School for Scandal

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The memos usually came after Stiles denied Parker's requests for special programs and extra money for Project Excel. "Right away I would get a call from Richard Marquez, telling me to give her what she wanted," Stiles says. When Parker requested $2,000 for a special arts program for her students, Stiles said no. Later, he says, he learned the money came out of his budget anyway, without his signature but authorized by Marquez. (Parker says she dug up this money herself, from community grants.)

From Stiles' perspective, the trouble with Parker's methods was that 134 other teachers at the school had for years been denied more rudimentary items--like classroom space. "I had 37 floating teachers that year, people who had no room to call their own. They were carting piles of books around, sharing space with other teachers. Giving one teacher everything she asks, for what--100 or so students--seemed a little impossible by comparison."

Parker's tight relationship with Marquez developed with the help of Mary Ann Climer, a longtime Oak Cliff activist, who introduced them. Although they live in Oak Cliff's upscale Kessler Park neighborhood, well within Sunset's boundaries, Climer's three children attended the Booker T. Washington Magnet High School for the Performing Arts--widely considered one of the district's plum schools. And Climer's children were students of Rose Parker, who taught at the arts magnet from 1984 through August 1992.

For years, Climer has sat on various committees of Sunset parents and neighbors. Many teachers there know her, and value her ability to get things done. Climer takes credit--and Stiles applauds her--for greasing the wheels at DISD and getting seven new portable classrooms at Sunset last year.

But many faculty members view her as a busybody. "As my daddy in Oklahoma would say, Mary Ann Climer don't have no dog in that fight," says Sunset teacher Johnson. "Yet she's up here demanding and posturing and generally making it worse for people who are already working in a difficult situation."

Climer scoffs at such appraisals: "I guess your opinion of me depends on whether I'm reporting you for academic fraud or getting your school new portables.

"I live in the neighborhood, and those are my neighbors' kids. You know, I'm sitting here being an advocate for these Sunset parents, many of them don't even speak English, and I get criticized for it. These parents don't know how to work the system."

When Parker and Climer met again one year later at Sunset, they wasted no time in adding Leticia Mata to their ranks. Mata is clearly not one of those helpless parents Climer describes. She had learned how to work the system through her work since 1991 in Dallas Area Interfaith, the grass-roots social activism group made up largely of urban, minority churchgoers.

By July of 1994, Mata's oldest son, Eric, a Sunset senior, was enrolled in Parker's Project Excel. She frequently assisted Parker in and out of the classroom. One day, as she was sorting through the school's master schedule, helping search for potential Excel students, Mata stopped short. "We found these 1,400 placements of PAL. There isn't 1,400 of anything--not English I, not Algebra I. I was shocked."

Mata confronted Stiles about PAL at once. "He said that Ms. Ortiz had done the master schedule over the summer, and that everything was fine. He said he wouldn't change it. In fact, he defended it. I was upset, but I left it alone for a while. But I knew these kids were taking this course, and getting 100 for not even showing up.

"Everything I did over there I did for my kids," she says, describing her frequent clashes with Stiles. "After a while, the word was out at Sunset that 'she's a troublemaker, just trying to get information, so just close the doors.' It became a kind of game to keep me out."

Mary Ann Climer grew comparably upset. In separate letters, one in December 1994 to Marquez and one in January 1995 to his replacement, Mary Roberts, Climer complained of the bogus PAL classes.

In his deposition at the DISD investigation, Eric Walker, Sunset's English department chairman, called the PAL problem "an extraordinarily unfortunate result" of poor planning. But he also blamed the problems on the Project Excel teachers hired by Marquez, who "never operated for one moment as a member of the Sunset faculty.

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Holly Mullen