Judge: Texas Education Agency Can Take Over Scandal-Scarred Beaumont ISD

Judge: Texas Education Agency Can Take Over Scandal-Scarred Beaumont ISD

DALLAS, Texas–The Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) Board of Trustees has spent the better part of 2014 fraught with employee embezzlement scandalsand legal battles with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the latter who has sought to clean house in the severely mismanaged and scandal-scarred district. 

TEA’s goal has been to stabilize BISD and a community still reeling from the windfall of failed leadership. Yet, the beleaguered board has managed to fight TEA every step of the way and in doing so, they’ve inadvertently brought the families of Beaumont together.

At the June 23 school board meeting, 400-plus students, families, and teachers galvanized to protest the board’s latest move to cut almost 300 school district employees, the majority of whom were teachers, from the district to compensate for a potential $25 million dollar deficit, according to the Beaumont Enterprise.

“We’re sick and tired of this stuff that’s been going around here at admin for the past several years,” student Austin Bienvenu told KFDM-6 News.

“What you have done as a board is you have united this community. You look out here and you see parents and children white and black, brown and yellow, all of them wanting the best thing for their future and for their children’s future,” Mike Getz, a city council member said, also according to KFDM News.

Also according to the Beaumont Enterprise article, the state-appointed conservator Fred Shafer instructed board president Gwen Ambres to override the regular minute-and-a-half allocated per speaker rule on public comments that normally takes place at the end of board meetings and bump them up to two-and-a-half minutes per speaker at the beginning of what wasa respectful but nonetheless contentious gathering. A total of 30 minutes was set aside for public comments, during which not one district resident supported the board’s decisions.

“When the clock ran out in the middle of the speaker, who was identified as a teacher, the audience shouted, ‘Let her finish!,’ according to the Beaumont Enterprise article; although Ambres “slammed her gavel” calling for order. Trustee Zenobia Bush took this time to interject a comment of her own.

She said, “I try to be respectful and listen to what you have to say, but the reason I asked how many of my constituents are here is because there are some of you who are under the false assumption that you represent all of Beaumont, Texas, and I’m sick of hearing it,” according to KFDM News. “There is more than just one side to a story,” Bush added.

Regardless, the defiant board voted 4-2 to lay off those BISD employees, despite the fact that their fiscal recklessness contributed to the district’s compromised situation. Those hit the hardest in the lay offs were fine arts teachers.  The volatile board vote occurred with the high turnout of students and teachers present at the meeting. A Texas Ranger was also on site, the Beaumont Enterprise article noted.

In April, Breitbart Texas reported on the financially and emotionally shaky state of the district following a $4 million embezzlement fiasco earlier this year. It resulted in the arrests of the district’s former finance director and comptroller. Both were indicted on federal charges of fraud and conspiracy. Then, the district faced the TEA’s final investigative financial report from which recommended the removal of the current elected board of trustees headed up by Ambres.

Although she not pleased with the TEA response, Ambres said the board would comply with the TEA’s decisions. Breitbart Texas also reported that Education Commissioner Michael Williams placed Shafer into the conservatorship role on the board during the transition. Williams also met with the community for feedback while awaiting the results of the final review to appoint a temporary board of managers. This was supposed to have become effective on June 15.

Once in place, the appointed board of managers was to assume all responsibilities of an elected board of trustees. It would give the district time to get back up on its feet and reestablish community confidence. The appointed board would be in place for up to the two years allowed before calling for the required school board election.

However, the commissioner was unable to move forward because the BISD board filed an injunction to stop TEA from stepping in, claiming that Williams wasn’t following the law and claiming that TEA should give BISD more time to make its improvements.

Conversely, TEA attorneys argued “the district mismanaged its finances for years and the state has more than enough reason to replace the school board with a board of managers and replace the superintendent, Dr. Timothy Chargois,” KWBB News reported.

On June 20, Travis County Judge Stephen Yelenosky ruled that BISD was not likely “to succeed at trial convincing the court of their interpretation of the law,” the Beaumont Enterprise reported. He also denied the district’s request to stop the TEA takeover, although BISD’s attorney suggested an appeal as an option.

This ruling means that TEA can now take over the district unless BISD files an appeal and gets a restraining order to block the TEA or, as KFDM Newsexplained it “pending the outcome of the appeal, or pending the outcome of a trial on a Permanent Injunction.”

BISD can also “request a Record Review from the TEA, in order to argue against the agency’s decision to replace trustees with a board of managers” and to replace Chargois, according to information provided to KFDM News by TEA spokesman Gene Acuna. Prior to latest ruling, TEA attorneys arguedtheir cases in Austin before Yelenosky.

In response to the judge’s June 20 decision, Williams issued this statement through Acuna: “After yet another fair and impartial review of the facts, I am pleased that my decision to appoint a board of managers has been upheld in district court. (Today’s) ruling is truly a victory for the people of Beaumont who seek to restore trust and confidence in their local school district. I am committed to selecting trusted and diverse members of the community to serve on the Beaumont board of managers. However, the timing for such a transition remains in the hands of the current board of trustees. They must ultimately decide whether to abide by the legal decisions that have already been reached or to continue to utilize taxpayer dollars in a losing fight.

Now “TEA is looking at the next steps to take with Beamont ISD,” agency spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson told Breitbart Texas.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.