Outside the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees meeting last night, more than a dozen protesters carried signs decrying the $1.35-billion bond proposal and DISD leadership. “F! The sign speaks for itself,” said Pete Peterson, pictured above. “The audit doesn’t look good for the district, and that doesn’t look good for the children.”
But inside Ross Avenue HQ, all was calm: The much-delayed audit and the troubling sneak peek provided to district officials Wednesday by outside auditor Deloitte and Touche weren't even mentioned by the trustees. And only late in the meeting did one trustee finally address concerns over how much dough top DISD officials are making off the district via lucrative contracts.
But nearly every person who spoke during the public forum portion of the meeting asked some variation of the one question that's on most observers' minds: “We want accountability and we need to see where the money went before we vote. How can we vote yes before then?”
During the individual board members’ reports at the close of the meeting, Carla Ranger read from a prepared statement: “Conflict of Interest of Board President Jack Lowe.” She referred to last Sunday’s Dallas Morning News piece that popped the top on the millions of dollars in district contracts awarded to companies whose execs hold top leadership positions in DISD. She cited the “ethical cloud hanging over this Dallas ISD board and its current president.” She spoke about the difference between something being legal and being ethical.
During Ranger’s speech, trustee Nancy Bingham interrupted her; Ranger was having none of it: “Excuse me, I have the floor!” she said, continuing her speech. Jerome Garza smirked and shook his head as she spoke. Lowe responded much as he did in The News story, insisting he wasn't about to walk away from all that money.
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Lowe, speaking last, made no further mention of the story. And he barely addressed the audit or Wednesday's preview, which prompted Lowe to say the audit's delay was due not to any criminal behavior, but a simple “lack of competency."
“We’re all disappointed we don’t have the audit done," he said."But we’ll have it done when it gets done."
He assured the audience that the next audit will be completed on time: “We’ll have a plan in place to fix the things that need fixing.” Of course, next year there won’t be such a hefty bond proposal relying so heavily on the audit's findings -- which, by all accounts, will be messy.
“I urge your support …," Lowe begin at the meeting's end. Then he caught himself. "Well, I probably can’t do that here. But I’d appreciate if you vote for the bond package.” --Daniel Rodrigue