Woolery's mammoth

When it came to spending, Dallas' former superintendent always thought big

It was one of those classic DISD moments.
The Dallas Independent School District board was poised to adopt a $772-million annual budget. In it, the district's teachers weren't going to get an across-the-board raise, but the administrators who had made that decision had enjoyed whopping raises of up to 24 percent the year before. Then there was the superintendent, Chad Woolery. He was leading the charge to cut the raises, but he had just tendered his resignation. He was going to work for an education company that currently did business with the district--he had, in fact, just recommended an increase in the company's contract.

This was the scene at last Thursday night's meeting when 100 angry teachers showed up to raise a little hell about this. As if things weren't bad enough, security officers were dispatched midmeeting to drag a kindergarten teacher from the lectern because she wouldn't shut up when her two-minute speaking limit expired.

"I was in the middle of my speech, and I wasn't going to let them stop me," Maria de la Garza, a Bonham Elementary School teacher told me later, breathlessly recalling her firsthand experience with management. "So I yelled out, 'I'm not finished! Let me finish!' And all the people in the audience stood up and started chanting, 'Let her finish! Let her finish!' and so they let me finish."

Well, I have no sympathy for the teachers. After all, where do these people think they work? Haven't they been reading the newspapers this past year? Don't they know how to finesse the system? I mean, it doesn't take an education degree to figure out that if they want to be treated fairly, they need to do the only thing that works: They need to hire Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price to come down to the administration building and practically threaten to burn it down.

After all, it worked beautifully for Ora Lee Watson, the former Townview High School principal who did such a lousy job opening DISD's jewel school last year that, thanks to agent Price, she was promoted to a cushy post downtown. She not only retained her $83,862-a-year job, she was given a nice new office and a staff. We can only hope that she has figured out what to do with herself during the workday seeing as how her position did not exist before the superintendent dreamed it up one day while lying on the John Wiley Price medieval rack.

Let's cut to the chase here: Chad Woolery's bounteous spending habits in the few short years he was superintendent--a job for which the bloated Woolery was paid a bloated $194,174 a year to perform--is his great legacy in public education.

Woolery's generosity with other people's money is the No.1 reason that district taxpayers are getting their first tax hike in four years--3 percent, or $36 a year on a $100,000 home--but getting no teacher raises to speak of and no more money for aftercare programs.

No one will ever know for sure how much money was wasted under Woolery's watch.

This was a man who was absolutely incapable of firing anybody but equally committed to promoting and hiring people if it served any perceived short-term political purpose. Woolery was famous for dispatching beheaded veteran employees--the ones with enormous salaries--to a backwater administration building, formerly Davy Crockett Elementary School in East Dallas. Today, there is virtually an entire shadow government stationed out at "the Crockett graveyard," as it is not-so-affectionately called.

But Woolery's transgressions were far worse than that. He defied spending orders given to him by his board--the most notable being the 4-percent raises the board ordered for all district employees in 1995. Woolery went way beyond that for 19 of his top administrators, whose raises averaged 9 percent. The board never would have known about the raises had Larry Bleiberg at The Dallas Morning News not dug the information out of people's personnel files and written a story about it.

"Chad Woolery is the Ronald Reagan of the Dallas public schools," one board member told me disgustedly. "Spend and spend and spend, and someone will pay for it later."

When it all caught up with Woolery--and he was facing a tax hike to cover the hemorrhaging--he panicked. He held tight to the budget, then jumped ship, taking a job with a DISD contractor, Voyager Expanded Learning, with which he was currently negotiating--all of which made him look like a whore, which is not a noble way to end a long public service career. The gravest injustice is that he withheld the budget from board members until their backs were up against the wall and the schools were about to open unfunded unless they rubber-stamped the doo-doo they were handed.

(Doo-doo No.1: Woolery was proud of the fact that he could avert an even bigger tax hike by cutting 85 administrative jobs. Sure, he may be cutting the jobs, but the people are still milling around the building, waiting for their reassignments--and they'll get them.)

Only God--besides Woolery--knows what's really in the DISD budget the board just adopted. "Running this district is like trying to catch a waterfall in a Dixie cup," says board president Bill Keever. "You can't be everywhere, and every time you move to tackle a problem, you find there's another problem over here somewhere. And the budget is an example of that. The budget is so complex, and there are so many line items in it, that there's no way to get your arms around it.

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