The state board that oversees public education in Texas announced today that an appointed board of managers will rule the troubled Beaumont school district.
A letter from Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to the Beaumont Independent School District superintendent and school board said the managers along with an appointed conservator and superintendent will run district functions effective June 15. This means the current elected board and its appointed superintendent, Dr. Timothy Chargois, will cease supervision of the largest district in Southeast Texas. A copy of that letter is here.
The announcement comes in the wake of years-long controversy, often based along racial lines, over financial and other mismanagement. Some of the former has resulted in the alleged disappearance of millions in public dollars. A few pleas by district officials made in federal court may result in prison time as well as financial reimbursement and fines. A deal was also worked out by federal prosecutors and the district’s electrician in which the latter will receive no prison time for allegedly bilking the district for more than $4 million.
A Texas Education Agency report released earlier this month noted ” … a severe breakdown in the management of the district’s finances both by the board of trustees and the superintendent.”
Additional criminal investigations by local law enforcement and the FBI are currently under way.
Not addressed in these official reports are the racial overtones that pervade the controversy. Some of the racial discord dates back more than two decades in which the school district incorporated predominantly black schools and marked the beginning of a “white flight” that has today left Beaumont as a city with a black majority in population. Population estimates for 2012 by the U.S. Census show Beaumont with a population of 118,228. Of that population, 47 percent is black and 40 percent white.
Much of the racial-driver controversy concerning Beaumont schools teetered in the shadows until recent years under the district’s predominantly black school board and its black former superintendent Dr. Carroll “Butch” Thomas. Before Thomas retired in 2012, his salary of more than $360,000 was the highest in Texas. This despite Beaumont ISD was not even in the top 20 Texas schools in enrollment size.
The zenith of the BISD controversy came about after voters in 2007 passed a more than $380 million bond issue. Some of the most vocal critics say Thomas and cohorts mishandled funds in the bond issue. The large “Carroll A. “Butch” Thomas Educational Support Center, with a 10,600-seat football stadium at its center, is perhaps the monument for the BISD storm that either saw its peak today with the state takeover or whatever else is to follow.
Within the fight against the school board has been a vocal minority led by white residents of the district’s more affluent neighborhoods as well local Tea Party activists. The opposition leaders include one of the few white school board members and one local attorney who serves on the Beaumont City Council. Many who are among the most vocal, and often the most racial, can be found at the board meetings and on the comment sections of local media stories. Often the most vocal make their thoughts known pseudonymous online, such as adopting racist names for Beaumont school leaders as well as making sure minorities in other stories are likewise not given the benefit of doubt for their actions.
I must admit, it was once fun watching the squabbling on both sides. But no longer is that the case. Many of the opposition to the school board and its appointed leaders Thomas and Chargois, will feel vindicated and perhaps even giddy upon the actions taken today by the Texas Education Agency and its distinguished commissioner, Mr. Williams. It is pertinent to point out that Williams, who is a Republican former Texas Railroad Commissioner, is also black. I fear though that if the white BISD opposition does not get out of those appointees what they want, the vocal minority will likely point at the black TEA commissioner and probably at any African-Americans he appointed to the board of managers. Perhaps even, the loyal opposition may show its ire at the whole group.
If such takes place, it can only result in more discord and more white flight.
A word for the media here. I am sure all the local TV stations will claim their role in this hoped-for correction of the district. The TV stations are already doing their annoying “It was first reported here … ” The local newspapers took a very, very slow start into covering problems in the district as did the TV stations. Were it not for several of the aforementioned ringleaders of opposition, the media coverage of the district problems would have been nil. Had these media outlets been competently led, they might have seen Pulitzer or Peabody prizes in their future. While I would be willing to bet the TV and newspapers may win some prizes, the awards will be nothing near what they might have been had the local media been on the ball. It’s even possible these problems would have never even come this far.
So much for the fun and games. The circus has long stopped being fun. The clean-up crew now has to try and sweep away all the crap that the clowns, rather than the elephants, left behind.