GRAND PRAIRIE (CBSDFW.COM) – Many North Texas school districts are starting their school years having made budget cuts. In Grand Prairie, the district even encouraged people to retire early.
Yet the relatives of a school board member at GPISD continued to have jobs until the superintendent found out about it. And one teacher says his district crossed the line and violated nepotism laws.
Bart Scott tries hard to teach the right lessons. The 7th grade science teacher at Arnold Middle School in grew up in Grand Prairie and went to school where he now teaches. “The ethical standard I was taught in Grand Prairie when I was a child is that we don’t just follow the letter of the law, we follow the spirit of the law.”
But over the summer Scott uncovered what he believes are violations of Texas’ nepotism law.
Through a number of Freedom of Information Act requests he discovered that two daughters and a niece of school board vice president Terry Brooks were employed by Grand Prairie ISD. “This is unjust. It’s unethical, it’ s immoral and it needs to stop.”
He took his complaint to the police department. and investigators there referred the case to the Dallas County District Attorney’s office and to the Texas Education Agency.
Last year Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office released a ruling which interprets state law as prohibiting a school board or a superintendent who is the final authority on personnel from hiring relatives of school board members.
District spokesperson Sam Buchmeyer says the district has violated no laws. “We are well within the parameters of the law.”
Requests to speak with Brooks and with district superintendent Susan Simpson-Hall and with Brooks were declined.
Buckmeyer says the human resource department hired the women as teachers’ aides, not the board or superintendent. “We have an internal auditor come every year that does our auditing for school district. Part of what they do is relative to conflicts of interest – they have given this issue to the Texas Education Agency, who in their estimation believe this is not a problem because they are low level paraprofessional positions.”
He says Brooks’ daughters resigned in July after the superintendent was told about the situation. Brooks’ niece has since left the district to attend college.
Dr. Simpson-Hull’s own daughter also works in the district as a teacher, but according to the district that’s not a violation as she was hired by the board, which is the hiring authority.
Dallas attorney Marcos Ronquillo has represented a number of large districts in court, and is an expert in employment law, including nepotism cases. Ronquillo says it doesn’t matter if it’s a low-level position or upper management, the district needs to be more transparent. “If you’re dealing with public dollars, you are talking about public integrity, you’re talking about a high degree of transparency.”
As for Scott, he is hoping for some accountability. “I would like to see the school board put in new policies that go above and beyond state law.”