At its meeting on Tuesday Night, the Fort Worth School Board of Trustees elected Judy Needham as its president, replacing T.A. Simms. Needham was first elected to the board in1996, and is its third longest-tenured member.
She is also known for her penchant for using abusive language in emails. In one such email, she called fellow trustee Ann Sutherland an “anarchist” and “a crazy old fool of a woman,” after Sutherland filed a protest with the Texas Railroad Commission in order to stop Chesapeake Energy from taking advantage of a loophole in the law that would have allowed it to drill for natural gas within a few hundred feet of an elementary school.
Needham also called Fort Worth Weekly reporter Betty Brink an “evil woman,” when Brink penned a story about mistreatment of minority students at Arlington Heights. Then-Superintendent Melody Johnson said that was “inappropriate.”
She is not without her critics. Her name figures prominently in a lawsuit filed against the District by former Arlington Heights vice principal turned whistleblower Joe Palazzolo. The suit accuses Needham of protecting her “cronies,” who gave white students preferential treatment.
“Many of the white students who were not disciplined, while minority students were disciplined for the same type of misconduct, were from families with personal ties to Judy Needham,” the suit alleges.
Needham’s critics have also accused her of orchestrating Simm’s rise to his position, displacing then-interim President Juan Rangel. Carlos Vazquez, who was elected first Vice President, publicly accused Tobi Jackson of being Needham’s puppet, after she surprised the board by reneging on an arrangement that would have allowed Rangel to keep his position as president.
Linda LaBeau, who opposed Needham in the 2010 school board election, told the Weekly that she was not the best candidate for board president because of her questionable ethics.
“She’s certainly got longevity on the board,” she said. “But holy cow, her ethics stink.”
She believes that Needham’s ascension to leadership was based on cronyism, not merit.
“She’s just a fixture,” she said. “It’s time to get rid of the fixtures on that board. They’ve been running this school board into the ground. If the taxpayers would look at the financials of the district, they would be aghast.
“I don’t respect her,” she said.