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You win this round, Tanglewood moms. Courtesy of Facebook

FWISD Superintendent Caving to CRT Dipshits?

We can only imagine how many Tanglewood moms mainlined pinot grigio when they heard that FWISD’s superintendent since 2015 would be stepping down when his contract ends mid-2024.

Kent Scribner joins eight other North Texas superintendents who recently announced they will soon be leaving, resigning, or retiring. In public statements, the district leaders got all cozy about how they enjoyed their time serving students, but the real reasons these people are bailing are likely tied to culture wars over mask mandates and racial equity policies.

Numerous North Texas suburbs have fallen to right-wing asshats who peddle vapid conspiracy theories about Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a means of projecting their racist ideations on others.

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Fort Worth school board meetings have increasingly become battlegrounds for culture wars over how our country’s sordid history of racism should be taught. Or whether that history should be taught at all.

Scribner probably saw the racist writing on the wall. A potent combination of Tanglewood elites who disdain commonsense masking efforts and a general onslaught from Dumpy Trumpies who have a perverse desire to defund public schools to harm minorities may not have been worth the fight. After all, in Tarrant County, questioning racist conspiracies can get you indicted on bogus criminal charges (“ Conservative Cronyism,” Aug. 2021).

Like a lot of large urban school districts, FWISD has a long way to go when it comes to meeting academic benchmarks. With a student population that is overwhelmingly Black and Latinx, reaching those goals will require confronting and combating the wealthy elites who continue to target public schools for nefarious and certainly bigoted reasons.

Or you could just quit.

 

Sounds About White

Not one to let neighboring Southlake have all the fun when it comes to right-wing shenanigans, city staffers in Keller recently promoted one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign events on the city’s Facebook page.

For a suburb that’s about 80% white, the post was a straight-up power move. Forget the fact that the Texas Election Code prohibits displays of brazen partisanship on the part of government officials or the fact that Democrats in Keller also pay taxes that support the city. What do laws matter to a governor who freely gerrymanders Texas’ growing ethnic minority population out of two new U.S. congressional seats? Or to a governor who seems to delight in depriving women of the right to choose whether they carry an unwanted fetus to term.

A Keller spokesperson declined to respond to the Star-Telegram when queried about the legality of the social media posts. Maybe Texas’ election code is also up for revisions in 2023.

 

Right-Wing Carroll School Board Pushes Through Vote on New Legal Counsel

Carroll school district has garnered national attention for the behavior of wealthy white parents and conservative school leaders who cling to misrepresentations of Critical Race Theory as a means of pushing back on anti-racism policies.

Momentum has been on the side of right-wing parents who donate heavily to a PAC, Southlake Families, that has so far placed three trustees on the seven-member board that serves Southlake. Area parents have been on the hunt for books that describe the daily life of non-white and non-cisgender youths. In October, school board member Hannah Smith pushed to reprimand a Carroll elementary school teacher who had a copy of This Book Is Anti-Racist, a New York Times bestseller, in his classroom.

An unnamed school employee filed a grievance in response. One confidential source who has intimate knowledge of school board dealings told us the employee who filed the grievance is the same teacher who was reprimanded. The grievance hearing is set for Monday, according to a recent Carroll school board meeting that saw the hiring of Underwood Law for the purpose of providing legal representation to the school board and to presumably protect Smith from blowback from the reprimand.

During last week’s meeting, Underwood attorney and shareholder Alan Rhodes, at the request of Smith, described the services his firm provides to school boards. Rhodes heads a conservative PAC, Amarillo Matters, in his hometown of Amarillo.

“A school fight can be worse than a family fight or a church fight,” Rhodes told the board members. “You have, for a minute, been in a tough school fight. Thank you for serving the kids of Carroll ISD. Sometimes it is just tough.”

Carroll school district is under federal investigation for allegedly violating the civil rights of minority and LGBTQ+ youths (“ Embattled Southlake Public Schools Under Federal Investigation,” Nov. 2021). We reached out to Rhodes for clarification on whether his comments were intended to condone the actions of parents and school board members on either side of the heated topic of racial equity policies being taught in Southlake’s public schools, and he said he was not.

“I was not condoning any position by any party,” he said in an email.

During the subsequent school board discussion, it was apparent that board members Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore were blindsided by the push to hire Underwood. Carlton and Moore were indicted for allegedly violating the Texas Open Meetings Act in April. In mid-2020, the two board members texted each other about racial equity policies that were under consideration at the time. Those communications may have violated open meetings law, which requires discussions about public matters to occur only during public forums.

