Divided She Stands
Bruce Parrott remembers when his wife, Lois, discovered her hidden talent: a knack for grassroots politicking. Ten years ago, White Rock residents were outraged when the Dallas school board announced its plan to move a Montessori school from their neighborhood to North Dallas. While the Dallas Independent School District said the move would relieve overcrowding in area schools, the Parrotts saw a more sinister agenda. Because the loss of the more selective Montessori school would mean a new neighborhood school open to everyone, opponents believed North Dallasites would use the school to dump their apartment kids in the Parrotts' territory.
Back then, board member Dan Peavy represented the Parrotts' District 3, which stretches along the city's east side from north of White Rock Lake to south of Interstate 30. Peavy was up for re-election that year, but critics of the Montessori move labeled him weak on the issue (he eventually voted for the switch). So they decided to field a protest candidate. Because of his job duties as a landscaper, Bruce Parrott couldn't step up. "Why don't we just put Lois on the ballot?" someone asked.
Lois Parrott, a community college professor, wasn't the most outspoken voice against the Montessori shuffle. But she surprised friends by refusing to settle for placeholder status on the ballot. It wouldn't be the last time she based her politics on a conspiratorial worldview of unseen forces colluding to undermine District 3. Nevertheless, Parrott made a strong impression at candidates' debates and vowed to stand up for the neighborhood, focusing her campaign on the Montessori issue. "I think that put the bug in her," says proud husband Bruce, now production manager at Dallas Community Television.
Lois didn't topple Peavy in the 1991 race. But the run prepped her for an unexpected opportunity--and a win--in 1996, when Peavy resigned after being caught on tape making bigoted remarks about minorities.
Since then, Parrott has won re-election twice. She has gained a committed if small following for demanding fraud investigations during the tempestuous Yvonne Gonzalez era and for opposing former Superintendent Bill Rojas' bid to allow the private company Edison Schools to manage 11 public schools. (He eventually settled for seven.)
Her supporters see her as the Laura Miller of DISD: a maverick who isn't beholden to special interests and speaks her mind, blowing the whistle on wrongdoing. "She's a very principled person," says Charlie Mohrle, a mortgage banker and longtime Parrott backer. "I wish there were more people like her."
Daughter of a Dutch Reformed minister, Parrott describes her role in missionary terms. "I'm just an instrument to get education in Dallas where it's supposed to be," she says. "I want each child, no matter where they live in Dallas, to reach their potential. I'm for justice and equity and a system that works."
But an increasing number of critics say Parrott's whistleblower image is just that: an image. A more accurate description of Parrott's role on the famously riven school board, they say, is that of its most divisive force. The real Lois, they say, is conspiratorial, vindictive and downright loopy. "She's not Joan of Arc," says former trustee Jose Plata, who clashed with Parrott before leaving the board. "She's become a piece of furniture with no standing with her colleagues. She goes rabid when she loses on an issue. No one has ever written the truth about her."
Criticism of Parrott is heard more frequently these days now that she approaches a political reckoning. One of her most important quests, a year-old lawsuit to stop the Edison Schools program--she and four other plaintiffs claimed it violated the state constitution--was thrown out of court by a state district judge. If that weren't bad enough, her colleagues on the school board are now seeking to collect $183,000 in legal fees from Parrott and her allies, who filed the suit without a lawyer. In effect, they are turning their backs on one of their own. "Historically, we try to recoup legal expenses where we can," says fellow trustee and former board President Roxan Staff. "That's just trying to protect the taxpayer."
At the same time the board is going after Parrott for legal fees, a $1 million-plus slander lawsuit filed by former Superintendent Rojas against Parrott and fellow trustee Hollis Brashear is inching ahead in court. Rojas, fired by the school board after only 11 months in office, says Parrott made false statements that he believes cost him job interviews for superintendent's posts in New York City and Los Angeles. Although he had some baggage of his own long before coming to Dallas--Rojas twice had been cited for drunken driving--he says Parrott's allegations to the press that he improperly used his DISD credit card to buy alcohol smeared his reputation. The district later exonerated him of the charge.
