BISD teachers fear more retaliation disguised as layoffs
As the Beaumont Independent School District continues to lavish taxpayer dollars on friends, family, family friends, and a horde of high-priced attorneys, those who do the work of the school district are facing the unemployment line due to what BISD Superintendent Timothy Chargois calls “financial exigency.”
Among those fearing for their livelihoods are educators who have spoken out about the unethical and illegal practices occurring at the school district.
The writing of the three
“It’s hard not to be worried right now,” said veteran BISD educator Sharon Hendrix, who has filed grievances against BISD, assistant superintendent for secondary education Patricia Adams Collins Lambert, and others for retaliation in moving Hendrix from her long-time position as an administrator at Central High School to the Pathways campus for troubled and at-risk youth. Before her transfer, Hendrix had given testimony that she knew Lambert was changing students’ grades.
Hendrix’s allegations of systematic retaliation perpetuated by a conspiracy of rogue administrators are not the only allegations of that sort, however. In a May 27 letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams, three BISD whistleblowers allege rampant retaliation against those willing to stand up for the students and educators of BISD and are asking for TEA intervention to stop BISD administrators
from enacting a reduction in force (RIF) that appears to be a blatant attempt to get rid of unwanted baggage such as whistleblowers.
“We are writing you to ask that the help you have promised and the good work you have begun be delivered and completed, and not delayed by the tactics of the district’s overpaid administration and lawyers,” the grieved employees wrote to Commissioner Williams. Those signing the letter include BISD employees Hendrix; Dr. Velina Johnson, who claims that BISD Human Resources director Sybil Comeaux repeatedly passed her over for promotions in order to offer choice jobs to family and friends after Johnson reported testing irregularities at French Elementary School; and coach Tony Cox, who alleges BISD administrators even targeted his child, a student at Central High School, again because of conflict with Lambert.
“Each of us has reached out to Dr. Chargois and the school district’s board, and we have each been equally rebuffed in favor of what appears to be personal agendas,” the joint letter contends. “BISD has, and is, diverting needed monies from students to Houston lawyers to stall the Commissioner of Education’s reform of this district. The only people who will apparently benefit are more lawyers, Dr. Chargois, his staff, and the BISD Board (of Trustees’) ego.
“BISD has overpaid Jessie Haynes, Patricia Lambert and others past the time of any real service to BISD. BISD has paid many millions to its lawyers to stall and cover-up, to Mrs. Lambert’s relatives and friends and others who are uncertified, unqualified, or underqualified.
“Now, Dr. Chargois threatens a reduction in force, and it is clear that those persons including us who are not perceived to be unswerving supporters of this inept (if not corrupt administration) will be the victims.”
Hendrix, Johnson, and Cox all emphatically dispel the notion that BISD is in spirit or action a Top 10 School District, a National Blue Ribbon School, a Top 100 Workplace, or a National Model School.
“What we have read in the media, heard from the justice systems, and seen with our own eyes, forces us to disagree with those descriptions,” the unified grieved teachers wrote to Williams.
“Instead, the district has been a Top 10 victim amongst public entities for having been financially plucked to feather the nests of administrators, their families and friends, and the lawyers who have protected them.
“The district has become a National Blue Ribbon failure for graduating students who can’t enroll, compete, and stay enrolled in major four-year colleges and universities. Often the district has been touted for scholastic achievement by administrators who have dishonestly manipulated grades and in the process have lied to students and parents about the quality of a Beaumont education.
“The district has been a workplace where staff has been openly discriminated against because of protected characteristics, reports of unethical or illegal acts, or criticisms of people too high and too powerful. Too many times the race card has been played by people of both black and white races. Unfortunately, black board members, administrators, and citizens have peddled anti-white racism just as vigorously as their white counterparts have preached the anti-black racism with which we are all too familiar.
“The worst thing especially for Beaumont’s black students — and all students — is that many racist tongues will look at the Beaumont School Board and administration to say that black people can’t be trusted with our institutions of government. Our children — black, white, Hispanic, Asian ... all of our children — are deserving and yet being disserved by a board majority and district administrators who are themselves undeserving of their authority.”
