A DALLAS SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR puts $2 million into a special state fund as a contingency for legal II judgments against the district. He then forms a corporation with a Dallas attorney who represents the district. Soon he is paying the attorney from the special fund-up to $650,000 a year-without the school board’s knowledge.
A contract to sell an unused school building is approved by the board. But the document given to the board is missing a page. On the missing page is a stipulation that a $350,000 commission will be paid to a local broker in the sale. Paying brokerage commissions is specifically forbidden by school board policy. When the requirement to pay a commission becomes known, the board decides it has no choice but to fork over the money because the contract is legally binding.
In 1997 the district’s outside auditors find that $10 million worth of property has mysteriously disappeared. Among the missing items are cars, computer equipment, and even portable buildings. In the dry language of accountancy, the auditors comment that while some of the property may have been misplaced because of faulty paperwork, “it is possible other assets are missing due to misappropriation.” Possible? Oh yes, very possible.
The wholesale looting of the Dallas Public Schools has been systematic and surprisingly sophisticated. When it came to stealing, Yvonne Gonzalez was a piker with her furniture gambit, an out-of-town rube surrounded by city boys who knew how to make the big scores without getting touched.
Now the question before the city is, what do we do with our public school system?
The question is critical. The school population is exploding, which means new schools are needed. Some present buildings are in disrepair, while others need upgrading. The school board has been considering a $350 million bond issue to meet these needs. With every new crisis-and Executive Editor Glen-na Whitley’s cover story (p. 86) presents one more in a long string-the bond issue gets shelved, which means problems grow worse and more expensive to fix.
Until the culture of corruption is thoroughly and completely rooted out, passing a bond issue is a fantasy. Dallas voters will not approve pouring more money down an open hole.
So what can the school board do?
Appoint a Financial Controls Board of three citizens with proven experience in the management of large organizations. This board should rewrite the district’s operating rules and set up new systems and procedures for financial accountability. A chief financial officer should be hired on a interim basis, reporting to this board. No permanent appointments of any kind should be made.
Order a “fraud audit” from KPMG Peat Marwick. The district’s outside auditors have been restricted to doing only a financial statement audit. Trustee Lois Parrott has been pressing for a full “fraud audit” that would probe every aspect of the district’s operations. The school board should tell the auditors to give the district’s books the full treatment-and the auditors should report their findings to the public and the appropriate legal authorities.
Postpone any hope of hiring a new superintendent. Appoint a Special Master for one year. Nobody with any qualifications or common sense would want to take on the superintendent’s job at this stage in the game, when indictments are sure to rain down like winter hail. And why put the city through all the racial jockeying and personal posturing over a new superintendent for which our school board is renowned? Instead, appoint a Special Master and give him or 1er total authority to clean house. Bring in the Marines-or at least one Marine. Suspend Civil Service regulations; the Special Master should have the power to fire everyone in the administration building to whom the slightest suspicion is attached.
Forbid nepotism. The hiring of relatives has become standard practice. End it. Like a banana republic, the DISD has become a web of family networks whose only objective is family enrichment.
Forbid outside jobs. Many of the “entrepreneurial” activities by school district administrators are little more than artful disguises for embezzlement, extortion, kickbacks, and outright theft. If you want a job with the DISD, it should be clear that this is your job. Period.
Set up a “’corruption savings fund” and use it to give merit raises to teachers. Millions have been lost, but millions can be saved once the crooks are cleaned out. To gamer districtwide support for his efforts, the Special Master should put the savings where they belong, back into the classroom to the people who matter most.
Bottom line to the school board:You have failed your city, and you have failed the children. For once, do the right thing and get out of the way. Recruit a Financial Controls Board. Appoint a tough Special Master. Let others set this house in order. In one year Dallas might regain enough confidence in the public school system to pass a bond program. The solution is in your hands.
Next month: If the school board fails to act. Governor Bush’s appointees to the Texas Education Agency must intervene. Otherwise, this disaster could end up right smack in the governor’s lap.