An amendment to approve the addition of 200 Fort Worth ISD teachers that were hired and/or retained on the payroll at a cost of more than $13 million without the knowledge of the board and raising the district’s budget deficit to $55.5 million, raised more questions than it answered at last night’s board meeting. It was in direct violation of board policy. However, the larger question of how it happened was not answered.
Considerable angst was voiced by President Ray Dickerson about the unexpected hit to the budget before he voted nay. Lecturing the administration, Dickerson said that he no longer trusted the administrators responsible for the oversight. Where, he asked, were those who were supposed to be enforcing board policy such as the chief of administration? There was no answer. Nonetheless the amendment passed by a vote of five to four, with an admonition by Dickerson that now the administrators had better go out and “find the money.”
A former employee who asked for anonymity lays the blame squarely on Tyler Technologies’ software program known as Munis. (It is a component of the package that former superintendent Melody Johnson bought, with the approval of Dickerson and an earlier board, at a cost of more than $6 million and includes the still-problematic Connects program for student accountability as well as the payroll software that failed for half a year and that many employees say is still messing up their paychecks.) Munis is supposed to keep track of all “personnel actions,” that is who is being hired, fired, moved, on leaves of absence and so on, and their salaries. But the former employee said that many of the systems modules were never implemented correctly, that it cannot track personnel electronically as the system’s sellers promised, and that ill-equipped personell don’t know how to fix it. “That is how 200 teachers and $13 million in salaries were unaccounted for. They got lost in a failed electronic tracking system that was sold on the promise that it would bring the district ‘into the 21st Century,’ ” the former employee told Fort Worth Weekly after the meeting.
In other equally contentious business, the board finally approved – again by a five to four vote — a redistricting plan that will redraw the current eight single member districts and create a new one, single-member district 9, designed to strengthen Latino voting districts. It was presented by an attorney on behalf of the Hispanic Council of Tarrant County. The next step is approval by the U. S. Justice Department. On a motion by Trustee Ann Sutherland, the board also voted to extend current members terms by one year in an effort to soften the financial hit incurred by the legislature when it passed a new rule prohibiting county administrators from giving financial help to local entities that hold elections separately from the county.