The tension in the boardroom at the Fort Worth school district headquarters was palpable on a warm night in June. Trustee Ann Sutherland was to be censured that evening.

The motion had been placed at the end of the agenda, so Sutherland and the other board members were forced to wait through the seemingly interminable four-hour meeting before they could address the elephant in the room.

When the time finally came, well after 10 p.m., the look on Sutherland’s face was a combination of hurt and outrage, as then-school board president Judy Needham read the list of Sutherland’s supposed offenses. Included among the reasons for the censure was “micromanaging staff, requesting too much information, calling staff liars, and disclosing confidential information.”


Sutherland had been told the day before about the proposed censure but was given no details about the proposed action until three hours into the meeting, when the board went into executive session.

An hour later, back in open session, Sutherland responded to her accusers. Her voice shook as though she were holding back a scream, though her words were measured.

“I wish to object to this in the strongest possible terms,” Sutherland said. “I got a copy of [the censure] at 8:05 p.m. and had no idea what was on it. I do not believe that is a respectable way for this board to operate … by keeping things a secret.”

Needham authored the censure motion, and Christene Moss, who would later replace Needham as board president, spoke in favor of it.

Absent from the meeting were Carlos Vasquez and Juan Rangel, former trustees — and generally supporters of Sutherland — who both had been defeated at the polls a little more than a week before. After Needham made the motion, board newcomer Matthew Avila, who ran unopposed for the seat previously held by J.R. Martinez, seconded it. Ashley Paz, who had defeated the long-tenured Rangel, abstained from voting, as did Sutherland. Jacinto Ramos, who beat out Vasquez for his Northside seat, was absent.

Sutherland: “I wish to object to this in the strongest possible terms.”
Sutherland: “I wish to object to this in the strongest possible terms.”

The motion passed 6-0. Though there was no actual penalty levied as a result of the censure, the move was more than symbolic: It may have foreshadowed the new lay of the land for Fort Worth’s politically volatile school board.

In the preceding few years, Sutherland, Vasquez, and Rangel had formed a coalition that many observers believe was responsible for ushering Superintendent Walter Dansby into his seat atop the district staff power structure, replacing Melody Johnson. Many expected sweeping reforms from those trustees and from Dansby.

But in elections this summer, the board’s political deck was reshuffled again. Three new trustees, including those who had defeated Vasquez and Rangel, were elected, courtesy of support from a committee of influential businessmen and parents.

Now that Vasquez and Rangel are gone, Sutherland is politically isolated, and some observers expect the board majority — many of whom were ardent supporters of Johnson — to try to send Dansby packing.

You might think that would make allies of Dansby and Sutherland. If so, you would be wrong. Sutherland has waffled publicly on her support for Dansby. And the superintendent clearly is deeply upset with Sutherland, though he picks his words carefully when talking about a member of the board at whose pleasure he serves.

“I think the moment Vasquez and Rangel lost their elections, Dansby’s ticket out the door was stamped,” said one former school district official who asked not to be named.

Robert Snoke, president of the South Hills Neighborhood Association, has been a community activist for more than 30 years. He has followed the school board closely over the years.

Sutherland’s censure, he said, was “way over the top.  Moss and Needham humiliated her in public.”

The citizens committee is also drawing criticism from the deposed school board trustees and their supporters, who allege that the Citizens for Greater Schools political action committee targeted outspoken Hispanic trustees.

Dansby: “I think things are going pretty well.”
Dansby: “I think things are going pretty well.”

Critics of the PAC believe it is trying to turn the school board into the mirror image of the Fort Worth City Council under former Mayor Mike Moncrief, when dissension was quashed and open opposition was punished.

Since the election, Sutherland has changed her public persona. With no hope of making compromises or coalitions, she has become more outspoken than ever. She was the only trustee who publicly took a stand against the initial bond package proposal because it would have raised taxes.

“[The bond package] included a 14-cent tax increase for the nearly $800 million proposal,” she said. “After they reduced the base proposal to $354 million, with no tax increase for some years and one cent for others, I changed my no to a yes.”

She has also taken a strong stand against pay raises given to central office employees by Dansby.

