Four meetings in two days gave Beaumonters the opportunity to sound off on a number of issues pertaining to the community’s school district. What was offered to those in attendance was the good, the bad, and the ugly of what citizens really feel about their local school district and those who run it.
Hastily announced Feb. 11 and 12, round table meetings held at the Beaumont Independent School District (BISD) boardroom were called on behalf of the Texas Legislative Budget Board (LBB), an agency tasked with auditing the school district at the behest of the Texas Education Agency. During the meetings, LBB representatives moderated an open discussion of opinions offered by BISD parents and community and business members. Those not allowed to attend the meetings included board members and certain administrative personnel. Among those asked to leave the meetings were Special Assistant to the Superintendent Jessie Haynes, who had objected before conceding to have a private meeting with the LBB reps at a later date. Partaking in the discussions were some familiar faces, however, in the likes of former Beaumont Mayor David Moore, former JP Paul Brown, Beaumont City Councilman Mike Getz, and BISD electrical contractor Calvin Walker (and family).
Differing opinions were expressed on many topics, from the functionality of the BISD board to the fiscal management of district funds. Those addressing the LBB rarely identified themselves by name, but rather their role in the district. One mother and 28-year veteran teacher at the Feb. 12 meeting spoke openly about her feelings – only to be verbally assaulted by a BISD employee thought to be a relative of the district’s controversial electrician of record, Calvin Walker. Walker admitted to falsifying invoices submitted for payment to BISD in excess of $2 million as part of a plea agreement with the federal government to settle a 37-count indictment alleging wire fraud, mail fraud, and fraud against a government-funded entity. Walker forfeited more than $3 million in assets as part of his plea arrangement, roughly $2 million of which was available to BISD if they were to only stake a claim to it. The BISD board of trustees has consistently voted not to seek Walker’s forfeited funds.
“We deserve to know why (the BISD board) didn’t want to take the money,” the BISD parent said when it was her turn to speak. “We pay all these taxes so (the BISD board) can spend money on things they can’t justify – things that don’t help our children get a quality education.”
“These people can quit crying about stuff they don’t know,” a woman identifying herself as a BISD employee shouted out. Initial reports name the interjector as Walker’s daughter, BISD performance management employee Charisma Papillion. After the LBB moderator asked for the woman to compose herself, the mother was allowed to finish.
“Our money, your money, is being spent by people on things that just isn’t right,” she said. “There’s no accountability.”
More eruptions could be heard from the “employee,” with the moderator intervening on multiple occasions to silence the outbursts. Still, talk of Calvin Walker and misused taxpayer dollars fueled debate.
“It’s foolish of us not to go after the money (Walker) admits to taking from the district,” another member of the discussion added. “The board needs to hire people we can trust – not someone who has admitted to trying to steal from us.”
After the last public meeting held by the LBB, the state agency’s representatives also met with board members and administrators. Board trustee Mike Neil wrote of his experience for constituents.
“It was very intense,” Neil said. “There was no wavering in my position, no agreeing to go along to get along, no apologizing for my views and no beating around the bush in my meeting.
“The two LBB reps and the consultant were very interesting to meet with. They challenged me several times with the answers I gave, but did it in a respectful manner and in a way that made me stop and think. I was open with them in saying that I was part of the dysfunctional parts of the board. However, I made no bones about the fact that I was not there to make friends.
“I also think they heard a few things that they were unaware of. There is no doubt that they have gotten some BS from some others they interviewed.”
Jennifer Johnson can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 231, or by e-mail at jennifer [at] theexaminer [dot] com.