By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Robert Payton, associate superintendent for schools and accountability, is the only high-level black administrator to back Gonzalez publicly. He has been rewarded with a 22 percent raise--bringing him to a $110,000 salary. His son, who handles real estate transactions for the district, has also been promoted. (Payton could not be reached for comment.)
Gonzalez's penchant for spending has made unlikely allies out of board members who want to maintain checks and balances on her just-pull-out-the-public's-pocketbook attitude. "In fiscal responsibility and soundness, we have stuck together," says one of the three black trustees. By "we," the trustee is talking about a group that now often includes white board member Dodd--a fiscal and social conservative--and Lois Parrott.
On several key votes, the black trustees have been joined by some of their white colleagues in attempts to stop Gonzalez from dishing out cash. Dodd joined the black board members when they put a halt last month to Gonzalez-backed plans to buy a church in order to absorb some of the district's space shortages.
The black trustees were joined by whites again when they pushed to limit her plan to give $500,000 to new auditors who would overhaul DISD's financial systems, even though Gonzalez didn't know what the auditors' bill would actually be. The six trustees took $200,000 of those funds and earmarked them instead for a deferred maintenance account that would go to physically improving classrooms, board member Hollis Brashear says.
Even though Gonzalez, in her oft-repeated statements about rampant fraud, has complained about nepotism within the district, her protestations ring hollow because of her own husband's well-paid position within DISD. Chris Lyle, who never moved to Santa Fe when his wife was superintendent there because he couldn't find a job as an accountant, now works for the district as a specialist in safety and security--at a salary of $42,000. Gonzalez, who earns roughly $190,000 in salary and benefits, negotiated the deal for her husband when she came to Dallas as a deputy superintendent in 1996, according to district administrators.
Since Gonzalez took the district's top office, neither she nor her husband have taken measures to prevent the possible conflicts of interest caused by having her as his boss.
When reached on the phone for this story, Lyle, who keeps an extremely low profile in DISD, deferred to his wife's policy of having all calls routed through the press office, and declined to talk.
"Dr. G," as DISD employees who are close to Gonzalez affectionately call her, shares none of the gruff manners of her publicity chief Robert Hinkle. The childless, middle-aged superintendent projects a relaxed, surprisingly cozy personality. She is never stiff. Neither is her wardrobe; she favors brightly colored lipsticks and neon-colored, short-skirted suits.
Beverly Friedman, who served as press spokeswoman when Gonzalez served as superintendent for the school district in Santa Fe, says her staff sometimes worried about the superintendent's choice of wardrobe and even considered advising her to tone it down. But they ultimately kept mum, Friedman says, assuming that their boss' attire had more to do with her culture and "bubbly" personality.
Gonzalez certainly is unreserved. When this reporter met her for an interview late last spring, Gonzalez chatted as if we were long-lost girlfriends. Instead of sitting behind her desk, she pulled two chairs together in front of it so we could talk.
She referred to herself in jest as "a little Mexican girl," a fair caricature given her roots. Gonzalez was born in Brownsville and grew up in Laredo. She escaped from the economically depressed border town through education--the only one of four daughters in her family to finish college.
"Dr. Gonzalez is a young administrator to have achieved all that she has academically, educationally, and professionally," Ray and Berndston, a search firm, wrote in the recommendation it sent to DISD board members when it presented Gonzalez, along with five other top finalists, for the superintendent's job last year.
In 1975, Gonzalez graduated from St. Mary's University in San Antonio with a bachelor of arts degree in political history and science. She went on to get a master's in secondary education from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches in 1978. She taught high school for one year and then began her climb in administrative offices, starting as assistant principal in San Antonio in 1979. She had finally been in a head principal's post for one year when, in 1987, she joined the faculty at Texas A&M as an assistant professor while she worked on her doctoral degree.
Afterward, she taught at Old Dominion University in Virginia, the home state of Chris Lyle, her second husband. In 1989, Gonzalez returned to Texas public schools as a principal in Houston. By 1994, she had risen to associate superintendent in the Houston system. The next year, she served for one month as interim superintendent before getting the top job in Santa Fe.
"She gets an A+ for trying to change the system, but people were not ready for change," the search firm wrote to DISD trustees about Gonzalez's Santa Fe experience.
But by the time she had left Santa Fe, Gonzalez had established a pattern of generating big, flashy staff expansion plans and lots of self-serving publicity. "She did have a flair for attracting attention," Friedman says. But she also exhibited the same troubling tendency she's revealed in Dallas for omitting significant financial details and misrepresenting matters to the press.