He also blames Parrott for distributing an unsigned letter that called him a "Mafia Thug," claimed he had fathered an illegitimate son and identified him as a drunk. Parrott denies any link to the letter, which was handed out at a school board meeting. But trustee Staff, who says a legally blind elderly woman with close ties to Parrott gave her the letter last year, blames Parrott for its dissemination. "I doubted that Ms. [Dorothy] Ellsworth could produce such trash," Staff said in an e-mail to Rojas. Ellsworth insists she didn't include the "Thug" letter in a packet of newspaper articles about Rojas, and Parrott denies any knowledge of it. Still, the letter is another addition to a dossier of dubiously sourced material that has materialized from time to time when Parrott enters the fray.
Rojas' attorney, Jeff Tillotson, goes further in his criticisms of Parrott: He says she has a shaky grip on objective reality. During a recent deposition, he says, she laughed repeatedly and asked him in Clinton-esque fashion to define the word "lie." "See for yourself on what planet she is currently living," Tillotson says, pointing to some elliptical responses during her deposition. Parrott calls Tillotson's criticisms a "diversion" and insists her question was valid because truth means different things to different people.
What's more, documents obtained by the Dallas Observer show several instances of questionable behavior and harassment of DISD staff by Parrott. In one instance, she threatened to file a state ethics complaint against a staff member who urged her not to release to the media information from closed-door sessions of the school board involving its lawyer. On another occasion, she browbeat a communications official who refused to write a press release denying she used DISD funds to send out a political newsletter.
In the midst of the criticisms, Parrott has retained a cadre of loyal backers who value her as a strong, independent voice. "The board wants to punish Lois," says the Reverend L. Charles Stovall, a United Methodist minister and local head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "I think they should throw roses at her feet and apologize. She really knew in her heart that to sign off on that contract was wrong." Says District 3 resident Robert Neubrand: "She's fighting an uphill battle, trying to get corruption out."
But the sheer number of questionable incidents surrounding Parrott causes others to doubt her fitness for office. With DISD's and Rojas' lawyers moving in, Parrott's political moment of truth has arrived, and no one in a position of power is rushing to save her. By all appearances, most board members are secretly delighted that she's up against the wall. Former trustee Plata puts it bluntly. "She deservedly needs to pay," he says.
Downtown in the basement of the George L. Allen Sr. Courts Building are four thick binders that hold case No. 00-0858-G, Stovall v. Edison Schools, Inc.--the Edison Schools case. Despite the case file's expanding girth, this is one lawsuit that, absent an appeal, appears to be nearing a close.
On July 23, Lois Parrott attended a Monday-morning hearing on the legal fees the board wants her to pay in state District Judge Anne Ashby's 134th Civil District Court. Sitting next to her: fellow plaintiffs Harry Trujillo, a Hispanic activist and tax preparer; Stovall, an African-American civil rights advocate; and former DISD trustee Don Venable, a fellow maverick.
The unlikely group assembled after realizing they all loathed the Edison contract. Also present were Daniel Ortiz, a lawyer for Classroom Teachers of Dallas, which joined the suit to ensure that DISD benefits covered Edison instructors; and Michael Linz, Parrott's pro bono lawyer. Linz, who joined the case that day and hadn't previously known Parrott, argues that DISD's effort to collect fees from the plaintiffs will have a chilling effect on public participation in government. "It's an issue of the right of the people not to be afraid to go to court on issues of constitutional importance," he says.
Parrott's suit is the last gasp of disharmony that surrounded Superintendent Bill Rojas during his tumultuous stint in Dallas. Upset that the board voted down his brash plan for Edison to run 11 elementary campuses, Rojas jokingly suggested at an October 1999 news conference that his critics panhandle to make up for the millions Edison had vowed to invest in DISD. He provided two tin cans for Parrott and Brashear, his biggest skeptics, and added $20 to get them started. The theatrics amused neither Parrott nor Brashear. Rojas apologized, but they never forgave him. Later, the board narrowly passed a scaled-down Edison plan.
Such discord now seems like a distant memory. In January, the far less abrasive Mike Moses became superintendent. Yet controversy lives on through Parrott's lawsuit--even after seven DISD elementary schools completed a first year under Edison that Moses says mirrored improvements in achievement districtwide. While two Edison schools previously rated "acceptable" fell to "low performing" status, two other schools made the opposite voyage, and another low performer dramatically improved test scores, he says.
