“I’ve never heard anyone on this board say a negative word – ever — about Walter Dansby,” said Fort Worth schools trustee Carlos Vasquez, “But now that some of us want to hire him to fill the spot left vacant by the resignation of Dr. Johnson, there’s this big uproar. … I can tell you that the only thing that comes to my mind is that it’s because he’s African American.”
Tomorrow night beginning at 5:30 at a special called meeting in the district’s board room, Dansby’s hiring will be aired — but the meeting almost didn’t happen. Dansby’s supporters on the board, Vasquez, Ann Sutherland, T.A. Sims and Juan Rangel, had to threaten a lawsuit to get the meeting held, even though board policy requires that if as many as four members request a called meeting, the board president is bound by law to honor the request.
After Superintendent Melody Johnson’s surprise announcement last week that she would step down on September 19 after six years, Sutherland requested that a discussion on hiring an interim superintendent be added to Tuesday night’s board meeting agenda, but never got an answer back from president Ray Dickerson, she said.
Vasquez then stepped up to the plate and emailed Dickerson with a request for a special called meeting for Friday adding the names of the other Dansby supporters as fellow requestors. His request was initially ignored as well. Public meetings, by law, must file meeting dates and agendas 72 hours ahead of time. A Friday meeting had to be posted by Tuesday at 5:30. When he got no response by noon Tuesday, Vasquez said he called the board secretary who told him, “We were instructed not to post this.”
Vasquez then got Johnson o n the phone, telling her, “This is board policy, you really don’t want to go there.” Vasquez again emailed Dickerson, stating that he did not have the authority to deny board members requests to call a meeting. “I am going to get a lawyer,” he told the board president. He said he asked Dickerson why he was refusing to honor board members requests. Dickerson answered that it was “too early” to start looking for Johnson’s replacement. However, Vasquez said, that’s not Dickerson decision to make unilaterally. “I told him, he was playing games with us.” Just before the deadline, the meeting time and agenda was posted, he said. “But I shouldn’t have had to threaten a lawsuit to get it done.”
With a district population that is now about 85 percent minority, it is time, these board members say, for the district to hire a minority superintendent. Dansby has been with the district for 37 years, knows it “like the palm of his hand,” another supporter and head of the United Educators Association Larry Shaw, said. Vasquez called Dansby a “unifying force.” He was a teacher, a coach, a principal, and has been an administrator for close to a decade. For the past year he has had oversight of the $500 million bond program, overseeing a construction effort that has come in on time and under budget. For the most part, Dansby who was brought into the administration by Superintendent Thomas Tocco from his position as principal at O. D. Wyatt High School, has flown under the radar, with neither Tocco’s nor Johnson’s brushes with scandal and accusations of mismanagement rubbing off on him.
He has his dissenters. Some teachers say he is hard to work with and too demanding. Others say he’s been in place too long not to be part of the “good old boy” system that protects the status quo at the expense of the students. Still, when he was promoted upstairs from Wyatt, there was a huge outcry from teachers there and parents, who begged Tocco to leave him in place because of his successes at that school.
And now, with so much dissension that has swirled around Johnson, Vasquez and the others argue that it is prudent to bring in someone who is known to be able to “bring people together” and who has historical knowledge of the district — especially the problems that continue to plague so many of its minority students such as high dropout rates and, while improving, still lower than acceptable TAKS scores. One teacher who worked with him and liked him said, “It usually takes an outside superintendent about a year to get to know the district and start making things happen. With Walter, he will step in without missing a beat.”
These issues will be discussed tomorrow night — if there’s a quorum. Vasquez said the only other glitch in this effort will be if Dickerson and other board members who now oppose Dansby, simply don’t show up. If that happens, Vasquez said, “It will show me that these people don’t want an African American superintendent.”
The board room is just behind the school district’s administration building at 100 N. University.