In a unanimous vote yesterday, the Texas Senate approved House Bill 628: Relating to the right of a member of the board of trustees of a school district to obtain information, documents, and records. The bill had already passed the House, and is now headed to the Governor's desk. A bi-partisan group of legislators including Williamson County's own Tony Dale crafted the measure in response to the rising number of Texas school superintendents refusing to cooperate with elected trustees. The most extreme example of superintendent mischief stems from the El Paso ISD, where Lorenzo Garcia hid fraudulent activity from the school board for quite some time (Garcia has been convicted and incarcerated, and the EPISD Board has been removed for failing to complete their oversight duties.)
Locally, Round Rock ISD Superintendent Jesus Chavez stunned the community last November when he insisted he had the right to determine what information elected trustees could have about the district. Chavez has repeatedly refused to release information to trustees regarding his declining district; a factor which likely contributed to the RRISD Board approval of a $25 million dollar campus for a program that serves an average of 42 students a day. Chavez has also been reluctant to release information regarding no-bid construction contracts awarded by the district.
Unfortunately, Chavez and many of his cohorts around the state have operated more like petty dictators than public servants, but now the Legislature has spoken clearly- these superintendents must answer to the elected board.
Interestingly enough, one Round Rock trustee lobbied very, very hard to prevent passage of this bill: Diane Cox. Apparently Cox spent a great deal of time and energy desperately trying to convince legislators to oppose HB 628. Cox has an unusually close relationship with the RRISD superintendent, and even vacations with Chavez and his wife. Cox and several other trustees are known to attend "board appreciation dinners" hosted by Chavez in his private home. Of course these dinners are 'off the record' and there is no way to know if there are further violations of the open meetings laws. Observers are hoping that Paul Tisch, who was appointed to replace beleaguered Trustee Glenn Colby, will have a more objective view of board-superintendent relations.
Congratulations to Tony Dale on passage of this important bill.