Five months after the school board approved Edison's contract, Parrott and her compatriots sued in state court. (Parrott ally Brashear didn't join the suit; he says he prefers to fight "within the system.") Their contention: DISD's Edison contract violated state law by yielding management of public schools to a private company and by sending a higher share of per-student spending to Edison schools than the district average--$5,715 per Edison student compared to about $3,500 districtwide. "We need to make sure that we have a fair and equitable system for each child," Parrott said. "They deserve it."
Edison's supporters say the critics' cost figures are incorrect because they exclude centralized costs such as food service and transportation. With those in the mix, backers say Edison and non-Edison schools get nearly equal funding. Meanwhile, DISD attorney Eric Moyé calls the lawsuit anti-democratic. Parrott and the others couldn't handle losing a vote, he argues, so they urged a court to usurp an elected board's power to forge contracts. "I don't think...there was a good-faith legal dispute," Moyé says.
While the lawsuit did attract a lot of attention when it was filed, in retrospect its premise seems thin. Because of the vagaries of funding formulas and court mandates, spending varies widely among DISD schools. About 80 schools get more than the district average, particularly learning centers and magnet schools (see "Separate and Unequal," May 24, 2001). Funding disparities are especially prevalent in schools with large Hispanic populations, but Edison's critics have never raised a stink about that.
Furthermore, the state education code allows districts to contract with private entities for educational services. So it was no shocker when, after more than a year of litigation, Judge Ashby bounced the lawsuit. "The agreement...does not violate Texas law," she wrote in a June 5 order granting DISD "summary judgment," a legal tactic used to quash weak cases.
One month later another moment of truth arrived for Parrott. Judge Ashby scheduled an October 22 jury trial to determine whether the Edison critics will have to pay their opponents' legal fees.
If Parrott is forced to pay DISD's lawyer bills in the Edison case, she might end up blaming Don Venable for the size of her debt.
Venable, who isn't a lawyer, filed most of the case's paperwork. A former trustee who, over a decade, fired numerous legal salvos against DISD, he began in the early '90s with a lawsuit charging that DISD misspent bond money; more lawsuits proliferated when DISD sued him for telling the district's investment banker about his bond money suit. Although Venable caught flak for refusing to settle his many lawsuits, he earned enough respect to get elected in 1997 to Seagoville's DISD board seat.
It wasn't meant to be, though. The longtime gadfly quit just 10 months later, citing health reasons. Last year, he joined the Edison suit at Parrott's request. While Stovall and others worried he would make the suit about himself rather than Edison, Parrott insisted he be included and still defends him. Without Venable, she says, "We wouldn't have gotten this far." Yet after filing numerous motions--actions that drove DISD's legal bills higher and higher--Venable abruptly dropped out of the lawsuit in October.
At the same time, Venable struck a deal with DISD to settle three remaining lawsuits. Now living in Coppell, he says he wants nothing more to do with DISD. Venable won't elaborate, but Rick Finlan, Venable's former legal partner against DISD, says Venable decided to give up after another lawsuit in federal court tanked. Last September, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans deemed "frivolous" an appeal stemming from a 1995 Venable suit, in which he protested Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's speaking date at Lincoln High School. Six years ago, Venable faulted DISD for leasing space to Farrakhan at a lower rate than other functions, but DISD says it had the right to do so.
In an agreement negotiated by attorney John Martin, DISD agreed to "forever discharge and hold harmless Venable." But if DISD attorney Eric Moyé prevails, Venable will receive no amnesty. He says Venable is still liable for legal fees because the Edison suit isn't listed in the agreement. (Martin agrees.) Upset at this news, Venable calls Moyé a "bully" motivated by "personal animus." Moyé shrugs off the charge and says Venable doesn't have the right to unilaterally duck and run from a lawsuit he filed.
With Venable's and Parrott's mounting legal troubles, it seems that the age of the gadfly has ended altogether in DISD. Things are downright peaceful these days because DISD has reined in the three biggest yappers of yore: Finlan, Venable and Parrott.
But for a while, Parrott and the others thought they had a chance. Venable, a former paralegal, produced a blizzard of motions. At one point, he audaciously asked Judge Ashby to strike a provision allowing schools to contract with private companies from the Texas Education Code. Section 11.157 was passed, he reasoned, "without any legislative history or context with which to define its intent or parameters."
