In an attempt to keep the status-quo at the embattled Beaumont Independent School District, Superintendent Carrol Thomas and members of the group B.E.S.T. (Best Education System in Texas) have used racially charged comments to turn Saturday’s election involving representation on the board of trustees into a divisive issue pitting blacks against whites.
At a recent rally for the group B.E.S.T., where members of the media were forbidden to bring in cameras or recorders, Thomas presented information on the district’s use of $389 million in bond funds and told how the media is biased against BISD. But that was nothing new for Thomas, who has been castigating the media for months at regular board meetings for exposing wrongdoings and cronyism within the district.
It was the rants by Paul Jones, a chairman for B.E.S.T. and Paul Brown, a member of the group, that went the furthest in trying to divide the community, with Jones comparing B.E.T.T.E.R. to the radical hate group Ku Klux Klan – and saying he would rather fight the KKK than B.E.T.T.E.R.
“And let me tell you, we got a different kind of enemy,” Jones said, referring to members of B.ET.T.E.R. in the audience. “We got a different kind of enemy today. Now, I didn’t have any problem with the Ku Klux Klan. Because you know what they did? They told you who they were. And they told you they didn’t like you. And they told you to your face. But the enemy today will put they arm around you, and stab you in your back. Stab you right now. You got an enemy now that will come into your house and eat your food. We lookin’ at it right now tonight. They come right in and eat your food … then cut your throat while they eat your food. You gotta be careful what you ask for. … And you better pay attention … cause you know they wanna distract us.
“The enemy is among us, it’s not at the Waffle House at the lunch counter. … But let me tell you something. It’s a different kind of enemy. They attacking you – I call it high-tech. And if you don’t pay attention, if you don’t pay attention, you will be deceived because what they want to do is distract you by Dr. Thomas’ salary. ‘We mad about that.’ That’s not what they mad about. The only industry in this town they don’t control is the Beaumont Independent School District. And let me tell you something, people. They want it bad, and they’ll pay any price to get it. They will pay any price to get it. They will pay – they will attack freedom of speech. What this – the most precious thing this country is made of.”
The attacks on B.E.T.T.E.R. became even more personal and racially divisive as Jones continued to speak. He gavthe statistics of the racial make-up of Beaumont, saying blacks make up 45 percent of the population, while whites are only about 37 percent. He also claimed the at-large system promoted by B.E.T.T.E.R. was a way for white citizens to take control of the school district.
“They say, ‘Well, if you get the at-large system, you have more representation.’ Now that’s the biggest lie I ever heard in my life,” Jones said. “At-large is like we can’t read. … If you wanna keep something secret from us, put it in writing – that’s what they think about us. But let me tell you something, at-large system ain’t gonna give you any more representation. I challenge you in anyway except Atlanta, Ga. You tell me any at-large system and I’ll show you a minority that’s disenfranchised. Because the at-large system was put in place to dilute minority votes. I guarantee you; they put it in 1975, when they re-enacted the Voting Rights Act.
“Now, don’t be deceived about the numbers. Now, we got the numbers, but it’s got to do with communication. … It’s all got to do with economics and education. And looking at economics and education, it’s the chicken and the egg. If you don’t have economics, you can’t get an education. If you don’t have education, you can’t get economics. That’s why they’re getting by. The at-large system is designed for them to take over.”
Jones then went on to say the at-large system is a system that would allow those elected to represent areas of Beaumont without living in the certain areas of the district.
“They want to represent you but they don’t wanna live among you. They want to represent you but they don’t want to live with you. Don’t be deceived by at-large cause they ain’t nothing but tyrants.”
At the time he made his comments, Jones was still feeling the sting from a court ruling earlier in the day by Judge Bob Wortham, who approved a motion to take Jones’ and the Rev. Oveal Walker’s depositions in a possible slander and libel case between the B.E.S.T. and B.E.T.T.E.R. groups.
As for Jones’ argument that an at-large system would mean a guaranteed white majority on the board of trustees at BISD, it doesn’t hold water when put up to the scrutiny of BISD’s own history. A review of how BISD ended up with seven single-member district shows that after the bankrupt Beaumont Independent School District was merged into the South Park Independent School District in 1983, blacks were elected as the majority under the at-large system originally submitted by the new BISD and put in place by the U.S. Department of Justice in 1984.
Jones’ critics say he knows the history of BISD but doesn’t care. He continued his criticism of those opposed to the ideas being touted by B.E.S.T. and took direct aim at local attorney Mike Getz, who has represented B.E.T.T.E.R. and supported its causes.
He then referenced an incident that took place at a BISD school board meeting in September 2010, when Getz was forcefully removed from the meeting for reading an editorial printed in The Examiner.
“This same man, at a school board meeting, disrupted the school board meeting and said to a chief of police, ‘Take your damn hands off of me.’ And at the same time when they was taking him and dragging him, he was hollering ‘My freedom of speech,’” Jones said. “When it comes to some people, it’s freedom of speech, and when it comes to others, it’s slander – there’s something wrong with that.”
Paul Brown took the microphone after Jones, pointing out that he had been on the school board through six superintendents, and in a nearly incoherent, racially charged rant, talked about how Thomas is the best of all of them.
“Folks always tell you I never heard one person complain about one superintendent,” Brown said. “People want you to be afraid, so they can use you. Who would talk about the kids on welfare, Dr. Thomas is the noblest. Of all the poor kids we serve, now it seems to me if you’re American, and you for education, with this great job the school board’s been doing. I don’t wanna pay no taxes for ‘em. Freedom and justice for all – that’s a lie. We haven’t had no freedom and no justice. We keep accepting it and we think it’s gonna change, and we being good little colored folks. I served six superintendents – six. And that one right there – that colored boy – is the best of any.”
Getz said he feels the information and attitude of B.E.S.T. is a major issue in dividing the community along racial lines, and Thomas’ presence there assisted in that division. He said the fact that Thomas was there and endorsing the racially charged statements was unprofessional and should have never happened.
“It is absolutely dividing,” Getz said. “If you want to see real division in the community, real proof of what the group is doing, just come out to Miller Library any day and look at some of the people that are associated with the B.E.S.T. group and what they’re doing, and how they’re in your face. One guy is out there just holding a sign with the very statistics Thomas quoted. It’s ranting that this is a black school district and we need to keep it under a black administration. To him, all that matters is if you’re black. It doesn’t matter what your qualifications are; it doesn’t matter what kind of mistakes you’ve made. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pedophile, shoddy electrician or electrician that doesn’t have a license; it doesn’t matter if you’re a criminal — you’re OK in his book, and that’s the only thing he’s going to look at.
“That’s one of the main reasons I attended – I wanted to hear what his message was going to be when targeted to an audience that was primarily made up of supporters of B.E.S.T. As I expected, he just couldn’t help himself. If you are the superintendent of a school district, you cannot advocate for or against any particular candidate. That is clearly advocating for the existing incumbents because he’s saying, in a very strong manner, if these people get elected, they’ll screw everything up.”
Also, as part of his presentation, Thomas showed the breakdown of the school district when it comes to TAKS scores, breaking it down into races.
“Sixty-five percent of the students in this district are African American. Sixty-five percent. That’s your biggest group; that’s gonna be your toughest group,” Thomas said, going on to explain the difference in scores between black students and white students. “You vote to maintain this type of program. Looking at the data, how do you teach African American students? Nobody does that better than Beaumont Independent School District.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite B.E.S.T.’s protestations, The Examiner did record the meeting and has made the audio available on our Web site at www.theexaminer.com .