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Fort Worth school board selects its first black president

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FORT WORTH -- In a move that stunned and angered some school trustees Tuesday night, longtime Trustee T.A. Sims was elected board president, ousting Juan Rangel, whom trustees had elected to the post in February.

The vote was 5-4 for Sims, who became the Fort Worth school district's first African-American board president. Christene Moss, also black, was elected vice president.

The district's first black school superintendent, Walter Dansby, was selected in January.

Trustee Tobi Jackson nominated Sims, Moss and Judy Needham as secretary. Trustee Norm Robbins joined them in voting for the slate.

Trustees Carlos Vasquez, Ann Sutherland, Rangel and Joe Ralph Martinez Jr., the newest trustee, voted no.

Jackson, Needham, Robbins and Sutherland are Anglo.

Vasquez nominated Rangel to continue as president, Sims for vice president and Sutherland for secretary, but his motion failed.

Vasquez was visibly upset that Rangel was ousted and that no Hispanic was elected as an officer. He noted that 60 percent of the Fort Worth student population is Latino.

"Shame on you, Tobi Jackson," Vasquez said, "for denying the Latino community a president of our own. Obviously this is politics. I thought we were past that. And Dr. Sims, shame on you, too.

"I see this as a betrayal to the Latino community. Time after time with your votes, you prove you'd rather be Judy Needham's talking piece than do the right thing for voters."

Jackson responded that although "Dr. Vasquez feels very strongly, his comments are wrong. I serve 83,000 students and 11,000 employees."

She said that ethnicity had no bearing on her motion but that seniority did. Sims is the longest-serving trustee, having been first elected in 1983. Moss was elected in 1990 and Needham in 1996.

"These are the longest-serving board members," Jackson said. "Mr. Rangel served well."

Changes at the top

After then-President Ray Dickerson resigned in December, Rangel became acting president. Rangel was formally selected president by the board in February, the first minority to hold that position. Until then, the board presidency had been an at-large position elected by voters.

Even though it had been only three months since Rangel was elected, the board was required to choose a new president Tuesday night because, in the meantime, Martinez was appointed to fill a vacancy on the board. State law requires that new officers be selected when a new member joins a board.

Fort Worth voters historically elected Anglo board presidents, and all but one of them were men. In recent years, the vice presidency has alternated between Hispanics and African-Americans because of a long-standing "gentlemen's agreement" reached after lawsuits stemming from representation on the board.

"I have always had a desire to be president, but I had no real idea that that opportunity would come along," Sims said. "I will do the best I can."

Previous agreement?

Sutherland said that she doesn't have strong feelings about who serves as officers, but that before Tuesday's meeting, she thought all trustees had agreed among themselves who would be the officers -- and they weren't the three elected.

"I do feel that when board members make agreements among themselves, that their character should be sufficient that they keep those agreements," Sutherland said.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, LULAC and other Hispanic organizations have scheduled a reception for May 23 to honor Rangel for being elected president in February.

Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700

Twitter: @fwstayala

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