Texas Declares War on a School Board
BEAUMONT, Texas (CN) - Beaumont Independent School District leaders should be removed for fiscal "gross incompetence" that resulted in the firing of more than 300 district employees to cover a "jaw-dropping" deficit, Texas claims in court.
The state and two citizens - Pamela Schelander and Donna Forgas - filed a petition Monday in Jefferson County Court, seeking the removal of school trustees Gwen Ambres, Woodrow Reece, Terry Williams, Zenobia Bush, Janice Brassard, Thomas Neild and Michael Neil.
The Texas Education Agency in April announced the findings of a special accreditation investigation launched at the behest of concerned citizens, which found that BISD managers did not have "management control over its finances and operations," according to the complaint.
Texas claims the district reported a projected deficit of $25 million this year in spite of enjoying a $44 million surplus in 2012.
Texas claims the trustees have engaged in official misconduct, including abuse of office, abuse of power, interference with the day-to-day operations of the district, misuse and misappropriation of district funds, and "perhaps worst of all, intimidation of BISD employees."
"The end result of this jaw-dropping loss of taxpayer dollars, is that BID is now in the midst of firing over 300 employees, who through no fault of their own, will suddenly find themselves unemployed," the 15-page complaint states.
Texas claims that in spite of the TEA's findings, the trustees have fought the agency's efforts to bring in a board of managers and have hired high-priced attorneys.
The state says a Travis County judge has refused to issue an injunction to stop the appointment of new managers, but the trustees "have decided to double down with equal measures of arrogance and hubris" by placing on Monday evening's board agenda a vote to pay the lawyers a purported $300,000 to keep fighting.
"Not only would the BISD trustees be throwing taxpayer money away in agreeing to make such a payment to the lawyers from Houston to continue fighting the TEA, they would be breaking state law," the state says in the lawsuit. "BISD has completely exhausted its 2013-2014 budget for legal expenses. The trustees have not sought to amend the budget before scheduling a vote to approve payment to attorneys ..."
On the same agenda, the trustees are scheduled to vote on the termination of more than 100 employees who signed contracts with the district in March.
"The reckless payment of the additional money being considered to pay attorneys to continue to fight the TEA would save six or seven of those job positions," the complaint states.
BISD Superintendent Timothy Chargois, on the other hand, can see the "writing on the wall" and wants to resign, Texas claims.
"But only if he can successfully negotiate a 'golden parachute' severance package in which he would walk away with over $244,000 that he would not be able to receive once the TEA board of managers comes into the district ... however, because Dr. Chargois knows fully well that he enjoys the blind support of a majority of the trustees on the board, that if he proposes that he be given a 'voluntary separation agreement,' it will be authorized."
Texas claims placing the severance agreement up for vote on Monday evening's agenda runs the risk of breaking the law because the payment is not budgeted, that "there is simply no cash available to pay for this attempted money grab."
BISD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
BISD spokesperson Jessie Haynes told ABC News affiliate KBMT that "there is no reason you should tell voters you voted for these people but you don't know how to vote."
"People died for the right to vote," Haynes said Monday. "It's in vain if you live in Beaumont, Texas."
The plaintiffs seek suspension and removal of the trustees due to incompetency and official misconduct under the Texas Local Government Code.
Their lead attorney is Michael Truncale with Orgain Bell & Tucker, of Beaumont.