By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Santa Fe presented a much smaller stage for Gonzalez to perform on. The school district has 12,000 students and a $48 million operating budget, compared to DISD's 155,000 students and budget of nearly $1 billion.
So when Gonzalez added eight administrators in Santa Fe, established a public relations office for the first time, and gave her staff raises, veteran teachers complained that she was empire-building and not looking out for the children's interests. "The flap was that she expanded the administration," Friedman recalls.
Perhaps to mollify those teachers, Gonzalez hiked their salaries as well. The teachers were scheduled to receive a 5 percent raise, but Gonzalez increased that to 6 percent. The problem, says Peter Garcia, a former chief financial officer in Santa Fe whom Gonzalez hired, was that Gonzalez had no idea where the money for that 1 percent raise would come from. She didn't seem to be concerned about that even when he advised her of it, Garcia says. "Maybe she already knew she would be looking for a job somewhere else," he says.
When Gonzalez hired him, Garcia says, she told him that she didn't have much of a financial background, so she would have to rely on his. "But she didn't," Garcia says.
Less than three months after she left to come to Dallas, the Santa Fe school board got wind of Gonzalez's financial recklessness. They learned from her successor that Gonzalez had busted the budget by some $800,000--a significant sum in that district.
When a Santa Fe New Mexican reporter contacted Gonzalez in Dallas and asked why the board hadn't known about the shortfall, Gonzalez countered with tactics that are strikingly similar to the approach she adopted when her office renovation figures were leaked here: She blamed her subordinates.
"I guess if the board is saying they didn't get information from me, then they're probably right," Gonzalez told the newspaper reporter. "But that's only because I didn't have information I could give to them because I couldn't get it from Pete [Garcia]."
With Gonzalez gone, the board only had Garcia to bear the blame for the overspending. The board suspended him and ultimately opted not to renew his contract. But Garcia insists today that he gave Gonzalez not one but two briefing reports that showed her the possibility of a shortfall. "I gave her a scenario that there could be a budget shortage," says Garcia, who now works for the City of Santa Fe.
The Santa Fe school board members might have heard Garcia with a more sympathetic ear if they had known that months later, Gonzalez would point the finger at her financial staff in Dallas when overspending came back to bite her again.
In Dallas, of course, Gonzalez is still the boss. So at the July 30 press conference she held to quell the controversy about her costly renovations, Matthew Harden dutifully told reporters that his boss had not been informed about the high costs. Less than an hour before the conference, Gonzalez informed Harden that she was leading a press conference and expected him to attend and back her story. Harden, a Tyler native and the son of migrant workers, came to DISD 20 years ago as a young graduate of the University of Texas and has never worked anywhere else professionally. He reluctantly agreed.
For now, Harden still has his job. But his claim that the information he released was false will surely put a chink in the Gonzalez-Hinkle publicity armor.
When asked about the office renovations earlier this week, Hinkle insisted Gonzalez didn't engage in any kind of cover-up. And Hinkle, unaware of Harden's affidavit in the Shirley Ison-Newsome lawsuit, hastened to remind a reporter that Harden backed Gonzalez at the press conference.
What he doesn't elaborate on is the aborted attempt to force Harden to resign. It came--perhaps not coincidentally--the week after Gonzalez and Hinkle planted a story in the media about concerns regarding the superintendent's safety.
Three days after the Reunion Arena rally featuring the bulldozer, Gonzalez was back on the tube again on August 15, this time in the lead story on WFAA-Channel 8's newscast and, the next day, on the front page of The Dallas Morning News.
For this press event, the superintendent adopted a worried look. She and Hinkle had selected reporters they apparently viewed as friendly at those two news organizations--Brett Shipp at Channel 8, Nora Lopez at the News. Gonzalez huddled with the reporters in her office late Friday afternoon, promising to give them an exclusive.
The purported scoop was something that would excite any reporter: Gonzalez claimed the superintendent's office just might be bugged.
"We believe that it is possible," said an outside contractor hired to conduct regular sweeps for bugs in the DISD administrative offices in the News.
Martin Brown, a subcontractor who did the actual search of the phone, later told the Observer that he had found possible evidence of tampering among the wiring on Gonzalez's phone. Someone appeared to have done a shoddy soldering job on the telephone's circuit board, and that, coupled with loose wiring, gave rise to suspicions. "It was like a footprint--someone could have run by there" in an attempt to bug the phone, Brown said.