Sutherland’s activism, often on behalf of the impoverished and powerless, has become familiar to Fort Worth observers over the last decade. She began her work as a community activist with the Allied Communities of Tarrant.  She’s also been through her share of political wars. One administrator of John Peter Smith Hospital recalled her as a “lightning rod” and as one of the most passionate people he’d ever encountered — though he didn’t always agree with her.

These days she is crusading against pay raises for high-ranking school district officials, both for the manner in which they were accomplished and because, as she sees it, the money for raises should have gone into classrooms, where it is badly needed.

Sutherland alleges that more than two dozen pay increases and promotions given in the past year to central office employees should have been approved by the board but that most of them were never brought to the board for a vote because Dansby circumvented the process.

Dansby and top school district officials argue that district policy — or, at least, common practice — did not require most of those pay increases to be approved by the school board. Policy required many of them to be brought to the board’s attention but not to be submitted for a vote, the officials said. They acknowledged that trustees were not informed, as they should have been, about a small group of raises, but that that has been remedied in executive session.

Sutherland doesn’t accept their interpretation of district policy and believes the raises should be put in limbo until the board has voted on them. However, she has not been able to get the issue put on a board agenda for discussion — another matter that infuriates her and that she says violates board policy.

According to data provided by the district, more than 300 teaching jobs were eliminated last year, causing the student-to-teacher ratio to rise by an average of nearly two children per class, district-wide. The raises to central office employees total $1.3 million — enough to have kept about 20 more teachers on the payroll. Some of the raises were for more than 10 percent.

“Those raises are a disaster,” Sutherland said. “The reclassifications, pay raises, and promotions in the central office total over $1.3 million per year, while $20 million was removed from our classrooms, and the overall budget increased by $9 million.”

Sutherland also alleges that other trustees and Dansby have stood in the way of the matter coming to a board vote.

“The ISD administration and both President Needham and President Moss have removed the item from the agenda, in violation of board policy, four times,” said Sutherland.

District officials said the vast majority of central office employees who received pay increases either had been promoted or were given added responsibilities because of the elimination of other positions. Deputy Superintendent Hank Johnson said that the district has reduced the overall payroll of its central office employees by 9 percent in the past year while cutting campus-level payroll by only 3 percent.

He said Sutherland’s numbers don’t add up.

“I don’t know how she came up with that,” he said. “I’ve tried to talk to her. I’ve asked her to explain it, and she hasn’t done a very good job. There’s a lot more complexity than what she can actually see.”

For Snoke, the current iteration of the school board is “way past dysfunctional.”

“They don’t serve the community,” he said. “Everybody wants to be the top dog.”



  1. Very well written report.

    As we can see the district will never fess up to anything because the message is to keep smiling as if nothing is happening. You have Dr. Sutherland who came to realize that she had no friends on the board at the time and then they turned against her. She is doing the right thing by holding everyone accountable and they are mad saying she is micromanaging. WHen you are in a change or transformation period yes you do need to clean it up. The district does not have an A performance to say they can have all the autonomy they want.
    As far as the election of new board members, we are seeing hopefully a change in the way business is done. There are many individuals who are committed to FWISD. The admin just needs to allow people to provide their ideas as well. Dansby is just a manager he knows nothing about instruction. Let’s keep the pressure up. ANd for once do the right thing and treat people right.