The law is frequently violated in Tarrant County, and the DA never seemed to care until now. Carlton and Moore had upset Republican political donors in Southlake who viewed maligning their school board as preferable to addressing lingering bigotry in the wealthy suburb.

The time-sensitive nature of the grievance necessitated the hiring of Underwood, Smith replied.

A Carroll ISD spokesperson told me in an email that there are no board policies in place that define how trustees seek legal counsel.

During the discussion, Moore said that a Request for Quote, or RFQ, may not have been used when hiring certain law firms in the past, but the school district’s need for improved transparency should make that step standard practice.

Half an hour into the discussion, Smith motioned to hire Underwood Law Firm, which, according to Rhodes’ board meeting comments, would not require an upfront retainer. The measure passed 4-2 with Carlton and Moore voting against and Cam Bryan, Lannen, Smith, and Andrew Yeager voting for it. Trustee Sheri Mills was not in attendance.

 

TAD Chases “Indispensable” Former Employee

When current software for the Tarrant Appraisal District (TAD) launched in late 2014, it was plagued with years of errors that deprived local schools, cities, and other property tax-funded groups of millions in needed revenue. Overbillings of residents led to a surge of taxpayer refunds soon after.

TAD staff and board members are keenly aware that their software engineers are the only buttress against another disaster like the one they dealt with the first few years after the botched software launch. That history may explain why TAD’s five-member board recently approved a $96,000 contract with BIS Consultants last week. The agreement allows TAD to contract with former TAD employee and current BIS worker Kurt Meyers, who, according to TAD’s head of information systems, was the only employee who understood the advanced software — Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) — that TAD uses to track and calculate property values.

Meyers stands to make $100/hour of taxpayer money as an outside consultant for the appraisal district he worked for from 2015 to late 2021.

According to the agenda packet that was never made public but that we were able to see, the contract provides “quality assurance and assistance with” CAMA.

TAD’s board and top leaders have known about Meyers’ departure since at least June, when he discussed his plans to leave during a TAD board meeting. During that meeting, board member Kathryn Wilemon described him as “indispensable,” which prompted former board member Gary Losada to shoot back. TAD staffers are frequently described as indispensable by appraisal district leadership, Losada said, and that mentality allows certain employees like Meyers to exert undue influence over TAD dealings.

During last week’s board meeting, board member Joe Ralph Martinez asked a TAD employee if there had been any consideration of hiring a company that provides similar services to BIS Consultants.

The employee who headed the search replied that, while many other companies provide similar services, TAD only considered BIS, Meyers’ firm.

“I went with continuity of service,” the TAD employee said, referring to TAD’s need to maintain access to their “indispensable” former employee.

 

Pushing Back on TRWD Legal Briefs

Pretty much once a week, we learn we can’t get the information we need from government sources because of legal caveats in the Texas Public Information Act. Tarrant County, Fort Worth, and other public entities routinely seek to block our open records submissions by mailing requests to withhold information to the State Attorney General’s office. The state then has up to 90 days to reply.

Apparently, we’re not the only ones fed up with the briefs that too frequently work against government transparency and accountability. In December, Thomas Torlincasi, a member of the grassroots group the Water District Accountability Project, requested finance reports from the Tarrant Regional Water District (TRWD), the government group tasked with managing flooding, providing drinking water, and overseeing the stalled $1.2 billion Panther Island development on the North Side. Accusations and documented instances of insider dealings and wasteful spending have plagued TRWD for the better part of two decades. Water District Accountability Project volunteers believe that TRWD is hiding something that could explain the high water bills that Tarrant County residents are forced to cough up each month.

In response to Torlincasi’s open records request, TRWD legal staff filed a legal brief to the state AG that argues that reports prepared by a consultant, in this case Mark Mazzanti, are not subject to disclosure. Jackee Cox, a retired local attorney, recently filed a rebuttal legal brief on behalf of Torlincasi.

“I believe that the information must be disclosed,” Cox told us. Under the federal Public Information Act that Texas’ open records laws must conform to, “final reports may not be withheld from disclosure unless their release is barred by some statute other than the exceptions to the Public Information Act. I am aware that legal prose is deadly dull, but somehow we need to bring more focus to the fact that TRWD deep-sixes information that is, in fact, public information.”

 

This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.

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