They Walk by Night

I hear that scary drum roll starting. That means the people down at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Dallas Independent School District must be all loaded up and spit-curled, top hats buffed, fresh coat of paste wax on the cannon, just about ready to shoot another superintendent at us.

Look, we really do need to crawl out from under the bleachers, peek through our fingers for a terrifying split second, and try to decide what kind of person we hope to see coming at us. We're a big city. We should have higher expectations than, "Please don't hurt us."

Whoever it's going to be, the big question is the same: Can he or she survive the first day? In fact, if we think a little about what the new superintendent will face coming in, we may get a better idea what kind of person we need.

For one thing, all of the old devils are still lurking in the details of the DISD organizational chart. Nobody ever really leaves DISD, or, if they do, they all come back in a hail of bad pennies.

How far into the past do you want to go? Rosita Apodaca, for example, left the district back in the mid-1990s. You remember Superintendent Chad Woolery, the one who left to go to work for a company that wanted to do major business with the district? While he was with the circus, he passed over Apodaca for a job that news accounts said would have made her "the school district's highest-ranking Hispanic." Soon after that, she left.

Obviously you remember Superintendent Waldemar Rojas, the one who was recently cashiered. While he was in the center ring, he resurrected Apodaca from exile to head the district's special education department. Sources both inside and outside that department, speaking to me on background, have described Apodaca's return as, "She's baaaack! (And she's really mad at us.)"

For a year Apodaca waged a bureaucratic war of annihilation on her own department, evicting people from their offices, stripping whole cadres of their duties, shipping people to cubbyholes all over town. Finally, with the ranks of the district's professional diagnosticians decimated, with all of the student history files dumped in inaccessible storage rooms, state officials grew concerned that the special education department may have lost the ability to meet minimum federal and state requirements under the law.

Last February, the Texas Education Agency sent a special monitor to Dallas to assess just how badly Apodaca had bombed out the department. I will share some of the monitor's reports with you in a moment. But first, my point is that Apodaca is not gone.

Soon after his appointment, Acting Superintendent Robert Payton ($190,000 a year) did put her on full-time administrative leave (at $178,288 a year). I tried to call her. The phone company's recording says that her number has been "temporarily disconnected." People in the public information office at DISD told me they had "no idea" how to reach her.

But rest assured: She is on the payroll, and she may well be there with arms out-stretched for a big warm hug when the new super appears. How do I know that? Because nobody at DISD ever really goes away, and eventually everybody returns like Lazarus. Lazarus, Ph.D., as a matter of fact.

You remember Yvonne Gonzalez, right, the superintendent who was sent to the pokey for buying Chinese furniture with school district funds? She's no longer at DISD, obviously, but her husband is: Chris Lyle is on the payroll at $47,547 a year plus $1,404 in annual car allowance, as an investigator for the district.

Gonzalez's public relations man, Robert Hinkle, who some people thought helped make Gonzalez what she is, works for DISD as a "specialist IV for Area 9" (p.r. guy), garnering an annual salary of $77,668 plus $1,404 in car allowance.

Hinkle's successor, Jon Dahlander, who shepherded Interim Superintendent Jim Hughey (collecting $98,877 a year) through his brief tenure, is buried in the stack but surviving as "special events coordinator," at an annual pay of $110,000 plus $3,228 for car.

I'm sure you remember Shirley Ison-Newsome of potty-gate fame. As the Dallas Observer was reporting all of the really bad stuff about former Superintendent Gonzalez and her Chinese furniture fetish, Gonzalez's top people spread the word that the truly bad and terrible person at DISD was Ison-Newsome, because, according to the Gonzalezites, Ison-Newsome had redone her school district office suite with two toilets instead of one.

Ison-Newsome is at DISD, making $110,000 plus $2,877 a year as superintendent of Area 2. I don't know why she shouldn't be. She proved that the whole potty-gate deal was a sham to deflect attention from Chinese furniture-gate. But ponder this: Ison-Newsome is suing Hinkle, Dahlander, and some other folks over their roles in potty-gate, and that case is before the Texas Supreme Court.

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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