The request was denied. Moyé belittled the group's legal onslaught, calling the plaintiffs "disgruntled opponents...[who] have thrown together a conglomerate of irrelevant statutes, misapplied Constitutional provisions and flawed legal analysis." Parrott's group chafed at the characterization. They saw themselves as righteous heroes, "taxpayers and community leaders of long standing, who have dedicated much of their adult lives to the betterment of the youth educated by DISD."
In August of last year, shortly before Edison began its first academic year in Dallas, Ashby made a ruling that seemed to end the suit. "It is ordered, adjudged and decreed that the DISD board of trustees has the right to contract with and to hire Edison," she said.
Venable's legal footwork somehow kept the lawsuit going. When he withdrew on October 6, 2000, the other plaintiffs picked up the slack. Eventually, a trial date was set for June 18, 2001. At the last minute, though, on June 4, their high hopes were dashed when Ashby granted Moyé's motion for summary judgment. The lawsuit had been snuffed.
Judged by her résumé, Lois Parrott is a natural candidate for public service. A native of Minnesota, the former Lois Muyskens moved to Texas and earned a master's degree from the University of North Texas in 1972. She met Bruce, a native Dallasite, in a UNT art class. "She happened to stand out," Bruce says. "She's honest and sincere, and that's what attracted me to her." In 1982, Parrott earned a doctorate in education at East Texas State University.
In the '70s, Parrott worked briefly as a teacher in DISD at Seagoville Middle School. Soon after, she joined the faculty of Richland College. For 25 years, she has taught humanities, which encompasses philosophy, literature and fine arts. A trumpet player who dabbles in photography and painting, she takes a special interest in school music programs and gives private lessons from her home. "Lois is a very thoughtful person with a great heart," says the Reverend Michael Jackson, pastor of White Rock United Methodist Church. "There's not a selfish bone in her body."
As the Parrotts' two children progressed through local schools, she became active in school PTAs. After her 1991 loss to incumbent Peavy, she served on the Dallas County School Board, an obscure body that coordinates school bus services. Five years later she got a big break: Peavy resigned after the release of secretly recorded tapes in which he made bigoted remarks.
Topping six challengers in a special election, Parrott won a February runoff election with 2,013 votes--about 500 more than Donna Wigley, a challenger endorsed by The Dallas Morning News. Running on a platform to support teachers and improve schools, she joined the school board during a period of intense racial tension. Parrott served through DISD's darkest days, including the Yvonne Gonzalez furniture scandal, New Black Panther Party disruptions of school board meetings and the Matthew Harden lawsuits.
In early 1998, Parrott alone opposed a $600,000 settlement with Harden, a former DISD chief financial officer who claimed board members were out to sabotage his career by alleging he committed fraud. The defamation lawsuits filed by Harden, who is black, polarized DISD along black-Hispanic lines; the settlement occurred shortly after then-Superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez, DISD's first Hispanic chief, was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison for buying personal furniture with DISD funds. Other trustees wanted to close the books on the stormy Gonzalez era and avoid bigger losses in court, but Parrott thought Harden's case lacked merit and urged further investigation into his affairs.
In less controversial territory, Parrott takes credit for spearheading funding to build Vickery Meadows Elementary in overcrowded Northeast Dallas (it opened in 1999). In 1997 and 2000, she handily won re-election, solidifying a base she continually buttresses with meetings and door-to-door canvassing. Initially, she voted to hire Bill Rojas and devoted an issue of her newsletter to welcoming him. But those sentiments quickly cooled, a shift coinciding with the board's increasingly sour relations with Rojas.
Citing a memo Parrott wrote him after several ritzy hotel dinners they shared, Rojas claimed Parrott was trying to trade her vote on his Edison Schools plan for promotion of her friend, staff assistant Becky Vestal, who has since died from cancer. He turned over to then-U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins a memo from Parrott demanding he negotiate with her on Vestal's promotion if he wanted her vote on Edison. (Coggins didn't act on the matter.) Parrott denies the allegation, but Tillotson argues the dispute fed a vendetta that eventually led to Rojas' ouster.
Parrott's version of the meetings is totally different. Her husband, Bruce, says Rojas courted Vestal for a promotion at Jose Plata's recommendation. The newsletter Vestal edited for Parrott impressed Plata, Bruce says. But Plata calls that story hogwash and typical of false stories that emanate from Parrott and a network of sycophants. "I had nothing to do with that newsletter," he says, "except be critical of it" because of its political tone. The newsletter featured several large pictures of Parrott, instead of the dry rehash of district happenings that board members usually send to constituents. "They have made up story after story. They even said I was working for Edison."
