Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Round Rock School Board On Contract Awards: Shut Up, Will Ya?

"Shut Up," they explained.

Well, it seems the Round Rock School Board and Administration are opposing government transparency again.

At last week's school board meeting, Superintendent Jesus Chavez informed the board that popularly elected trustee Pauline Law was asking too many questions.  Apparently, Law had requested documents from Chavez' administration regarding the ISD's bidding process and subsequent contract awards, especially those given to Partners In Education (PIE) Foundation members.  As Ms. Law stated, as an elected trustee with responsibility for governance she wanted to review the history of contracts awarded to PIE members and possibly recommend board policies to prevent conflict of interest issues.

The nature of Law's request however, seemed to throw the board into a panic.  Trustee Diane Cox was quite angry and 'offended' by the request.  Superintendent Chavez accused Pauline Law of 'conducting an investigation,' and noted that his contract prevents trustees from doing so.  The other four board members present voted to stop Law's request, and Superintendent Chavez will not be providing the documentation.  (He claimed it would require research and the creation of a report.)  Glen Colby even made a rather interesting comment to Ms. Law about "one mouth and two ears." (In other words, "Shut up.")  Trustee Sellers and Romere were not present; the latter due to her father's death last week. (I'm sure it's only a coincidence that these controversial votes are generally taken when it is known that Romere will be absent.)  

One might think that simply providing the requested documents would have immediately put to rest any speculation about inappropriate contract procedures, but now that the Superintendent and Board have reacted so emotionally, many citizens are asking what they're hiding.

Again, I think we have to look to the cautionary tale provided by the El Paso ISD.  In that case Superintendent Lorenzo Garcia was not only committing felonies regarding standardized tests, but he was directing ISD contracts to his mistress.  Garcia has been convicted and incarcerated, and the board of trustees is being removed by the Texas Education Agency for failing to perform their elected duties.  El Paso city council member Susie Byrd put it this way to the Texas Observer:
"She says the El Paso ISD board gave (Superintendent) Garcia far too much control, and now they’re not interested in investigating what happened."
So here we are in Round Rock, where not only is the Superintendent refusing to give a trustee relevant documents, (which according to a 1983 Attorney General opinion he is legally obligated to provide,) but some board members are attempting to prevent any public scrutiny of the way contracts are awarded.  If there are issues, like the El Paso Board, these trustees will be held accountable for their respective actions.

While we are comparing Round Rock with El Paso, note that part of the EPISD scandal involved pushing certain students out of low performing schools in order to make it appear that test scores had improved.  Is similar reasoning behind the RRISD's inexplicable expenditure of $25 million on a campus for 'at-risk' students?  If the district could force as many low performing students as possible to the "Success Campus," then it would give the appearance of dramatic test score increases at failing high schools like Cedar Ridge.  Remember that it is easy to enroll students in the Success High School/At-Risk program, but apparently few of these enrollees actually attend.  Not as dramatically illegal as the El Paso scheme, but it does have troubling ethical implications.

The bottom line here is that we need transparency in government to keep folks honest, and the secrecy about PIE contracts and Success High School are really making the district look bad.  If there are no discrepancies in the PIE contracts, just release the documents for goodness sake.  Most of us believe the truth will set us free, but I guess that isn't true for everyone.  

In other fun notes on the RRISD board meeting:  Trustees defended their use of taxpayer dollars to bus select PTA members down to Austin for a political rally, even though students must pay for use of the buses.

Related Post:  Texas Legislature to Strengthen School Board Trustees' Ability to Govern and HB 628.


dragonmomof3 said...

What does it take for the TEA to get involved? The "Chavez 5" have been ignoring the citizen majority that has bothered to show up or write; have allowed the super to refuse to release documents and misrepresent the true attendance numbers at the Success School; and now this. What are they trying to hide and why can't the TEA step in.

RRISD Parent said...

My understanding has been that students who graduated from the Success Program received a diploma from their home campus. So if they were zoned for Westwood that is what is says on the student's diploma.

This leads to a few questions:
Does this mean future diplomas will say Success High School? Which school counted the GPA and student rank in past and future years?