  2. I thought I had heard it all, but this article, with subsequent erroneous comments by Dansby, takes the cake! I want to know how long Dansby was sitting on this pile of manure, before he said, “Hey, let me feed this malarkey to the stupid public, on a paper I hate, and see if it doesn’t make them change their mind about me and my awesome bond proposal!” Convenient he FINALLY spoke to the Weekly, so close to the bond election??? Is anyone buying this load of crap? Dansby says he met with his board to tell him about the bond, except for Sutherland. Does anyone wonder about this? Dansby, you know your head is on a chopping block; b/c of what you have done (and are doing now), has not only been unethical, but immoral as well! Sutherland was your supporter to get you your position, b/c she wanted Johnson out and aligned herself with the other two boobs, Vasquez and Rangel. Now she sees that you are kissing Needham butt, b/c you want to keep your job. Needham is a snake like you, but her fangs are bigger! Dansby, don’t think for a minute you aligning with Needham to get back at Sutherland, will save your job. She is using you to get rid of her, b/c that is what she has wanted to do all along…now more than ever! Why? Sutherland asks questions; unfortunately, sometimes these questions are a little brash, but she obviously isn’t afraid to put you and the others on the hot seat for things you do haphazardly. Let’s be clear, I am not defending or supporting Sutherland, b/c she has made some shady deals herself, especially with the second Palazzolo firing. She waffles back and forth, b/c she is so easily persuaded and wants to fit in and be the heroin for her constituents. However, she at least has the cajones to question the board, which is something Needham and her Dino cohorts cannot and have not been able to stomach. The Censure was a joke and a setup, as well as a cover-up for what was truly on the burner (leaked audio). The board used the Censure to divert the attention of the public and make it look like all fingers pointed to Sutherland for sharing confidential information and making the board “look bad”. Dare I ask; has the board looked at itself in the mirror lately? YOU all make yourselves look bad! YOU all rushed this bond, b/c you want to beat the clock on the impending Palazzolo trial, where you know ALL your secrets of venality will be discovered! This corruption keeps getting deeper and deeper. Here’s something for you to investigate Sutherland. Find out who was promised the building contract when the bond is passed. See if you can connect the dots. If they tell you no one has been “promised” a contract, they are lying! I’ll give you a hint: This person was mentioned in this article as someone working to improve and make our schools “great”! I wonder how many drive-ways will be promised out of this deal, like with the Tocco corruption. If memory serves me right, Needham and Sims escaped legal action for that scandal, b/c they turned over evidence on the others, who did get prison time, when in actuality, they got driveways for themselves too! It doesn’t matter, b/c this entire house of cards will be tumbling down very soon! I for one am very excited to know what will be coming down the short pike. It’s going to be “dog eat dog” for sure! Palazzolo has been holding the key to justice for the last 3 years. Unfortunately, that key was tarnished by one narcissistic and unscrupulous legal counsel. Time may have been wasted, but I believe Karma waited to line up all her Karmic ducks in a row to solidify the true justice that WILL be served!

  3. This is just my opinion but as an employee, it is hard to feel any sympathy for flip flop Sutherland’s humiliating ordeal at the hands of Dansby. He is (and always was) wildly unpopular with Teachers and Coaches in FWISD who know him to be a womanizer and completely unethical. Many tried warning Sutherland, Vasquez and Rangel before they began the push for Dansby’s appointment, but they were blinded by their obsession to get rid of Melody Johnson. For years Dansby protected Isabel Perry formerly of Arlington Heights, known for her outrageous conduct with children, subordinates and theft of gate monies at athletic events. As much as Johnson, Dansby is directly responsible for the on-going Arlington Heights/Palazzolo litigation – just listen to the Board meeting audio of June 17 (quite obviously NO MISTAKE). He and T.A. Sims singlehandedly steal the show and give new meaning to the word ignorant. Then there is his cover-up of the infamous “nipple pinching” Principal at Dunbar. In truth, there are probably now more current and pending lawsuits against FWISD than ever before. Though our student performance continues to decline, and our children continue to fall out of broken desks which were supposed to have been replaced in the last Bond, Dansby has made no change in how children are educated or Teachers are supported. Michael Sorum is still here.
    Though hard to upstage in the unethical category, a close second to Dansby is Ray Dickerson. This is the guy who resigned from the School Board after blindly supporting MJ and presiding over the Palazzolo witch hunt. His involvement in any group – particularly under the guise of “Citizens for Greater Schools” should have been a red flag to anyone familiar with FWISD. When you consider that this group targeted the three Hispanic Members of the Board but made no effort to recruit candidates against two of the Board’s longest self-serving and corrupt individuals (T.A. Sims and Norn Robbins), it is hard to deny their efforts were anything but racist. (Consider that Robbins once ran against Board member Judy Needham – now they serve together. All it took was a little “re-drawing” of district lines for Needham to eliminate competition and gain a new drone. Sims has done little for schools or the Black Community during his long tenure except be the recipient of concrete and other FWISD perks and jobs for family and friends.) It is an open secret that Dansby has already promised the Bond issue work to Issac Manning. This alone is more than adequate reason voters should defeat the proposed Bond and beware of Citizens for Greater Schools.
    FWISD’s greatest hope for the future lies with Ramos, Paz and perhaps Avilla – though he has gotten off to a bad start by allowing himself to be dragged into the Sutherland controversy. What is needed is a CLEAN SWEEP. Moss (who with Dansby covered up for the Dunbar nipple pinching Principal); Jackson (who has been Needham’s close associate in the Palazzolo witch hunt and Linebarger contract) and the Grand Dame of Corruption, Judy Needham must all go – even if Betsy Price gets dragged into this. Maybe when all of this is exposed in the new Palazzolo trial (thanks to Dansby who insisted on going to trial), the clean sweep begun with Ramos and Paz will continue. We need responsible, concerned, ethical people to run against Moss, Needham, and Jackson. In the meantime, my advise to Sutherland is to pick a position and stick to it. Flip-flopping is not helping. You should do the right thing and expose the corruption – but that’s just my opinion.

