A North Texas school administrator was caught using a district-owned airplane for personal travel with his family, a potential violation of the state’s code of ethics for educators.

The revelation has local residents calling for an investigation. They want to know who approved the use of taxpayer resources for a personal trip, why they are just now learning about it, and whether the district needs its own plane.

Dallas-based WFAA reported Friday that Granbury Independent School District Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Dawson flew a private plane owned by the district to Abilene in June to visit his daughter. His wife, Leah Dawson, who is also an administrator in the district and was promoted in June, traveled with him.

According to WFAA, Granbury is the only Texas school district that has its own plane, which it bought last year for its student aviation program.

“I get to fly the plane because I’m a pilot,” Dawson told WFAA reporter William Joy. Dawson said the superintendent and school board “all approved” the trips so he could “stay current.”

Dawson is a licensed pilot, but he’s not a flight instructor. The district says he “provides demonstration flights for students.”

Yet in 2022, only three of Dawson’s six flights in the plane were student demonstrations.

The Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics, which is incorporated into the district’s personnel policies, states that educators “shall not intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly misappropriate, divert, or use monies, personnel, property, or equipment committed to his or her charge for personal gain or advantage.”

Ethics violations can result in educators losing the state certification required to teach or hold an administrative position within a Texas school district.

A statement Saturday from Granbury ISD administration said Dawson is “one of two licensed pilots listed on the district insurance policy” and “the district encourages its pilots to fly often enough to be proficient at the airplane and keep it in mechanical shape.”

The district also said it “tightened flight protocols and strengthened flight documentation effective September 2022,” after WFAA questioned Dawson’s costly personal use of the plane.

In June—the month Dawson and his wife used the plane to visit their daughter—the district spent $1,900 of district taxpayers’ money on fuel for the plane, according to documents obtained by WFAA.

When questioned by Joy, Dawson said he bought fuel for the flight with his credit card. But that’s not what the receipts show, and the district told WFAA that Dawson made a $200 “donation” three months after the flight, when he “recognized the optics” of using the plane for personal benefit—again, after WFAA spoke to Dawson in September.

Local residents also question why the story didn’t air until after the November 8 election, when Joy said he had been investigating Dawson’s personal use of the district’s plane for months.

“I have a concern … because this story seems to have been held until after the school board election,” said Rene Poe, a leader in local conservative grassroots politics.

Three Granbury ISD school board seats were on the November ballot, with two incumbents and an establishment-backed candidate facing a slate of three pro-family challengers. One of the challengers, Karen Lowery, won a seat on the board, ousting incumbent Paula McDonald.

“Please be assured that I am working on this,” Granbury ISD trustee Melanie Graft posted Sunday on Facebook in response to constituents’ questions.

Graft, a conservative elected in 2021, said she is “aware of the concern surrounding the potential misappropriation” of district property and is “talking to the proper authorities” to determine if Dawson’s actions violated any laws.

“If I can get this issue on the agenda, I hope that this can be discussed at the next public board meeting,” she added.

Earlier this year, the board voted to increase the number of trustees required to place an item on a meeting agenda from one to two—a move by the establishment majority aimed at stopping Graft from forcing public discussions of controversial issues like the district’s failure to remove sexually explicit books.

With Lowery joining Graft on the board, families will have an opportunity for their concerns to be heard.

Citizens can contact Granbury ISD trustees and Superintendent Jeremy Glenn with questions or concerns. The next regular school board meeting is scheduled for December 12.

Granbury is located in Hood County, southwest of Fort Worth, and is home to most of the county’s 64,000 residents. Granbury ISD has 10 schools and 7,500 students. Last year, the district employed 507 teachers and 968 full-time staff. Just over half (55 percent) of Granbury ISD students meet or exceed grade levels across all subjects.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.