TEA moving forward with BISD takeover

Commissioner Michael Williams

Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams announced Monday, April 14, his decision to appoint a Board of Managers and new superintendent to oversee the management of the Beaumont Independent School District, a group that should be in place by June 15. The majority on the current BISD Board of Trustees plans to appeal that decision. In addition to appointing managers to govern BISD, the school district will also receive a lowered accreditation status and will now be termed as “Accreditation – Probation.”

According to information from the TEA, the commissioner’s decision follows two recent Texas Education Agency investigations into various BISD special education, finance and governance issues. Based on findings in those reports, TEA staff recommended to the commissioner the appointment of a board of managers and the lowering of the Beaumont ISD accreditation.

“This is a critical time for the district and its students, as well as for the community as a whole,” Williams wrote in a letter to the current BISD superintendent and board president. “The magnitude of the findings, the serious nature of the ongoing and systemic operating deficiencies facing the district, and the importance of preventing further harm to the welfare of the Beaumont ISD’s students and to the public interest compel me to appoint a board of managers at this time.”

Williams will formally announce the names of those serving on the Board of Managers, as well as an interim superintendent, at a future date. Prior to making his decision, Williams spent the last several weeks speaking with Beaumont community and business leaders, parents, students and local stakeholders regarding issues within the district.

“For quite some time now, local district leadership has had various warnings and multiple opportunities to address the many troubling issues surrounding the Beaumont Independent School District,” Williams said. “The people of Beaumont have waited patiently for action, but made it very clear to me that they are now ready to restore the damaged reputation of their local school district.”

As a result of findings in the special education investigation, BISD was assigned a monitor to oversee special education: Fred Shafer. Williams escalated that monitor role to that of a conservator. The conservator will oversee the operations of the district and ensure the district is taking appropriate measures until a Board of Managers is in place.

According to TEA spokesperson DeEtta Culbertson, Shafer will not be making decisions on the day-to-day business of BISD, but has the authority to overrule any decisions made in the name of BISD, whether that decision comes from the current Board of Trustees or current superintendent Timothy Chargois.

“The conservator is there to help the board not do something that is detrimental to the district,” she said, adding that, “His authority is pretty wide open.”

BISD will request a record review of the appointment of a Board of Managers and its lowered accreditation status, as well as request an informal review of the conservator assignment. The request must be submitted in writing and received by the TEA no later than April 24.

For the time being, superintendent Chargois said BISD is going about business as usual.

“The Board of Trustees is still the governing body of this district and I’m still the superintendent of this district,” he said. Chargois said he will “still conduct my duties faithfully” and will go to work everyday “and work for the children of Beaumont ISD.”

Chargois said he was “saddened” by the revelation that two employees were embezzling from the school district, but did not address other instances of employee malfeasance.

“There’s no perfect person, no perfect system,” Chargois told The Examiner the day the takeover was announced. “Twenty/twenty hindsight, of course you’d do things differently. It’s unfortunate that districts like Plano and Beaumont couldn’t detect embezzlement. It’s wrong.”

Plano staff, however, did detect the fraud within their ranks and reported it to law enforcement.

Newly named conservator Fred Shafer said he was up for the task of overseeing BISD, although this will be his first conservator appointment. According to Shafer, he did not find out about the job “promotion” until the day the takeover was announced.

“It’s been a pretty busy day,” Shafer said. “As a conservator, though, I will be here up until the time a Board of Managers is appointed by the Commissioner, then I will revert to the Special Education monitor.”

Shafer said how long he will be with the Special Education department is dependent upon how long it takes to move the department into compliance, but usually it takes about one year.

“Right now,” he said, “my work is with the superintendent and the Board of Trustees to oversee the general operation of the school district.”

Even though the majority of the current Board of Trustees wants to appeal Commissioner Williams’ decision to takeover BISD governance, Trustee Tom Neild said the Texas Education Agency should appoint a Board of Managers “without a doubt.” According to Neild, the action is long overdue.

“We need someone to take control of what’s going on here because it just isn’t right,” he said.

Jefferson County District Attorney Cory Crenshaw agrees that now is the time to start over with new BISD leadership, and those with knowledge of criminal activities going on at BISD need to come forward now to save themselves from being prosecuted later.

“We would like to take this opportunity to let the community know that now is the time for those who have knowledge of wrongdoing at the school district and wrongdoing themselves to come forward,” Crenshaw stated. “We are asking that all individuals with knowledge of criminal activity at BISD to meet with us, tell the truth, and agree to cooperate.

“Change within this school district is imminent, and this opportunity will hopefully allow for swift justice.”

The task force assigned to the BISD investigation can be reached at (409) 926-9830, Crenshaw further advised. According to Crenshaw, informants will be given consideration should they contact his office to cooperate with investigators prior to the end of April.