At the end of a six-hour board meeting, much of which took place behind closed doors, trustees in Prosper Independent School District gave scandal-plagued Superintendent Holly Ferguson a vote of confidence this week, unanimously approving a new contract Monday night that extended her 2022-2027 contract through 2028.
The board also declined to share a much-anticipated report on a probe into how Ferguson and other district officials handled the sexual abuse of elementary school students by a Prosper ISD employee.
Ferguson has been under fire since last August, when the shocking sex abuse scandal and cover-up were first publicly exposed in a lawsuit filed against the district by the victims’ family.
She is a defendant along with the district in the $10 million sex abuse lawsuit, and her administration has also been the subject of an “independent investigation” into the sexual abuse and district officials’ response.
The lawsuit revealed horrifying details of a now-dead bus driver’s months of molesting two little girls while on school property, as well as allegations that Ferguson told the victims’ mother to keep quiet to protect her family and the district from media attention.
No one in Prosper ISD has been held accountable for failing to protect the “Janies” (as the young victims are referred to in the lawsuit) from molestation—which was captured on bus surveillance video—or for the administration hushing up the scandal after they learned of the abuse last May.
Ferguson’s annual contract review was on Monday’s school board meeting agenda.
Dozens of parents, teachers, and students—many wearing t-shirts that read “We ❤ Dr. Ferguson”—attended the meeting to support the superintendent, who has headed the district since the 2020-21 school year.
Several spoke during public comments, describing positive interactions with Ferguson during her many years in the district and asking the board to renew her contract. They cheered when the board unanimously approved the extension just before midnight on Monday.
Ferguson’s previous five-year contract, signed last January and in effect July 2022 through June 2027, paid her a base salary of $310,000 plus a $60,000 “performance incentive” for 2021-22 and a $35,000 incentive for 2020-21.
The bonuses were payable in June 2022, after the bus driver’s arrest in early May but before the scandal became public in late August. Documents provided by the district show the bonuses were paid on June 24, 2022.
While Prosper ISD was under no obligation to extend the term of Ferguson’s contract, Texas school districts routinely update top administrators’ contracts for rolling three- to five-year periods—ostensibly to help with retention, although superintendents regularly retire or resign to take other jobs before their contracts expire, without penalty.
Ferguson herself interviewed in December for another superintendent position, but the top spot at Northwest ISD went to another candidate.
Details of Ferguson’s new contract with Prosper ISD, including salary and bonuses, will be added when the district makes the information available.
Other parents at Monday night’s meeting had anticipated hearing details about the sex abuse investigation, which was authorized by the board more than four months ago.
A report from Thompson and Horton, the law firm hired by the board to conduct the investigation, was also on the meeting agenda.
Moms whose kids rode the bus driven by the child molester are still shocked that they first heard of the allegations from media reports, more than three months after Ferguson and other administrators learned of the sexual abuse.
Parents are also upset the district failed to implement new bus policies aimed at protecting students until the public learned about the scandal and pressed for changes.
They hoped the report would provide some answers.
Instead, Board President Drew Wilborn read a prepared statement saying that the investigation was complete, but due to the pending lawsuit, the board needs to consult with its litigation attorneys before releasing any information to the public.
This Tuesday, the court issued a summons to Annamarie Hamrick, the district’s former transportation director, who left last May after bus driver Frank Paniagua’s sexual abuse was exposed. Hamrick is also a defendant in the lawsuit, along with Paniagua’s estate.
Prosper parents are unlikely to receive transparency or accountability from the district until the sex abuse lawsuit is resolved.
In the meantime, two Prosper ISD school board seats are on the May 6 ballot. Incumbent Dena Dixon and Aimee Boots have announced they are running for Place 2, while Jim Herblin and Kurt Kuehn have announced for Place 5, currently held by Debra Smith. The candidate filing deadline is February 17.