    • There will be a challenger or two for Jackson but can guarantee one. The biggest thing is to make sure those that are enraged, show it with support and at the ballot box.

  4. Frankly, you cannot believe a word coming out of Dansby’s mouth – or Hank Johnson’s for that matter. “If their lips are moving, they are lying”. Vote NO on the Bond.

  5. I recently saw the bond presentation, it is such a joke. Information is spoon fed to you. Of course everthing is slanted away from the truth. The math on tax increases is scued. Pathetic. Our presenter couldn’t answer any questions and nothing in it explained the need for the fine arts academy or the stem academy beyond Dallas has one and there is one in Denton. Gee that’s the perfect reason to spend $73 milion so we can keep up with the Jones’s. Don’t vote for this crap. I’ve been an educator for a long time and seen a lot of administrations and those jackasses in the ad building are the absolute worst. Period. The board is just as bad. Don’t vote for this crap.

    • They need to show the plans, detailed of what the schools will be like, how they will be run, staffing, resources, etc. Right now it’s let’s build but as FWISD goes, they are late and push everything to where it’s ineffective. If you expect that because a building is built it will work, think again with the admin on hand right now.

  6. Besides the rumors that Walter has awarded the constuction contract for the bond think of this. The decision has been made that the STEM school will be downtown and that it will cost $13-15 million. This probably means they have picked a site since a cetain amount has been budgeted. Who owns the property and what is the connection to an administrator or a board member? It has to be there and if the right reporter looked it could be found. That’s a hint Weekly. Betty would have found it. Can you find it now?

  7. It is not difficult to understand why Dansby and some of the board members are desperately in convincing the Fort Worth citizens to embrace a “debt” that is not necessary at least for the following five years. This bond is targeting an elite group of citizens and 65% of the school population will not benefit from the propositions this fantastic administration and their boards are trying to pass.

    Proposition 1: They are asking to add around 300 classroom additions, new kitchens and cafeterias, two elementary schools, new field houses and Wi-Fi study areas and renovations to comply with accessibility standards. Adding more classrooms will definitely add more teachers.

    With the budget deficit or shortfall as the district is encountering at this time, how are they going to add 300 new teachers and put them in payroll. Adding 300 teachers will cost the school about $15,000,000.00 that it should be added to the existing deficit just in the payroll. Also, add the cost of running the new schools. Is the district expecting a massive immigration from Mexico or other States? How did the district demographer calculate this increase in population? It is cheaper to change the school boundaries to level the number of students per schools than to ask the citizens millions of dollars to solve an easy problem. Adding PRE-K centers is another bad idea. How do those little children are going to be transported to those centers when they live miles away from the schools that offer this service? If you check the number of students on a waiting list, you will be stunned to discover that there is not enough number of prospective kindergarteners to fill those PK centers. This is another aberrant idea from this administration. What is the data that the district has to support that the PK is increasing the scores? Michael Sorum, show the data of the number of students who has been in PK-K, and they are still struggling in schools. He needs to show the data to the citizens of Fort Worth in order for them to decide to pour money on this idea. Children in your district who attend to PK are doing the same as the children who enter in the mandated Kinder. Let the federal government fund the PK and help the schools funding the construction.

    Adding field houses to the 2% of students who play sports. We understand this because a couch is leading FWISD.

    Adding Wi-Fi? 98% of schools have Wi-Fi access, even portables. Can the administrator explain what kind of Wi-Fi they want to add?

