby said then that he also admitted his involvement with the boys to Michael Menchaca, the head of the district’s office of professional development and the chief investigator of allegations of wrongdoing by district personnel. Neither Dansby nor Menchaca have responded to calls and emails requesting comments and clarification for this story. No action was taken by the board on the mother’s request that the principal be fired, that his record reflect his admissions and that he not be allowed to work around children again.

“I do not intend to go away,” the mother said, stating that her next step is to file charges against the principal with the Tarrant County District Attorney. “I want a really independent investigation of this,” she said. “And one that won’t be swept under the rug as this one has been.”

Welcome to the superintendent’s world, Mr. Dansby.


7 Comments


  1.  
    Maria

    DO WE NEED TO WELCOME MR. DANSBY? He has been part of the problem before receiving the high salary. He has too many strings attached. They should be planning how to declare this school district in bankruptcy due to mismanagement. A $13,000.000.00 in miscommunication, millions in legal fees and a possible case of cover up of a high paid employee with a pending investigation prove that the leaders are not doing a decent job. Sorry, public institutions cannot file for bankruptcy to be restructured.

    He will continue using the same people in his team who have proven to be incompetents but he will give them more power in the name of accountability. Let’s wait for this plan of how to restructure his cabinet. He will use employees who do not have credibility in the institution to improve the system.

    TEA will have to intervene to save the taxpayers, state and federal funds that belong to the children and their education.




  2.  
    Purveyor of truth

    The writing in on the wall! But how many times has it ‘been on the wall’ and administrators and board members get away with it? ALWAYS! Do you think it was a coincidence that they voted Dansby permanent super the same night they allowed the Dunbar mom to tell her story? The district didn’t want anything to tarnish Dansby’s appointment, which is why they waited this long, hoping the mom would fizzle out. What they didn’t count on, was Rangel telling the mom to stop telling her story and continue in closed session! IDIOTS! Things happen for a reason and they certainly did, when Dansby thought his responses to the mom would be confidential. Where was your precious Whatley, Dansby? Surely she briefed you and your board of numnuts about the legalities behind closed doors with a NON-EMPLOYEE!!!!! Oh I bet Dansby, you will try to deny-denying you told the mom what you did, especially since your lies have now haunted you in black and white in the Weekly! Either way, you are SOL!!!! To me, it shows what we’ve known all along …YOU’RE A FREAKING LIAR AND SO IS YOUR LAME ASS BOARD! Let’s see how much your little moron minions are willing to back you and lie for you, when you are ALL under oath! Do you think they will fall for you? I think not! I hope I see this day come soon, so you and your yahoos get what you deserve…to be terminated and humilated, like you have done to Palazzolo. And I hope your brother Williams has been worth saving, b/c HE will turn out to be your cryptonite!

    As far as Palazzolo’s case goes, keep spending tax money , b/c before too long, you will lose that battle too, along with the Dunbar debacle. Crooks that think they are too smart to get caught, always make a mistake…a little one is all that is needed to unearth the corruption, and I feel it’s coming soon. The Universe is bigger and stronger than you, Mr. Dansby and Karma is a bitch! How do you like YOUR first black superintendent now, Fort Worth??????




  3.  
    Insider

    While I am disappointed, perhaps increasingly, at the seeming unwillingness for Dansby to “clean house”, I am holding out hope he soon will. As FWISD continues to fall in academic standing, it should be increasingly obvious that the Johnson cronies who remain (Reyna, Sorum, Davie, Whatley, Dawson, Menchaca, Everest, Ray etc. etc.) must go if there is EVER to be improvement. When will we learn that buyouts only result in an exodus of the very people we should be trying to retain. Those leaving are the ones fed up. As to the current issues, the question remains: what will the Board and Dansby do on Tuesday? If the Board did not vote to end Palazzolo’s employment, why is he being terminated (AGAIN) – particularly after winning at the State and District Court levels? Is he still on the payroll or not? Did the vote end the administrative process or prolong it? Someone attempted (AGAIN) to deliberately mislead the Board. My money is on Reyna and Dawson. What will be done about this latest MISCOMMUNICATION? As for Williams, my only problem is that his issues were known to MJ & Co. for some time and ignored. Williams and the four Assistant Principals @ Dunbar should have been removed. They all knew what was going on and did nothing about it. “Dunbar Mom”, the ball is in your court.




  4.  
    Maria

    Insider, Mr. Dansby’s plan for improvement has been unveiled in his letter posted on the district website! Robert Ray who has been overseeing the mess will continue overseeing more mess. Michael Sorum who created, implemented and oversaw the Curriculum Frameworks is the second person in command by promotion. His curriculum model was expensive and crashed the district performance and hindered students’ productivity. The model for improvement is the same one used by Thomas Tocco.

    Well, we, the taxpayers, will give them five more years to mess up the system. The other people you mentioned are the same incompetents nurtured by the system. Now you need to add the magnificent power of UEA to this new recipe for improvement. The children don’t have advocates anymore.




  5.  
    Teacher

    Who will help us? Who can we go to? Who will speak for the children? Why would he continue to keep these PROVEN incompetent and unethical people? Rober Ray KNEW ALL ABOUT Williams.




  6.  

    I share “Insider’s” optimism for Super. Dansby. I sincerely want to see Super. Dansby, the administration and the board succeed. It is puzzling as to why Atty. Whatley did not properly instruct the board on the proper wording for the motion to 1. rehire Joe Palazzolo or 2. pay his salary and schedule a new hearing as TEA Commish Scott ordered. If I am reading Betty’s blog post correctly, those were the only choices available. Atty Whatley and Atty. Dawson should have an understanding of Administrative Law. Until all Administrative processes are exhausted, the whistleblower case does not move forward to district court. Meanwhile outside attorney fees continue to mount at the TAXPAYER”S EXPENSE. $400K so far and growing. AND someone with knowledge of education law better be checking and auditing outside legal fees. Those dollars could go toward better salaries for teachers and more instructional tools. It is HEADS UP time folks!




  7.  
    Observer

    Dansby and the Board should realize that they have been PLAYED once again by Reyna and Dawson. These were the two behind the “get Palazzolo” campaign from the beginning. What they need to realize is that the Commissioner gave FWISD ONE of two choices. FWISD chose to reinstate him and proceed to another hearing. After reinstating him, they tried to jump to District Court. Here Palazzolo and the Commissioner prevailed and the Court through out FWISD’s case. FWISD filed an appeal. Then at the last minute, FWISD lied to Dansby and the Board. Having taken option ONE and LOST, FWISD thru this train in reverse, and attempted to go back to the beginning and take option TWO. They never explained this to the Board and Dansby. Or did they? You can’t have it both ways. Someone should loose their job over intentionally misleading the Board.





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