Texans with a desire to positively impact policy trends across the state may want to begin by cleaning their own backyard. As previously stated, local vigilance is not only needed to stop the disproportionate taxing, spending and debt trends statewide; it’s also an incredibly effective strategy.
Relatively small districts and single-digit voter turnout in local elections means a small group of vocal activists can make a big splash.
At the tip of the spear in Garland ISD is Lawrence Jones, a name that may already sound familiar. He recently received national acclaim after his efforts with James O’Keefe from Project Veritas gathered video evidence that exposed rampant fraud perpetrated by federally funded, non-profit organizations managing the Obamacare navigator program.
Taxpayers and teachers recently rose up in opposition to a series of decisions made by both the board and superintendent, Dr. Morrison, who was recruited last year from Mansfield ISD.
Jones circled a petition demanding the firing of Morrison, which received hundreds of signatures.
Allegedly, Dr. Morrison has ousted outspoken critics, including longtime administrator Dr. Reeves, who was placed on leave after refusing to sign a non-disclosure agreement regarding an investigation into the hiring practices of foreign staff on H-1b visas.
A local news affiliate covered the story, as teachers wore paper bags over their heads during a recent school board meeting to conceal their identity and avoid what they called “bullying tactics” used by Morrison.
Mr. Jones has found concrete evidence of fiscal concern for both teachers and taxpayers. Information gathered through his O.R. Request revealed the drastic, and seemingly unnecessary, increase in the hiring of six-figure salary administrators.
Over a two year period, the number of employees paid over $110,000 more than tripled, from seventeen in 2012, to fifty-seven in 2014. Mr. Jones says this $5 million annual payroll increase does not include the Assistant Superintendent of HR, the Director of Staff Development, or Assistant General Counsel, all of which remain unfilled.
Overall, he’s extremely concerned with the district’s priorities.
“What I’ve stressed time and again is the lack of focus by the current administration on classroom resources and student achievement. We need common-sense budget management. There are some security and structural renovations that the district needs, but it’s student achievement, not fancy buildings, that will attract families to Garland ISD and fix our problems. My focus is not only taxpayers; it’s parents, students and teachers. We’re all in agreement.”
The board had unanimously supported a $400-500 million debt proposition to be placed before voters on upcoming ballot in May. Following criticism led by Jones from businesses, parents and teachers at a recent meeting, the Board decided to punt the proposition to the November ballot.
The fact that two trustees will be running for re-election this May is also a likely factor contributing to the delay of both an unpopular debt package and concerns over leadership.
Mr. Jones is encouraged.
“I hope people realize that with a little extra effort, and some digging, people can make a big difference in their local communities…even in large school districts like Garland. Folks are simply waiting for someone to take the lead.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The filing deadline for local candidates is February 28th, 2014. Elections for city council, school board and other local offices will be held in May.