Note: Kennedale Schools Supt. Gary Dugger wrote to Fort Worth Weekly asking for a retraction of our Sept. 5 story “Elementary Ethics.” With minor clarifications as noted in our response below, the Weekly stands by its story. Dugger’s letter was too long and repetitive for us to reprint in full (it exceeded both the 300-word suggested maximum length for letters and the 750-word suggested length for guest columns). However, the full letter is available on the Kennedale district’s website. Below are excerpts and our responses. – Gayle Reaves, editor
I am writing on behalf of the Kennedale Independent School District to ask for an immediate retraction of, and apology for, Fort Worth Weekly’s article entitled “Elementary Ethics.”
The 34-paragraph attack on our Kennedale educators contained two errors and misleading or incomplete statements in another eight paragraphs. The newspaper does not appear to have attempted to clarify with, or obtain a response from, the school district regarding most of these factual errors and misleading statements.
Response: Reporter Andrew McLemore attempted to contact various Kennedale administrators in connection with the story and reported on the responses he received.
The writer of the article made a huge, fundamental mistake. The article claimed that district employees may have violated, or did violate, district policies and procedures regarding their operation of a daycare business on two campuses. These statements are completely false. There were no such violations as claimed in the story.
Response: District policy says that “an employee shall disclose to his or her immediate supervisor a personal financial interest … that creates a potential conflict of interest.”
Various people contacted for the story said they believed that a school district administrator being allowed to use school property to run a private for-profit business, and being charged lower rental fees than other similar companies, constituted a conflict of interest. But no such conflict of interest disclosure was made.
Paragraph three of the story claimed there are “concerns” that two administrators and the school board “may have violated several of the district’s own policies.” This statement is misleading. The district policies you cited were not violated.
Response: As stated before, many people had and still have such concerns.
[Dugger’s letter goes on to say,] “Employees in such an instance are not required to file a conflict-of-interest statement because they are not earning income from the school district for their ownership of the day care center.”
Response: The superintendent and school board hired an attorney to investigate issues related to the daycare’s relationship to the district, so apparently there were concerns among board members over potential conflicts of interest. Whether the school administrators who were operating the daycare business out of school property were getting their income from the district or from parents of children is immaterial. The conflict question arises over the use of school property.
Paragraph four also made the misleading claim that the employees “ran their business without a written contract with the district until 2010.” The newspaper knew, or should have known, that the district did not require any such contracts — in this case for rental of the school property — until 2010.
Response: It would indeed have been helpful to know that the district was renting out school property without written rental contracts until 2010, which raises other questions about financial procedures and the district’s liability for children on its campus after school hours.
[Dugger’s letter complained that while the story said the daycare operators had received “deep discounts” on rent, the story did not also point out that “many community organizations are offered such discounts on rental costs for services to children” and that “any daycare operator can request such a rental contract.”]
Response: The daycare operation run by the district officials is not a nonprofit community group. It is a for-profit business. Some school board members said they believe that issue should be addressed at a public forum. The operator of a for-profit daycare center at another school said he pays much higher rent — and would have been happy to know that such less-expensive rates were available to him. However, he said district officials ignored him when he inquired about competing for the business.
In paragraph 28, the newspaper claimed that one employee listed her “school district number” as the business contact on state tax forms. This statement is misleading. The same employee over multiple years listed other telephone numbers — not school district numbers — as the business contact.
Response: The fact that the daycare employee (and school official) did not list her school district number as her daycare business contact every time doesn’t remove the problem.
The newspaper falsely claimed that district policy “requires” the employees to file affidavits with the school board “officially disclosing their ownership of the business.” … No such district policy exists. District employees who operate businesses on their own time and who do not obtain compensation from the school district for such business activity do not have to file such disclosure statements.
Response: As stated above, employees are required by district policy to disclose any “personal financial interest” that “creates a potential conflict of interest.” Dugger apparently believes that a situation in which school officials run for-profit businesses from school facilities — apparently, for several years without written agreements — and use the services of school employees during the school day to do so, without offering similar deals to other for-profit business operators, does not constitute a conflict of interest. If that is his interpretation, he is entitled to it, but it does not make anything in the Weekly’s story false or misleading.
In summary, the 34-paragraph attack on the educators of our school district was filled with falsehoods and misleading statements. The article does not meet minimum standards for journalist integrity. We urge the newspaper to immediately retract the article, issue an apology, and to print this letter of response.
Response: We stand by the article.