Three down, many more to go
Educator/whistleblower Yolanda Clark is yet another BISD employee still on the school district’s payroll but in a diminished capacity since she reported BISD’s testing practices as it related to impeding the progress of special needs students to the Texas Education Agency. Shortly after speaking up, she was placed on indefinite administrative leave against her will. Clark said she was blindsided by the news that she was no longer welcome at her place of employment since she had just received a promotion from middle school math teacher to Central High School curriculum coordinator right before her indefinite suspension.
“The TEA representative for Smith recommended me for the promotion,” she said, for her role in helping Smith Middle School slough off an Academically
Unacceptable rating for past poor performance on standardized testing. Clark said she started in BISD in 2012 after having spent roughly 17 years earning recognition as being a leader in the Port Arthur Independent School District, and her contribution to the advancement of Smith Middle School testing scores in the 2012-13 school year was due to her offering special needs students the accommodations they are entitled to under the law.
“I let the TEA know the kids were not receiving their modifications,” she said. “When the year was over, everything was fine. The school made such a drastic increase they got off of AU in their second year.
“Once I got to Central all the sudden I was called in and I was put on academic probation. They said there was some discrepancy with the scoring.”
That’s it. They never even said that I was specifically being investigated for testing irregularities. They just cut me off.”
Clark was emotional as she talked about her nearly 20-year teaching career, and how less than two years at BISD has nearly ruined her professionally.
Clark said she has been quiet about her administrative leave in hopes that everything would work itself out. Now, she isn’t as confident.
“Most importantly,” Courts stressed, “my students have been denied the free and appropriate education to which they are entitled. Undoubtedly my students have paid the price in many ways by the adversarial actions taken against me for speaking out. I was even warned to choose my words very carefully or I would be moved to another campus like Sharon Hendrix.”
“I’ve always been a successful teacher,” she said. “I’ve never been called into the office unless it was for something good. (BISD) let me go like the Friday before the TEA came in.”
“Now teachers are scared – we’re all scared,” she said. “(Teachers are) tucking tail and being quiet until it’s time to clock out for the day. It’s just a bad situation – it really is.”
She didn’t know it then, but later Clark found out she was being accused of perpetuating educator-assisted cheating on state-mandated testing.
Clark said she, too, is worried about the impending reduction in force (RIF) pro- posed at BISD.
Courts said she pleaded for help from Superintendent Chargois, only to have her pleas fall on deaf ears.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” Clark told The Examiner. “It’s still very confusing because I have never been accused of such a thing – ever.”
“The bottom line is if I’m being released from Beaumont I need to get another job, so that makes this even harder. I do think I will be part of the RIF. ... I have two options: tuck tail and run, or fight. But it’s hard to fight something when you’re not accused of anything and you can’t be sure who the enemy is.”
Courts said a spinal cord injury that necessitated the use of a wheelchair makes her feel a connection to the students she serves as a special education teacher at BISD, but she said what is being done to the special education students at her campus is not only unethical, it’s downright illegal.
The special education teacher said she was appalled by the announcement that BISD is in the process of culling the educator work force by approximately 10 percent.
Once she spilled the beans, the atmosphere at Vincent Middle School took a turn for the worse.
“Teachers received (notice) minutes before the final bell rang to end the school day and begin a three-day holiday weekend,” Courts recalled. “Many teachers congregated in the hallways with panic- stricken faces, some of which were sobbing about the heartbreaking news to eliminate so many jobs.
Clark said she has still never been technically accused of cheating or assisting in cheating.
Beat down but unafraid
Vincent Middle School teacher Alisa Courts said she, too, knows what it’s like to be retaliated against for standing up for special needs students.
Courts spoke to federal investigators and the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office about what she witnessed first-hand in regards to flagrant Medicaid fraud. But Courts also tried to assist her
“After meeting with (federal authorities), it became known that I talked,” she said. “I enacted my rights under the Whistleblower Protection Act. I notified the superintendent Dr. Chargois, Vincent Middle School principal Dr. Brian Abel, (and others). The very next day, my request for emergency assistance was ignored.
