The joke is on Southeast Texas this month as one of Beaumont Independent School District’s highest paid employees made Texas Monthly magazine’s annual list of Bum Steer Award recipients. Alongside other notable “bums” named by the magazine such as Randy Travis for his naked DWI arrest while driving a 1998 Trans Am and Lance Armstrong for losing every prize he’s ever won due to doping violations, BISD’s Taylor Career and Technology Center principal Thom Campbell-Amons ranked among 2012’s best of the worst.
Everyone loves a clown
Amons came under public scrutiny when a BISD instructor revealed to The Examiner that Amons was operating the campus with discriminatory practices toward certain members of the community. The instructor, Cequana Clark, said principal Amons advised her he would rather shut down a school program than allow admission to a student he believed was gay. In short order, Amons did in fact shutter the program and unceremoniously relieved Clark of her duties with the school district.
The story was covered in-depth in this news publication, but Texas Monthly offers a brief retelling of the issue in its January 2013 cover story. Under the heading of “School Sucks” that includes a brief commentary, “Sure, Texas education is lousy, but, relax, college will teach them everything they need to know. Right?,” staff writers had this to say:
“When he learned that he could not legally refuse to register a student based on his suspicion that the student was gay, Thom Campbell-Amons, principal of the Taylor Career Center, in Beaumont, discontinued the evening cosmetology program the student was trying to register for, even though several students were already enrolled.”
Brief and to the point. Of course, BISD administrators offered an alternate rationale for the program’s closure: “budget restraints.” After weeks of watching the clock for Public Information Request deadlines to become active, some information designed to back up BISD’s claim was released; other information was withheld by BISD’s legal counsel while the district tried to keep the information from public view.
The information that was immediately available did not, however, showcase any budget issue related to operating the Adult Cosmetology program. Combing through the stacks of paperwork actually proved the opposite.
Laughing all the way to the bank
Budget details released by BISD show that the Taylor Career Center’s Adult Cosmetology program would garner in 2013 as much funding as it had the year prior. The budget was made although more students were registering for tuition-based training in 2013 than had been previously enrolled in 2012.
Further information revealed that during the same time that Amons was allegedly cutting back on programs to save the campus budget, thousands of dollars were expended for flower deliveries and staff incentives. Amons also withdrew more than $1,400 from the Student Activity Fund as an advance for a trip to NAASBE to be reimbursed by the school district.
Adding to the funds that were discretionarily paid was $500 given to Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, which is also the church where Amons serves as a deacon; and roughly $20,000 spent for Skills USA competition, typically held on BISD property.
Amons’ campus was also awarded more than $46,000 from BISD to operate Computer Repair Technology as part of Vocational Education, according to BISD finance staff Laura Klock. Curiously, she acknowledged that the campus does not offer a course on Computer Repair Technology and the campus would not be billed for any computer repairs to BISD equipment since the products are leased, with repairs covered under warranty.
Hidden punch line
The information withheld by BISD included, according to BISD attorney Melody Chappell, “personal e-mails,” “litigation involving the district” and “certain legal matters pertaining to attorney-client privilege.” The Texas Attorney General did eventually rule that portions of the withheld information must be released to the public, and with the new year came new information on the subject.
As part of the recently released material, it was revealed that Amons had been in possession of an employee grievance letter e-mailed to him from ousted instructor Cequana Clark detailing allegations that the principal was operating with bigoted intentions. That letter was kept by Amons, according to his e-mail record, and he neglected to forward the grievance to higher administrators within BISD.
The correspondence was dated Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, the day Amons announced BISD’s Adult Cosmetology program would end effective Friday, Sept. 14.
“I am filing this grievance because I was informed today by Mr. Amons that … there will be no adult (cosmetology) program at Taylor Career Center,” Clark wrote. “I was not given any warning other than yesterday (Monday, Sept. 10), when I had a male student the age of 22 who wanted to enroll in the Adult Cosmetology class and Mr. Amons told me I couldn’t enroll the student because he was gay – he said he didn’t want riff-raff at the school.
“Mr. Amons (said) that he would close the program down before he let that young man enroll in the school.
“I think it’s unfair to the students, and me, the teacher – it’s discrimination – and that saddens me as an educator.”
While Amons did not immediately forward that e-mail from Clark, the next day he did gather e-mails from Taylor Center staffer Sheryl George from months prior – all relating to instructor Clark. Those exchanges of e-mails were initially withheld from documents requested from BISD as part of the Public Information Act request and required an Attorney General ruling to get them released. The e-mails do detail a contentious exchange between George and Clark from May 2012, wherein both women ultimately agreed to pray for each other as the best recourse of action.
Clark said George was privy to Amons’ decision to shut down the BISD Adult Cosmetology program, but George has not confirmed that encounter.