Michael Hinojosa Kicks Off His Return to DISD with a Sleazy Step Backward

The new Dallas school superintendent, Michael Hinojosa, could have done a lot of things to signal he was the new sheriff in town. Reform the teacher pay system. Look at testing. The enemies of the old one, Mike Miles, claimed they were mad about everything, so Hinojosa had everything to choose from.

So what does Hinojosa choose for his first emblematic act to get the Miles critics off his back? A human sacrifice. He fires Tonya Sadler Grayson, the woman the Miles-haters used as their personal voodoo stick-pin doll to get at Miles.

In firing Grayson, Hinojosa sucked up to the teachers’ unions, southern Dallas school board members, The Dallas Morning News editorial board and Brett Shipp at WFAA Channel 8, all of whom had built an absurd case against Grayson based on lies and deliberate misreading of school district policy, totally ignoring the egregious persecution of Grayson by a school board member, which is where all of this started.

Hinojosa could not have chosen a sleazier way to begin.

Grayson was the target of an internal investigation by an outfit within the school district bureaucracy with a long history as the unprincipled political operatives of certain school board members. In fact, in the introduction to its findings, the investigative report on Grayson makes multiple references to complaints the investigators had received about her from trustee Bernadette Nutall.

You may or may not remember that former Superintendent Miles and Nutall got into it a couple years ago. Mid-level district managers were complaining to their superiors that Nutall was showing up on campuses, threatening dire consequences if they carried out Miles’ program of reforms as directed by their own bosses.

Grayson, an executive hired by the Miles regime to a position in the personnel department, made her own pointed complaint about Nutall directly to Miles. In a letter to Miles, Grayson said Nutall had accosted her in a corridor during a board meeting at which Nutall upbraided her for her role in firing several employees caught in a sports recruiting scandal.

Grayson, who is black, said that Nutall, who is black, accused her of being a traitor to her race. Grayson said Nutall told her, “You are one of them.” She said Nutall later called her “a trick” [a whore] and said, “You must not hang out in the hood. ... You ain’t black. You are one of Miles’ people.”

Miles is black. An especially vicious recurring theme among Miles’ black southern Dallas critics is that he and anyone who supports him is an Uncle Tom.

Try to imagine any organization you know of in which a board member could attack an employee in front of people, call her a whore, insult her based on her race and get away with it. And yet not one word of Nutall’s alleged behavior enters the investigative report on Grayson, only Nutall’s complaints that Grayson did not answer her demands for information and documents quickly enough.

Instead, the core of the investigation — like the echoing one-sided reports on Channel 8 — is an incident that has been used to paint Grayson as someone who, in the words of Brett Shipp, “covered up her criminal past.”

The criminal past referred to in the 57-page investigative report is this: When Grayson was 19 and a student, she defaced (wrote on) a door that belonged to another female student who was a competitor for the affections of a young man. She was convicted of a misdemeanor and paid a $400 fine.

In November of 2013 the school district interviewed seven candidates for a position in personnel just under the department head. The candidate who later was rated first on the list, a man who lived in Rhode Island, turned the job down because the $140,000 salary wasn’t enough. Grayson, who was next on the list, accepted the job even though it was a cut in pay from her last position.

Parenthetically, may I interject a note here for all of the Miles-haters who so glibly denounced his executive staff as vastly overpaid? What the district was offering these people was as close to the national market rate for them as it could afford — not enough to draw the first-place candidate in this case.

When Grayson went through the hiring process, she filled out a form on which she checked “no” next to a question about whether she had ever been convicted of a crime. She said later she had gone through background checks elsewhere in which the teenage door-defacement incident had not shown up, and she thought maybe it was gone or lost from her record.

Some weeks later and after she had started work, a report came back with the door thing on it. Her boss, Carmen Darville, asked her about it. Grayson never tried to fake it. She immediately told Darville all about the door.

As it happens, the district has a policy called “DBAA-LOCAL” to deal with precisely this situation: Job hire checks “no” on criminal question on form, goes to work, background check comes back later with a hit for criminal issue. Now what?

In fact I have it on very good authority that within the last year alone the district saw roughly 100 of these cases, two-thirds of whom were subsequently approved for continued employment. How?

The reasoning of the policy is pretty straightforward. If the criminal background hit is for something minor and deep in the past, never repeated, never part of a subsequent pattern, then, depending on the job for which the person has been hired, the district can elect to overlook it. On the other hand, if it was a sexual offense involving children and the person is being hired to teach, or if it’s any kind of theft at all and the person is being hired to handle money, then the person is bounced, no more questions.

The decision to forgive or not forgive the wrong check-box obviously is not made by or in any way in the hands of the person being hired. In this case, Darville decided the door-writing incident about the boyfriend when Grayson was 19 was not now, decades later, a firing offense.

The door defacement incident was only dug up — it only became an issue — because the political hench-person Nazis in the Office of Professional Responsibility, goaded as they admit in their report by Nutall, were looking for some kind of gotcha to hang Grayson with as a way to get at Miles.

And, really, let’s think about it. What kind of world would this be if some little Inspector Clouseau mustachioed son-of-a-bitch digs through your file and finds out you did a wrong check-box on the form? And that’s it? You’re ruined?

That’s obviously why the district has a policy that affords discretion and a little bit of judgment. Far from the scenario painted by the Miles-haters — some kind of clueless revel at school headquarters in which the district showered riches on undeserving villains — the school district was competing nationally, not always successfully, to hire top people.

They considered Grayson a top person. You don’t go through all that searching and interviewing and wooing, get a top person and then say, “Sorry, you’re out, because a board member said you weren’t really black and then a little mustachioed son-of-a-bitch found out you did a wrong check-box.”

Again, the decision to keep Grayson was not made by Grayson. It was made by her boss in conformity with district policy. So how do you justify firing her and subjecting her to public humiliation for doing what she was told to do — her job?

There are other chapters in the Grayson story. Criminal assault charges were brought against her, still pending, for an incident in which she and a school district police officer stopped a fired employee from leaving the building with school district property. The police officer said Grayson did nothing wrong and confirmed the employee was trying to make off with district property. The charges appeared later from a cop in the Dallas Police Department who saw none of it.

The investigative report goes on and on, basically dredging through endless inside school district gossip to make a case against Grayson for “bullying” her subordinates. “Bullying” by managers is a charge invented and introduced as a school district issue by trustee Nutall in her campaign against Miles, whom she accused of being a bully.

I have had bosses who were bullies. I think we called them assholes. I always thought if your boss was an asshole and you couldn’t stand it you had to go look for a job elsewhere. I never knew it was against the law. I guess it is at DISD according to Judge Nutall.

Tonya Grayson is an example of the very worst most egregious kind of collateral damage inflicted by our decades-long blood-letting over the public schools. An innocent respectable person with solid credentials is wooed here to work for the schools and instead gets fed to the lions before a cheering coliseum.

One of the milder arguments put forward for firing Grayson before Hinojosa got here — and somehow therefore more insidious — came from the keyboard of Mike Hashimoto on the Morning News editorial board, a guy I usually agree with and admire. He said she was just too much trouble, and it would therefore be reasonable and accommodating of Miles to toss her overboard. Miles’ refusal, Hashimoto suggested, was an index of his stubbornness.

“At some point,” he wrote, “doesn’t someone in charge at DISD have to wonder whether Tonya Grayson is worth all the grief and potential liability?”

The day will come when we will grieve losing a superintendent who had the backbone and the integrity not to do a thing he knew to be wrong just to make his own bed softer. I fear we just got the opposite type as his replacement.
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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze