In the defense of liberty, the importance of paying attention to local politics can hardly be overstated. Unfortunately, it tends to take a back seat with most people, and we all eventually pay a high price for indifference. Beaumont is one such case; residents are suffering the economic fallout of a lack of vigilance in their local school board elections. A series of recent events has revealed that the school board appointed criminals to oversee financial handlings of their school district.
Residents of Beaumont know that their school district’s cavalier attitude towards use of public funds is nothing new. However, recently the situation has reached a boiling point. In 2007, the school district approved a gargantuan $389 million dollar bond to build about 10 new schools. Leveraging $40 million of that bond, the district constructed a veritable monument to excess: the 85 acre “Taj Mahal” officially known as the Carrol A. “Butch” Thomas Educational Support Center. The building, which contains administrative offices, a stadium, a natatorium, and exactly zero classrooms, is named after Carrol Thomas, who was hired as the superintendent in 1995. Thomas came in at a salary of $152,800. Over his 17 years as superintendent of BISD, his salary would more than double. By the time he left in the 2012-2013 school year, he was the highest paid superintendent in the state, pulling in $347,834 annually.
This last November, the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided the homes of two top school officials as well as the BISD administration building. The home of another official (who has since left) was also raided as recently as this April. After extensive investigation, Director of Finance Devin McRaney and Comptroller Sharika Allison pleaded guilty to charges related to the embezzlement of $4 million in school district funds.
BISD was also rocked by a scandal involving their electrician even before the FBI investigation. The school board contracted electrician Calvin Walker to perform the electrical work on the construction projects in the district that resulted from the 2007 bond package. Keeping with the culture of corruption, he overbilled the district $3.7 million dollars through a scheme of falsified invoices, and was subsequently found guilty.
Shockingly, Beaumont ISD’s school board decided to continue doing business with Walker. The district also declined$2 million in restitution. These were taxpayer dollars to which the district was entitled to receive back.
Indeed, the lack of oversight from an unengaged electorate came at a very high price. Financial mismanagement has caused many residents to suffer from incredibly high property taxes, and distorted property values. Residents are trapped in an area where high costs make living and doing business both undesirable and difficult.
Fortunately, Beaumont residents have an opportunity to bring new oversight to BISD in the upper chamber of the Texas Legislature. In a speech to the Golden Triangle Republican Women, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility endorsee Steve Toth passionately articulated his understanding of the challenges that burden Beaumont residents from an unbridled, self-serving bureaucracy. From now until early voting ends on May 6th or Election Day May 10th, voters can make their disapproval over the financial mis-dealings of their district resonate by supporting Rep. Steve Toth for Senate District 4. In conjunction with increased engagement in their local races, citizens can bring financial accountability to their district from all sides.