In a reversal of its preliminary findings, the Texas Education Agency has cleared four Fort Bend Independent School District Board trustees of all improper governance allegations, in a final report issued last week.
The agency exonerated Board President Lisa Rickert, Vice President Ken Bryant and trustees Stan Magee and Laurie Caldwell, reversing earlier findings that substantiated four of nine allegations. The TEA also withdrew earlier directives that board members receive additional training on school governance.
In September 2005, trustees Bruce Bain and Cynthia Knox and former board member Jane Clarke made written complaints to the TEA. basis of the original complaints was primarily that board members were overstepping their authority by improperly seeking district information and directing district employees.
The TEA issued a report of preliminary findings in mid-November after the agency interviewed and received written documentation from a number of sources including former Superintendent Betty Baitland and other district officials.
The final investigative report, issued Jan. 6, found that Rickert, Bryant, Caldwell and Magee had not violated the Texas Education Code in their governance of the district. It stated that, based on local policy, “trustees shall have the right to seek information pertaining to district fiscal affairs, business transactions, governance, and personnel matters, including information that properly may be withheld from members of the general public.”
No further appeal of the final TEA report will be allowed.
“The issuance of the (report) concludes the Agency’s investigation of the District’s school governance matters. Additional informal reviews and further intervention by this Agency for this matter are not available,” Ernest Zamora, TEA Associate Commissioner said.
This “effectively puts an end to the substantial distraction this investigation has caused to both the board of trustees and the FBISD administration,” said Board President Lisa Rickert in a written statement today. “We can now focus all of our attention on the many pressing needs of this growing district. It is important that we continue our work to bring increased fiscal responsibility and accountability to the district as well as improve the academic achievement and educational welfare for all FBISD students.”
Acting Superintendent Manuela Pedraza, who was appointed to the post just two weeks ago, said she, too, is glad to receive the final report. “Our district needs to put this behind us and come together to channel our efforts and energies on doing the important things to provide our students with quality instruction,” she said in a written press release.
TEA spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman acknowledged that the investigation was a burden on the district. However, “if the agency receives a complaint and we determine if falls within our jurisdiction we are obligated to investigate,” she said adding “It can be a time-consuming process but it’s important you get to the bottom of the issue and get things resolved.”
Marchman indicated that a reversal of findings of this kind is very unusual. “The preliminary report and the final report usually doesn’t change much,” she said. “But there are always two sides to every story and that’s why we give the district an opportunity to provide additional information following our preliminary report.”
Calls to Knox, Bain and Clarke for comment were not returned Friday. Trustee Sue Hauenstein chose not to comment on the report. Former Superintendent Betty Baitland said she had not seen the final report and would not comment on it.