Bush-whacked in the Bulrushes

Our new superintendent is getting a taste of Dallas, and it's sour

Brand-new superintendent of schools Mike Moses is getting his first taste of white water in the bulrushes. The problems he is running into are your typical Dallas Independent School District backstabbing and bad publicity--par for the course if you ask anybody who's been around Dallas more than a couple of years--but he's clearly been taken aback by it.

This is all stuff you won't be reading about in The Dallas Morning News. But that's something you already know, or you wouldn't be here. The Morning News motto should be: "All the news that we think is any of your gosh-darned beeswax."

Moses is still in the basket and surviving, but things are getting tippy. He's already just on the verge of being at odds with some of the local electronic media. He's starting to get nervous about information leaks from supposedly secret sessions of the school board.

This is a guy who's been around the track in public education--no sissy, in other words. But his predecessor, Waldemar Rojas, came here bragging about being the man from New York City, and he couldn't keep up with the knife work at 3700 Ross Ave., either.

What is it about us, here in Dallas? No matter where they come from, our new school superintendents always seem unprepared for the level of viciousness.

Moses met with the school board recently in a closed "executive session" and discussed a series of confidential issues. Board members and staff are forbidden by law to disclose the contents of executive sessions. I don't know what was discussed. Normally, the only things they can talk about in a secret session are legal problems and personnel issues. I do know that the board wanted to be updated on the ongoing FBI corruption probe and about several key changes Moses is considering making in senior management. Those are my guesses.

At any rate, the door had barely slammed behind them after their secret meeting when the 3700 Ross grapevine began shaking and giving off sparks and smoke. There were e-mails flying all over the place outlining the specific contents of the meeting. I believe that some DISD executives whose jobs might have been affected by the things Moses told the board received warnings of what was coming their way.

Of course, this is probably what happened to Yvonne Gonzalez, two superintendents ago, the one who was sent off to federal prison for buying her office furniture the wrong way: Somebody was warned she was going after them, and they had time to set her up. I'm not forgiving her for buying her furniture the wrong way. I'm just saying it's a sucker-punch culture at DISD.

I tried to discuss all of this with Moses through an intermediary. His spokeswoman, Loretta Simon, assured me she had asked him twice, face to face, if he knew anything about leaks from an executive session and if he had written a memo to the board complaining about the leaks. She told me he said he had no idea what I was talking about.

Originally, I had asked if Moses had sent a "scalding memo" to the board about the leaks. That was before I saw the memo. It's not scalding at all: It's very measured. I wasn't there when Simon asked him about it. It's very possible, because of the way I had mischaracterized the memo in my original question, that Moses really may not have clicked on the memo I was asking about. This is a guy who writes a lot of memos and gets asked a lot of questions.

And also, who cares? The issue here is not what Moses said in response to a question from me. The issue is that Moses is only now waking up to certain ugly realities about his job.

Forget about trust. Forget about integrity. And don't even think about confidentiality. He has to assume that anything and everything he says, whether it's in a secret meeting or not, is going to wind up on the 6 o'clock news. You might think that wouldn't include things he says in the privacy of his marriage, but that would assume he won't be wiretapped, have listening devices planted inside his house, or have electronic espionage devices attached to his car, all of which have been done to school board members and top-level staff here in recent years.

Welcome to Big D.

He's also traipsing onto some very slippery rocks where the media are concerned.

Moses was savvy enough to know that February is a television "sweeps month"--a time when the audience levels for local affiliates are measured. Channel 4's Becky Oliver was working on a story about "missing assets"--all the stuff and the money that turned up missing in the recent KPMG fraud audit. Moses declined to give Channel 4 an interview for the story, but he did try to set up an interview with Channel 4 News Director Marie Barrs "to request balance in their stories."

Barrs put him off. Barrs told me that Simon had called her asking for a meeting in two days, and "I was flat-out not available then." Barrs asked Simon if they could meet in a few weeks, putting him off until after Oliver's story ran and after she was no longer busy with sweeps month. Simon agreed.

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