    Renovations to bring facilities with accessibility standards? What happened with the 2007 bond package that took care of this issue? All schools are in compliance, can the administration show what schools are not in compliance. Where are the tickets issues by the state?

    Proposition 2: Provide funding for a Performing and Fine Arts Academy and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Academy. This proposition is for an elite population of school children.

    The Science and math scores are very low in elementary and middle schools. If the administration has not been able to raise the scores under Dansby why are they asking for these academies? Only 1.5% of the students in High Schools are going to benefit from these academies. As a taxpayer, I would like to see that the administration increase the science and math scores before giving them more money to invent the wheel with these academies. What about the students who do not have the chance to enter or enroll in these academies? What about if these academies are built in a zone that kids can attend? The schools of choices are still in pampers, and we have not seen any significant results of this famous school of choice.

    Proposition 3: Refreshing buses, musical instruments and uniforms, furniture and fixtures.

    This proposition is great for the people who like to buy water with a credit card. Let’s give this administration the opportunity to spend the money wisely.

    Musical instruments are an excellent idea!

    Uniforms are an excellent idea!

    Furniture and fixtures another excellent idea!

    Buses another excellent idea!

    For proposition 3, in two years the district will pass the hat again to repair the equipment that it was purchased with the bond!

    The whole mess of this dysfunctional board and administration is to distract the citizens with another bond. This is the only thing Dansby knows how to do, and the board members need this to stay in the political arena.

  8. I don’t get it!!! WTH is going on? All this information and STILL, no one from the State or the Feds have swooped down on this district! What is it going to take for our community to demand Dansby’s resignation on the premise of “No Confidence”? Look at what is taking place in DISD! Miles is being crucified in the media, and will probably result in losing his job, for something that Dansby and the Board have done (and are still doing) for YEARS! REMEMBER THIS: Dansby has said that “Tocco was the best Superintendent EVER! Dansby worked under Tocco and followed in his footsteps, from being a womanizer to finagling bond money (and contractors). Tocco should’ve gone to prison, along with Sims and Needham, but Needham’s power and money gave them ALL a free “Get out of jail” card. Dansby is big on sports and sports are big on plays. Dansby is playing the biggest game ever, at taxpayer expense. He has borrowed a page from Tocco’s playbook and already knows the bond contract will give him (and other corrupted Board members) a lot of kick-backs via Isaac Manning’s company. How much longer do we have to tolerate this BS? VOTE HELL TO THE NO FOR THIS RIDICULOUS BOND!!!! I am praying someone credible will come forward and blow the lid on this pop stand…soon! And I have high hopes that the impending Palazzolo trial will be the catalyst behind the dynamite used to blow it up!

  9. The biggest difference between FWISD and DISD or even El Paso ISD is that the elected officials in those cities GIVE A SHIT ABOUT KIDS. Wendy Davis too busy grand standing to get involved; Mark Veasy no different. And where is the Tea Party? What about Liberal groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center? Does anyone know why the Southern Christian Leadership Conference suddenly went silent on all things FWISD? For all of their faults, regardless of their politics, officials in DISD and El Paso came together to CLEAN HOUSE. I for one am tired of hearing what a “bad guy” Tocco was – he was just the scape goat for Needham, Sims, Moss and the rest. I think that is where Justice and the rest of us are heading with this. We need SOMEONE in elected office to DEMAND an investigation into what is going on here.

  10. Seriously, Tocco the fall guy. To be a fall guy you have to lose something. Yes he lost a job but he was well compensated for it including getting paid for more unused days off than anyone Ever. He received kickbacks for the math computer system that was a joke. He and Danny Manny were 2 of the most corrupt people that FWISD has had lead it. And that’s saying a lot.Too many from that bond got away with theft including the former head of maintence who sits on acres of concrete courtesy of FWISD.If this bond passes we will give Benbrook it’s own mini ISD at our expense, helped someone close to the board unload property they couldn’t sell elsewhere. built classroom where we don’t need them and in the end kids wiil not have been helped and many will be sitting in lowrider desks so uncomfortable they can’t concentrate. But Walter will have a legacy that like so many other things our grandkids will pay for.

    • I agree with completely. My only point – poorly worded – is that Tocco is long gone while his enablers; Needham, Moss, and Sims (who is even on record defending and voting against Tocco’s departure) are still here – still destroying this District. Sims just ran again UNOPPOSED! So much for Citizens for Better Schools.

