Tablet Opinion

Ill-advised student work program took advantage of youths and district

Scores of parents and students protested at the Fort Worth school administration building Tuesday over what has turned out to be a major misrepresentation by the protest organizer, who took advantage of students and the district.

The Rev. Kyev Tatum staged the demonstration at district offices, with invited media representatives to observe, to demand $70,000 in payment for custodial work he said the students had done at several school campuses this summer.

His Good Hands Crew program, designed to give youths work experience to “improve employability skills and behavior outcomes,” had requested that the district approve and fund the initiative by paying the student workers $8 per hour and awarding Tatum a $10,000 administrative fee.

A May 27 email from district administrator Art Cavazos told Tatum that a review with then-Superintendent Walter Dansby and the assistant superintendent for business and finance determined that the program would not be funded.

Tatum, who acknowledges receipt of the email, again was told June 2 at a special board meeting that the program was not approved. He wrote back to Cavazos: “Wow, how do we fund it?”

Yet Tatum implemented the program anyway, reportedly having the students work at 17 campuses over 15 days, chalking up about 7,000 hours. Parents say the students were promised $8.25 an hour, which comes to almost $60,000.

How kids could work in several schools without proper district oversight and accountability is still being investigated, district spokesman Clint Bond told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board. He said interim Superintendent Pat Linares, who sees the kids as victims, will talk to school board President Norman Robbins to see if a board discussion should be added to a future meeting.

The solution, Bond said, might be to pay students all or part of the money they were offered for their work.

Regardless of what the board decides, it should be clear that the school district owes students nothing, because there was never a contract and Tatum was told not to proceed.

It was Tatum who made promises. He owes the students money, and he owes them and the district an apology.