FORT WORTH (CBS 11 I-TEAM) – Fort Worth ISD is in full search mode, looking for their next leader. It’s their fourth superintendent in just ten years. The search has some parents still searching for answers from the district.
In 2004 Thomas Tocco was reassigned after a construction billing scandal. His replacement, Melody Johnson stayed with Fort Worth ISD for six years; but resigned in 2011 citing friction with board members.
When Walter Dansby resigned last month, Fort Worth School Board President, Christene Moss, said she was surprised by his departure and didn’t know why he was leaving. But after reading internal emails leading up to Dansby’s resignation, we were surprised he stayed as long as he did.
“They’ve had three superintendents and you’ve had to get rid of all three of them. So, something must be wrong with the board,” Mitchell Benson told us.
Mitchell Benson has lived in Fort Worth for 65 years. His four children all went through the Fort Worth school system, which is why he’s kept up with all the superintendent changes.
In June Walter Dansby announced his resignation, which will take effect January 31, 2015. From now until then, his new position with the district is Ambassador of Public Relations.
“I think it’s the right thing to do for myself and for my family at this time,” Dansby told us back in June.
For nearly a month district employees and parents have speculated as to the reason why Dansby chose to leave. But no one from the district would confirm or deny if Dansby was unhappy or if board members wanted to the change.
Nearly a month after his announcement, the I-Team obtained internal emails exchanged before his resignation between Dansby and long-time Fort Worth Board Member Judy Needham.
In one of the emails Needham and Dansby are discussing several bond projects:
“Please add an item for discussion on the May 13 agenda that is a report by Mr. Dansby on changes to the bond plan as approved by voters…”
The bond projects they are referring to include the approved of renovations to Tanglewood Elmentary and the building of a new Science and Technology (STEM) facility. For Tanglewood, the changes include adding new classrooms and more students. And, according to emails the I-Team got a hold of, some of the proposed plans for the STEM academy include combining it with the Performing Arts facility.
In a follow-up email Dansby asks:
“…there have been suggested changes brought to me regarding the Tanglewood Elementary project. Do you want the changes to this project… discussed at the meeting?”
“I asked for [the] performing arts and stem update, not Tanglewood… You made the first changes without telling or consulting me. You have greatly empowered a few pushy people.”
Several other emails the I-Team got a hold of, sent between April and May, refer to these two bond projects. Needham voiced her concerns that plans were moving ahead with the projects without proper approval or discussion.
Whatever the dispute, Benson worries these schools and, more importantly the students, could suffer in the long run.
“To me, it looks like the whole system is bad. It’s from the bottom to the top,” he said.
Judy Needham originally agreed to sit down with CBS 11’s Investigative Reporter Mireya Villarreal. However, after backing out twice, she opted to send the following statement:
Our Tanglewood, STEM School and Performing Arts School projects are on schedule for Phase II of the Capital Improvement Program. The Board will be discussing the scope of work for these projects soon.
We believe it is critically important for all District leadership to be on the same page in all matters. This is our commitment as we move forward focusing on a new school year for the children of Fort Worth ISD.
♦The Departure of Hank Johnson
Just two days after Walter Dansby announced he was leaving, Hank Johnson also submitted his resignation. Johnson was Fort Worth ISD’s Deputy Superintendent and Dansby’s right hand man.
The resignation he submitted to the district, also obtained by CBS 11’s I-Team, is short and doesn’t shed much light on his abrupt departure.
But emails Johnson received from current school board member Ann Sutherland, focus on her frustration with an internal audit. The audit has to do with a discovery investigators made regarding 41 district employees that were changing their timecards, claiming they were working when they weren’t, and getting paid overtime. Johnson never responded to Sutherland through email.
Clint Bond, a spokesperson for Fort Worth ISD, points out that audit was done in 2013.
“There is no more to report on the referenced audit then was reported to the Board,” Bond noted in a statement to CBS 11. “A complete review of policies and procedures was undertaken to make sure similar events did not occur again. Meetings were held with the supervisors of those departments most significantly impacted and appropriate changes were made. A new online tool was developed by the Technology department to assist Payroll with monitoring and verifying overtime hours.”
Johnson’s last day is August 31, 2014. Neither he nor Ann Sutherland were available for comment regarding these emails or the overtime audit.
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