Kids say Fort Worth school district owes them money for work

07/29/2014 4:05 PM

07/29/2014 10:25 PM

Dozens of African-American parents stormed the Fort Worth school district offices Tuesday claiming that their children were not paid for janitorial work they performed at schools under a contract with a local minister.

Kyev Tatum, minister at Harmony Missionary Baptist Church, said the school district has violated its contract with him to provide a program encouraging inner-city youth to become productive citizens. He said that under an agreement with the school district, about 100 youngsters mopped floors, wiped windows and performed other custodial duties over a 15-day period.

“We refuse to embrace the history of this district of treating people of color this way,” Tatum said after a meeting of more than 70 parents at district offices on University Drive.

“We are being demonized for creating something that is helping our kids get better,” Tatum said.

School district officials said Tatum was told not to implement the program after a May 26 meeting with several district officials, including former Superintendent Walter Dansby, who resigned June 2. On May 27, the district sent Tatum an email explaining that the district could not support the program, district officials said.

Tatum acknowledged receipt of the email, according to records provided to the Star-Telegram by the school district. Late on June 2, he wrote: “Wow, how do we fund it?”

Again on July 27, district administrator Art Cavazos wrote in an email to Tatum: “As my May 27th email notified you, the program was not approved in particular to your request to administer the program.”

Tatum’s program seemed worthy, but the district had concerns about underaged worker safety and liability concerns, district officials said Tuesday. In addition, it was determined in May that the maintenance department could not fund the program.

“We’re caught in the middle now,” spokesman Clint Bond said. “We have someone who unfortunately proceeded with the program that he was advised not to do and now we are in the position of telling us that we owe these children more money than we pay our own part-time people.”

Tatum said the district owes him $70,000 to pay the students, many of whom attend Trimble Tech High School. Parents of the students said the children were promised $8.25 an hour.

Bond said the children are owed a total of about $60,000. Tatum is charging a $10,000 administration fee, Bond said.

Diamond Cooper, a 16-year-old Trimble Tech student, said he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t paid for working as part of the Good Hand Crew, as Tatum’s program is called.

“I felt like we worked for no reason,” Cooper said. “It’s crazy not getting paid.”

Parents say the students, mostly teenagers, logged up to 7,000 hours over 15 days at 17 campuses.

Roshonda Green, a custodian at Trimble Tech, said her daughter woke her at 5:45 a.m. to get ready. She said students swept floors, cleaned tables and mowed lawns.

“These kids worked hard,” Green said. “It was wonderful to see.”

After the initial discussion, about 20 parents gathered in the district’s cafeteria, and around noon Tatum told the group he had been informed the board was going to have a special board meeting to address the issue.

The date of the meeting had not been established, he said. Bond said he didn’t know of any meeting as of Tuesday afternoon.

He also said Tatum has a contract with the school district to operate a different mentorship program supported by federal and district funds.

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