In an interview with the Observer at a Lake Highlands bagel shop, Parrott jumps in scattered fashion from topic to topic and rifles through a large bag of legal documents. On one hand, Parrott styles herself as the outsider fighting entrenched power. "The reason they want to call me an outsider is I follow the rules," she says defiantly. At the same time, Parrott denies she has become a pariah. "I'm a consensus builder," she says, a characterization that board colleagues dispute.
She criticizes the board's 1999 training under management consultant John Carver for muzzling individual action by trustees. Carver counseled the once-disputatious board to limit itself to setting broad policy and speaking as one to the superintendent, rather than attempting to micro-manage. Parrott was never sold on that prescription. "We can't be letting our neighborhoods go because of some need of getting along with everybody," she scoffs.
Meanwhile, the possibility of thousands in legal fees looms over her, but Parrott voices no regret. No schools in her district came under Edison management, she says, so "I was successful."
Parrott takes heart in Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's recent report. In an audit of DISD released in June, Rylander said the $34.5 million-a-year Edison contract and two other large contracts weren't "favorable to the district" and should be renegotiated. In Edison's case, Rylander critiqued yearly funding increases pegged to "vague" improvements in standardized test scores. But she didn't challenge the concept of outsourcing the management of schools, so her report seems irrelevant to Parrott's claim that the contract is illegal.
Right now, Parrott seems to be trying to wriggle out from under the fact that she filed a lawsuit at all. "It was a petition," she says, perhaps unaware that the two terms are interchangeable. In a memo sent to the Observer, she later continued: "The plaintiffs...were originally trying to just get a legal opinion on the legality of the 'language in the contract' and to seek a clarification of whether the Edison contract was an Educational Services Agreement or a Management Contract." An almost identical explanation appears in an anonymous June letter sent to the Observer from a group called "Concerned & Outraged Citizens of Dallas."
Semantic games, however, won't change the law. (Such postgame analysis also shows the perils of representing yourself in court.) DISD attorney Moyé notes that Parrott filed for declaratory judgment, a common type of lawsuit, and says Parrott could have avoided the possibility of being socked with legal fees. The rules concerning declaratory judgments state that "the court may award...reasonable and necessary attorney's fees."
Had Parrott done more research, she might have learned that petitioning the court for an injunction was a better strategy. Had she lost that way, Moyé says, no legal fees would have been assigned.
When Judge Ashby green-lighted the Edison contract, co-plaintiff Harry Trujillo was shell-shocked. "I wanted to cry," he says. "There is no justice in Dallas County for the little person."
Like the other plaintiffs, Trujillo says if DISD wins its fees he'll plead poverty. "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip," he says. Not to worry: Texas' lax forfeiture laws safeguard houses, cars and wages from collection by the legal victors. (Bank accounts are another story.) And some DISD trustees say if fees are assigned, the board may choose not to enforce the judgment. Still, Moyé says if Ashby assigns the fees he'll investigate the plaintiffs' assets.
Another plaintiff who doubts he'll fork over his share of $183,000 is the Reverend Stovall, pastor of Camp Wisdom United Methodist Church in southern Dallas. "I haven't taken a vow of poverty," he says. "I just don't have a lot of money."
An Atlanta native who once observed elections in apartheid-era South Africa, Stovall often gets involved in social-justice issues in Dallas. He says he joined the Edison lawsuit for a similar reason. "I thought it was morally wrong," he says, "for DISD to enter into a contract that costs $50 million [an earlier estimate of the Edison contract] when qualified staff exists" in DISD. The board's "main problem with Lois," he says, "is she's right and they're wrong."
Parrott has several adversaries on the board, but veteran school board member Hollis Brashear isn't one of them. He considers Parrott a war buddy: "She and I bore the brunt of Dr. Rojas while he was here." Brashear didn't join the Edison lawsuit, but the duo graces the files of another lawsuit, which is Rojas' parting gift to DISD.
Shortly after his dismissal in July 2000, Rojas contested his firing via the "good rapport" clause in his contract, which he claimed was vague and unenforceable. In December, outgoing state District Judge John Marshall declared it kosher. But one part of his lawsuit lives on: slander allegations against Parrott and Brashear.
