BISD's saga in 2013
In 2013, The Examiner investigated the misappropriation and mishandling of public funds entrusted to the Beaumont Independent School District perpetrated by high-ranking administrators within the agency. Two of the top BISD officials gracing the cover of this newspaper were assistant superintendent for secondary education Patricia Adams Collins Lambert, and finance director Devin McCraney. After Examiner articles alerted the public and investigating agencies took notice, McCraney has been relieved of his duties at the school district, but Lambert still remains.
However, BISD is not just under the watchful eye of The Examiner and its readers anymore, with a scathing Legislative Budget Board report released this past fall, a Texas Education Agency investigation currently in full-swing, and an FBI case pending against known and unknown suspects.
Still, BISD maintains that all is well in the district.
According to BISD Superintendent Timothy Chargois, “In a short time we have faced quite a few obstacles. While I am of the opinion they are unwarranted, I am reminded that, ‘Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.’ I fully intend to take advantage of the opportunity that we have been afforded. As these changes occur, keep the words of Socrates at the forefront in your mind: ‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’”
The Examiner first detailed the inconsistencies in BISD assistant superintendent of secondary education Patricia Adams Collins Lambert’s educational pedigree and what is touted as her “Harvard-trained, highly-functional, extremely-gifted educator” background before the Beaumont Independent School District released the publicly available contents of Lambert’s personnel file pursuant to a Public Information Request. Despite claims of Harvard certification and an administration degree from Loyola made by Beaumont Independent School District Communication Director Jessie Haynes in an official school district administration guide and a glowing presentation by Superintendent Dr. Timothy Chargois (quoted above) in a public meeting of the BISD Board of Trustees, no evidence of such educational background exists in the employee’s file.
What can be found in Lambert’s personnel file, in lieu of the claimed degrees, is a signed statement from Lambert declaring herself free from any felony conviction or guilty plea for crimes involving moral turpitude — despite information readily available from the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office confirming Lambert pleaded guilty to multiple counts of extorting public funds just months prior. Additional information gleaned from Lambert’s BISD personnel file also shows an attempt to distance the new employee from the moniker under which she received her New Orleans conviction – Patricia Collins – and a then-superintendent Carrol Thomas-sanctioned promotion to administration the first day Lambert was added to BISD’s payroll, although the governing board of trustees only approved the new hire as a rank-and-file elementary teacher the night before the contract was signed.
It has also been discovered that Brian Collins, Lambert’s grown son, has been receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from BISD in not just one, but at least two shell companies charging the students exorbitant fees for her son’s “printing” enterprises. Lambert has been actively diverting funds to her son since at least 2006, according to BISD records. Still, when asked to provide a disclosure form alerting the district to familial ties to vendors, Lambert failed to disclose her relation to one of her son’s companies. According to Lambert, although she was the person asking for the vendor (aka her son) to be paid, she had no idea it was her son’s business.
While not the target of the recent FBI investigation, according to BISD Superintendent Chargois, Lambert is named in multiple complaints being reviewed at length by the Texas Education Agency.
BISD finance director Devin McCraney raised suspicions at the FBI after the school moneyman went on a spending spree highlighted in the pages of this newspaper in the summer of 2013. At that time, it was revealed that McCraney had made more than $200,000 worth of improvements to his home, paying cash to an unknown contractor for the work while at the same time skirting city of Beaumont building codes. He was subsequently forced to tear down a large portion of his newly renovated home and ordered to pay fines by the city of Beaumont. The construction, if reported, would have roughly doubled the school administrator’s tax bill, the lion’s share of which is school taxes that pay McCraney’s public servant salary.
With a reported annual salary of $75,500, since December 2010 McCraney not only paid outright for a $125,000 home but doubled the size of his home and also paid off his wife’s $79,000 Travis Street home. Just months prior to the land acquisition, McCraney had let a separate home in Louisiana that was mortgaged to the fullest extent go into foreclosure. Also in the last couple years, McCraney and wife, Traci, acquired several newer model vehicles, most all of which were purchased without any lien holder and a couple of which hold personalized license plates such as “SPOYLD.”
Vehicles registered to the McCraney couple include a 2011 GMC Denali valued at $56,315 purchased in June 2011 with no lien-holder; a 2011 King Ranch truck valued at $30,155 purchased in October 2011; a 2011 Chrysler 200 valued at $31,940 purchased without a lien in July 2012; a 2011 Nissan Murano convertible valued at $46,390 purchased in July 2012; and a 2006 Cadillac purchased for $41,990 with no lien in August 2012.
The McCraney’s Denali and King Ranch pickup were seized by the FBI — along with tens of thousands of dollars in cash withdrawn the day of the raid — but the couple has since been seen with a new Infiniti SUV and Nissan Quest. The couple has also moved into a new home but still hold residence at the home that is currently under re-construction.
Immediately after the FBI raided the BISD administration building in October 2013, McCraney and BISD comptroller Sharika Allison were discharged from their duties.
While the results of the FBI investigation into BISD money matters are still uncertain, other investigations have offered insight into the inner workings of the local school district.
According to the Legislative Budget Board, BISD needs improvements in multiple areas, and made 85 recommendations to school district officials to bring the agency up to par. BISD’s Superintendent Chargois said that a team of “12 district leaders” has been convened to address the LBB recommendations, and he said that he has “urgent initiatives” identified to promote a better BISD. Among Chargois’ top goals is a commitment to “restructuring the personnel inventory and reorganizing various departments” to offer more professional development opportunities and “to ensure that policies are implemented appropriately and fairly.”
Chargois said he will address the Texas Education Agency investigation findings head-on in the coming year. What the TEA will do with its findings remains to be seen, and the full disclosure of its findings is still awaited, but Chargois did offer notes of an exit interview with TEA investigators. According to Chargois, TEA investigators noted issues with the bid process, assessment integrity, familial disclosures, attendance, teacher incentive for attendance, procedures involving long-term substitutes, hiring and promotion practices, highly qualified parent notifications, and auditing procedures.
Although BISD fiscal accounting has come under scrutiny from every agency that has investigated the school district, Chargois said BISD has no plans at this time to change to independent auditors.
“We don’t believe there is any process or procedure problem with our current external auditor,” he said. “We’re going to continue to move forward through this auditing process. What the board decides to do for the next fiscal year, who knows at this point?”