  11. You need to read this site
    If Fort Worth citizens approve this proposed bond, they are asking their children to pay a debt that won’t benefit them at all.
    The 2007 bond supposed to address the 2% student growth with the facilities built with that bond. I insist there is not a need for a bond. What the citizens of Fort Worth should demand the board and the administration is to improve the student achievement and academic growth. Hold them accountable for bringing the district to this deplorable level.

    If the citizens vote yes, the Fort Worth ISD debt will climb to the billion. Maybe it should be called the debt-billionaires.


  12. Today’s Star Telegram – the official PR Dept for FWISD had a typical comment by one of the slithering Bond supporters:
    “Barbara Griffith Moffett · Fort Worth, Texas
    Pre-kindergarten is a vital building block of lifelong success in education.
    · Follow Post · September 15 at 10:18am”
    “Barbara Griffith Moffett · Fort Worth, Texas
    It is backed by research — over and over and over again. The Greatest Generation didn’t compete globally for jobs that demand no less than 14 years of education.
    · September 15 at 10:36am”
    Not once does she tell the unsuspecting public that she is an employee of FWISD; that she doesn’t live in the District; and that her own kids go to (wait for it) PRIVATE SCHOOL!
    What a hypocrite. Also note the time of the posting. Seems someone was doing this at work!

    • Ummm…..I looked at the time of the posting. But I also looked at the date. Isn’t September 15th a Sunday? Does she work 7 days a week?

      Before we get hysterical, we may want to check our facts.

  13. I don’t think there is any doubt in anyone’s mind that this bond issue is absurd and fiscally irresponsible! We can say anything we want, but the bottom line is, money is going to push this bond through! And the person behind the money is Needham and her partner, Marty Leonard. I believe the these two, like Manning, are in line to receive millions from the bond passing, because Leonard’s family will finally get to “dump” the late daddy Leonard’s Dept. Store property! And Manning, will get the contract to make it happen! The rest of the BS that the taxpayer is being fed is just that…BS! Their presentations about this idiotic bond in town hall meetings are ridiculous and unorganized. I’m pretty sure the person responsible for presenting this crap has to make sure they wear boots, in order to wade through all the crap they are dishing out! This bond is Dansby’s and the board’s last hoorah, considering that he will probably retire by the time the bond works itself through, and some key board members will not be re-elected in a year or two. Let this bond die and vote NO! Let’s see where the district is in a year. I have a feeling that it will be in shambles, due to the impending Palazzolo trial. There’s a new ‘Sheriff’ in town FWISD! You all better pull up your boot straps…it’s gonna be a rough ride! :-p

  14. Justice, how good is the information that it’s the old Leonards store? That makes perfect sense and makes the connection to the board but is that just supposition or are there facts to back it up?

  15. Dansby must go. He’s a bully and vendictive. Why does his buddy Rev. Tatum have a fat contract with the school district. He twist and distorts the truth for his own convenience. He rewards his friends with top level administrative jobs and awards them with fat raises while pretending that they have additional duties… He has no concern for the addition duties and responsibilities he piles on the teachers, they’re the ones that are carring the heaviest load.

    Mathew Avilia is fresh on the board, just in time to stomp Ann Sutherland in the ground. Ann Sutherland is not perfect, but she is the best advocate on the board for the kids. I can’t fault her for being hood-winked by those two clowns and race baiters–Carlos Vasquez & Juan Ranjel, glad their gone.

    At the end of the day Ann Sutherland is a good person and didn’t deserve the personal attack upon her from the board. A special shame on Mathew Avila while brand-new and fresh on the board he just couldn’t resist kicking her while she was down. The FWISD is an embarrasment… We shouldn’t give up on Mathew too quick, it was just the excitement of the monent…

  16. Teacher, while I’m willing to give Avila a chance, please remember he wasn’t elected. In what was undoubtedly an arranged set of circumstances the other 2 running for that spot dropped out of the race, one of them after the filing deadline was past. How convenient. His vote for Ann’s censure squarely puts him on the wrong side of the board, at least for now. Maybe he will realize that Needham, Jackson and the rest are not there for the students best interests but for their own and switch sides. We’ll see.