Granbury Independent School District is selling its controversial airplane after an assistant superintendent was caught using the plane for personal travel with family, but the joyriding administrator has yet to face disciplinary action.
At their January school board meeting, Granbury ISD trustees voted 7-0 to sell the plane, purchased in 2021 as part of the North Texas school district’s aviation program for students.
The program itself, offered through the district’s Career and Technical Education department, enjoys significant support within the community.
Multiple Texas school districts offer aviation programs but don’t own their own planes.
A committee tasked with reviewing the aviation program told trustees the cost of operating the plane was “much higher than anticipated” and concluded the district should outsource the flight training portion of the program.
Yet the district took no action against Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Dawson, one of two district employees authorized to fly the plane.
“Selling the plane was good,” Rene Poe, a longtime leader in Granbury’s conservative community, told Texas Scorecard. “No discipline for the assistant superintendent who took it joyriding and for family get-togethers does not send a good message to our students.”
Last November, a WFAA reporter revealed that Dawson flew the plane to Abilene in June to visit his daughter. His wife, who is also an administrator in the district, traveled with him.
Dawson is not a flight instructor but was supposed to use the plane to provide promotional “discovery” flights for students interested in the aviation program.
Following the media revelations, Granbury ISD Superintendent Jeremy Glenn hired education attorney Miles Bradshaw to investigate whether Dawson’s flights were within the scope of the program.
Only three were discovery flights.
Six were solo “pilot training” flights, which Dawson claimed (and Bradshaw agreed) were allowable under the program for Dawson to maintain his skills for the discovery flights.
Dawson’s eight other flights, also categorized as pilot training, included a passenger; on six of those flights, the passenger was a family member—either his wife or his son.
Bradshaw called those six flights a “gray area.”
There’s no question based on my investigation that Mr. Dawson was taking a training flight for himself. … The part that becomes questionable is who was tagging along with him. The way the program was initially set up, it could have been just about anybody. It was pretty loose.
He told the board it was “just too gray to say” if the flights with family violated the district’s financial ethics policies, adding there was a “dual benefit” for the district and Dawson.
Bradshaw said “misappropriation of district funds” requires someone to “intentionally and knowingly” take something for their own use. “There’s no policy that says doing what he did is a violation.”
Bradshaw also considered whether Dawson’s actions constituted misuse of property, an offense included in the crime of abuse of official capacity. “You can’t say it was absolutely intentionally and knowingly misused,” he argued.
Finally, Bradshaw acknowledged Dawson’s flights with family might run afoul of the Texas Educators’ Code of Ethics, which prohibits using school property or professional privileges for personal gain, but said he doesn’t “have any say whether someone violated this or not.”
“The bottom line is that in my opinion, technically, the conduct did not violate a law, policy, procedure, directive, or ethical canon,” Bradshaw wrote in his report.
He still recommended discipline for Dawson: “The Superintendent should consider, with appropriate Board input, but ultimately within his discretion as supervisor of the Assistant Superintendent, an appropriate level of employee disciplinary action/response.”
In my opinion … the maximum disciplinary action/response should be written reprimand, and directed training on the new protocols, and possibly ethical trainings on use of school property. The minimum response would be written warning and directed training.
The board unanimously approved the airplane purchase in April 2021.
Bradshaw’s report, which recounts the history of the aviation program, says the district paid a “reasonable price” of $42,000 for the 1962 Cessna 172D, then spent another $53,000 upgrading the plane in August 2021.
The district also pays for hangar space, insurance, and certified flight instructors to train students. Bradshaw said aviation teacher Mark Kirk, the other district employee authorized to fly the plane, is “close” to getting his flight instructor’s rating, at which time he’ll receive a $10,000 stipend from the district.
According to the aviation subcommittee, outsourcing flight instruction will not impact any Granbury ISD aviation classes or prevent students from working toward private pilot’s licenses at reduced costs, a primary goal of the program.
Only six of the 115 students in the aviation program currently fly.
Proceeds of the airplane sale will go to the district’s CTE program.