Rojas alleges the two made false statements to the media that smeared his reputation and crushed his chances for top school jobs in New York City and Los Angeles. The suit recently survived a motion to dismiss brought by DISD and may go to trial in the next few months. Together with dubiously sourced letters linked to Parrott and documents showing harassment of DISD staff members, Rojas' testimony in the slander suit frames Parrott as a vindictive and manipulative official.
Although controversy had begun to dog Rojas in San Francisco after seven years leading that city's school system, he still came to DISD as an educational star. Rojas left Dallas under a dark cloud, though, after a brief, stormy tenure. Since getting booted from DISD, his luster has dimmed considerably. He now works as a senior vice president for Boston-based Advantage Schools Inc., a small for-profit management company similar to Edison.
But if his testimony in the case is truthful, it's tempting to think he got a raw deal in Dallas. It's as if Parrott created a mudstorm so huge, the resulting frenzy forced Rojas' ouster. Detailing his slander complaints in an affidavit, Rojas begins in November 1999, when Parrott and Brashear alleged he broke district policy and state law by using his DISD credit card to buy $126 in alcoholic beverages. The charges hit a sore spot for Rojas, who had been arrested twice in the past for drunken driving. Parrott and Brashear spoke to the media and demanded an investigation.
The story filtered up to The New York Times. Tillotson argues it created the image of a "roly-poly drunk, raucous Hispanic." But Rojas recalls buying drinks for Parrott and Vestal only "at Parrott's request." At a series of dinner meetings in fall 1999, Rojas says Parrott repeatedly requested that Rojas promote Vestal. "As a trustee, Parrott was technically my supervisor, and I followed her request that I pay for dinner and drinks at the Crescent Hotel," he said. Parrott adamantly denies drinking alcohol and says she didn't know anything about the credit card until later.
Eventually, DISD attorney Moyé's investigation exonerated Rojas, but only after a chain of recriminations was set in motion. Moyé concluded that while DISD policy precludes reimbursement for alcoholic beverages at business dinners, it didn't mean an individual couldn't submit personal funds to DISD to pay for alcohol.
Yet the Big Kahuna of the slander case is the notorious "Mafia Thug" packet, allegedly distributed by Parrott friend Dorothy Ellsworth to trustees at the June 2000 school board meeting.
Ellsworth, a retired teacher who's legally blind, denies she distributed material alleging Rojas had Mafia connections or a secret love child. Her packet, she says, was made up mostly of newspaper clippings. But Roxan Staff is certain Ellsworth gave her the "Thug" letter, which falsely alleges that "Dr. Rojas fathered the illegitimate son of a DISD employee." She doubts a blind woman wrote it and believes Parrott was involved. "Hearsay," responds Bruce Parrott. Lois Parrott denies any involvement and says she has never seen the letter.
Moyé, who is defending Parrott against this suit at the same time he is demanding she pay his Edison fees, says Parrott and Brashear have immunity as public officials to call for investigations into district affairs. And regardless, he says, Rojas cannot prove either made false statements knowingly, the legal standard for public officials. Likewise, he says, Rojas cannot prove Parrott directed distribution of the Ellsworth packet.
Still, similar shenanigans occurred recently when letters supporting Parrott's legal effort against DISD and Edison Schools were sent to trustees. Two lengthy missives dated June 16 and July 5 contain mostly complaints about Moye's handling of the Edison suit. The letters purport to be from Patricia Wilson of Andrea Lane in Dallas, named in one letter as "chairman, committee of concerned citizens from District 3," and in another as a "concerned taxpayer."
The Wilson letters feature a Dallas address but no phone number. But the address in Far East Dallas turned out to be that of Wilson's elderly father, James Stanton, who said his daughter rarely gets involved in civic affairs. "I don't think she even reads the paper," he said. Wilson, a graduate of Bryan Adams High School, insisted she wrote the letter, but otherwise declined comment. "I am much too busy to get on the phone right now," she said in a short message left on an answering machine.
It turns out Wilson was once the Parrotts' baby sitter, according to Wilson's ex-husband, Rick Lannoye. Questioned about the "concerned citizens" group, Parrott, who often says she knows District 3 backward and forward, responded by saying there are many community organizations in her district. Parrott claimed Wilson is technically a District 3 resident because she pays taxes at her father's Dallas house. But this isn't true. Wilson is registered to vote in Mesquite, and records show James Stanton owns the Andrea Lane house.