“The problem is they never told me why I was being placed on administrative leave,” she said. “It’s always been that they were investigating testing irregularities, and fears about how this would affect their ability to provide for their family, terrified that it may ultimately be their position that is eliminated.
“I find the need to reduce the cost of personnel particularly disturbing due to the reasons our district is facing a financial crisis. Employees entrusted to access of district accounts have been allowed to steal millions of dollars without checks and balances to hold them accountable. Other employees participated in the theft of district money by making payments to bogus businesses for the fraudulent financial gain of themselves and family members.
The list of financial corruption goes on and on; employees commit crimes, go on paid leave, and hang on to the assets acquired by their thievery.
“I think it is very clear that the reduction in force will not affect those particular employees but will strategically eliminate the positions of those employees who have not supported the current BISD administration.”
And the list goes on…
BISD teacher Caron Holt believes as Courts does in that the BISD reduction in force will get rid of whistleblowers given that those who have stood up to district administrators have already felt the effects of what a vengeful ruler can actually do.
“I hope that our story gets told since it certainly fits in with the tone of everything else that’s going on,” Holt said of losing her job at the Pathways campus in the wake of a multi-teacher grievance filed against then-principal Jessie Kibbles. The educators alleged retaliation, hostile working environment, sexual harassment, and bullying.
“We were victims. The bullying and the threats that went on by that man – and that was tolerated,” she said “They allowed him to mistreat a building full of people for over a year. We were all just there trying to do our jobs.”
At the end of the 2012-13 school year, Holt and other educators from Pathways were assured they would receive no further retaliation for reporting what was going on at the campus.
“They told us it would all be taken care of, and we believed them. It was a handshake deal, if you will,” she said. But, it would be a deal that was ultimately dishonored almost as soon as it was made, Holt added.
“Then they caught us when our guard was down over the summer – people started getting pink slips,” she said. Holt was transferred to Adult Education, where Kibbles was also transferred, a program that will no longer be offered after the 2013-14 school year after Kibbles failed to file for grant money needed to operate the program.
“The thing that makes me more angry than anything is the fact that we were all ready to take our complaints to the Level IV grievance hearing, address the board and hopefully have it open to the public. We want our message to go public!
“However, we took the diplomatic high road, believed that Chargois was being truthful and we went along with his offer only to get back-doored with pink slips during the summer when we had our guard down.
“It’s just a shame what’s happening to the good people of this school district because of the greed-obsessed criminal thugs.”
BISD Superintendent Chargois sat down with representatives from the Beaumont Teachers Association and the Association of Texas Professional Educators on Tuesday, May 27, to discuss “salaries and benefits, employee benefits, (and) salaries and benefits as they relate to student performance,” according to notice sent from BISD administration. The actual topic of discussion, however, was the proposed reduction in force requested by the school district leader.
ATPE representative Suellen Ener said it was her opinion that, “No teaching position should be effected by these cuts,” she said. Ener further told Chargois that it was unacceptable to allow employees to stay on the payroll who have “disgraced the district” while at the same time contemplating the firing of hard-working educators who serve a respectable purpose in the community.
Chargois said he was grieving the position he was in, but it was a position to which he stood steadfast.
“The bottom line is we have a major issue before us and I’m the superintendent and I need to solve it,” Chargois said, adding that a reduction in employees is necessary to address a $25 million upcoming budget shortfall.
He also gave a quasi-concession to educators fearing for their jobs: “We’re going to try to be just and equitable in the process.
“This is hard for me to do.”
Chargois’ insistence that campus principals would be responsible for culling employees throughout the district in all departments was of no consolation to the whistleblowers speaking for this article – every one alleges that the principals are in on the conspiracy of retaliation.
“Each of us has suffered at Dr. Chargois’ hands for doing or reporting what conscientious citizens who work in the public schools should be free to do without fear of retaliation,” Hendrix summed up. “We realize that federal courts won’t protect us very much, if at all, but this is a risk we have to take.”