Bruce Parrott says his wife's enemies blame her for correspondence from others, including teachers who don't want their names known. "She doesn't have any control over someone else writing letters," Parrott says. Perhaps, but missives championing Lois and echoing her statements nearly verbatim have a way of popping up when Lois' interests are on the line.
Other internal DISD documents show a pattern of erratic and questionable behavior by Parrott. One recounted how DISD Board Secretary Suzanne Davidson caught Parrott leaving a closed-door meeting of the board with its attorney midsession to tell a television reporter what was going on inside. Davidson followed Parrott from the room and asked her to stop. In response, Parrott angrily threatened to file a state ethics complaint against Davidson but apparently never followed through.
Parrott also corrected an October 1999 memo from Davidson to Rojas for grammar and forwarded her corrections to Rojas. She wrote that Davidson "ended a sentence with a preposition" and used the word "manner" instead of "fashion" in a sentence. Davidson acknowledged the incidents but said they were in the past. Parrott insists she doesn't reveal information from executive sessions. She also says she doesn't want to trade accusations with district employees or officials.
Former Rojas communications chief Tomas Roman, who has since left DISD and couldn't be reached for this article, also had an acrimonious collision with Parrott. When a group of citizens who didn't sign up to speak at the February 2000 school board meeting weren't allowed to address the board, Parrott claimed Roman brushed the group off, telling them he didn't have "anything to do with the board."
In a letter to top district officials, Roman disputed that account. He said he helpfully explained board policies to the group and accused Parrott of embellishing her story with his reaction from an earlier dispute. The run-in occurred after Parrott got a "thumbs down" from The Dallas Morning News editorial page for using board funds to print her controversial newsletter sent to District 3 residents. Parrott demanded Roman issue a press release denying any error on her part. "I don't work for the board," he told her.
In a February 28, 2000, memo to Parrott, Roman recalled the incident: "Unfortunately for my staff you had already terrorized them for about 20 minutes before I arrived in my office...[Y]ou were screaming at them demanding they do something about those articles in the newspapers." Parrott didn't agree with Roman's version. "YOU ARE CLEARLY THE ONE WHO IS NOT TELLING THE TRUTH, MR. ROMAN," she wrote in a livid reply.
Why do Parrott's and Roman's recollections differ so vastly? The answer may lie in a June 27 deposition taken by attorney Jeff Tillotson in preparation for Rojas' slander lawsuit. Simply put, the interview revealed that Parrott's grasp of reality is perhaps less than concrete.
In the deposition, Tillotson recounted Roxan Staff's suspicion that Parrott masterminded the "Thug" letter and asked Parrott if Staff had ever lied to her. "Define lie," Parrott replied.
"Wait a minute now," an astonished Tillotson said, "you're on the board of trustees of the DISD, and you need me to tell you what a lie is?"
Pressed to define truth, Parrott said it's what's "in your own perception, what you think." Tillotson replied with another question: "So whatever your opinion is is the truth?"
"Not always," Parrott shot back. "Relative."
Flabbergasted, Tillotson continued: "That's what you believe, that truth is relative?"
"No, truth is truth," Parrott replied. "But it has to do with one individual's perception at a particular time."
Parrott embarked on a similar path when the Observer questioned her about her responses in the deposition. Staff doesn't have all the facts, Parrott argued, so she doesn't know she's lying. She also noted that different cultures and religions see truth differently.
But isn't a lie a lie no matter what? Pressed on the point, Parrott mixed existentialist philosophy with discursive babble. "Do you think I read Shakespeare the same way you do?" she asked. "Let's call a meeting. Tell your editors, your attorneys and the district's attorneys. I'll give a lecture on the lie, the history of the lie, perspective on the lie and historical, religious and political innuendoes of the lie."
In a few months, Tillotson will go down the rabbit hole again when Rojas' slander case is tried in court. If Parrott hadn't tried to get a promotion for her pal Vestal, Tillotson thinks a chain of caustic events might never have transpired. The implication: Rojas, despite poor relations with other board members besides Parrott and Brashear, might have remained superintendent.
"She played a particularly evil role because she sought [Rojas] out to advance her own particular agenda," Tillotson says. "When it fell apart, she went after him most viciously."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.