Fort Worth school board censures trustee, but one member calls it ‘personal vendetta’

The Fort Worth school board censured trustee Ashley Paz Tuesday after reviewing a complaint from a Daggett Montessori parent who accused her of meddling in campus management and trying to get the principal removed last year.

The school board voted 5-3 in favor of censuring Paz Tuesday. The vote came after a motion by Trustee Ann Sutherland. It followed a public hearing that took about three hours and included 10-minute presentations by the complainant, Heather Leaf, and Paz’s attorney, Lynn Rossi Scott.

“It was expected,” Paz said of the censure after the meeting. She denied the accusations and questioned how the grievance was reviewed.

“This has not been handled by the board the way it is prescribed by policy — by standard procedure,” Paz said. “We had a date in September to have this over with and they brought in this investigator and the entire thing was just not normal.”

The censure took place with the vote. It has no legal repercussions.

“A censure is the board expressing disapproval for certain actions,” Tobi Jackson, president of the school board, said after the meeting. Jackson and Sutherland were among trustees casting votes in favor of the censure.

“We heard a grievance filed by a district parent,” Jackson said in a statement. “We had a neutral and independent person conduct an investigation and findings were made.”

But Trustee Christene Moss, who voted against the censure, described the vote as a personal vendetta and criticized the board for taking the action.

“... Board trustees, you should not make decisions on personal vendettas,” Moss told the board before the vote. “You should make decisions on being a professional board trustee.”

Moss described the censure as part of a pattern of voting along personal lines, including earlier this year when the board voted to make Jackson president. Her concerns were echoed by Trustee Jacinto Ramos, who also questioned why the grievance was handled by an outside attorney hired by the board.

Jackson denied that board politics seeped into the grievance hearing.

“The report can and will speak for itself,” Jackson said. “The whole matter is unfortunate and I believe we will each move forward with our focus solely on student achievement and outcomes.”

Focus of a grievance

Grievance hearings are outlined in district policy and they typically involve school district staff. Often, they take place in closed session.

Asked if there have been similar proceedings against trustees in the past, spokesman Clint Bond responded: “To our knowledge there has never been a similar case of a formal parent grievance against a board member.”

However, a public censure of a trustee is not new for the school board. Sutherland was censured several years ago.

Paz was the focus of a grievance hearing because Leaf, a Daggett Montessori parent, filed a complaint questioning her role in a campus rift about the principal last year.

The grievance, filed Aug. 8, followed concerns last summer that the district would move Principal Veronica Delgado. Delgado, who remains at the helm of the campus, was both criticized and praised by parents about her leadership at the school.

Paz recused herself from the proceeding, which was characterized by much deliberation between the remaining board and board attorney Heather Castillo.

On Tuesday, several dozen people attended the hearing — supporters of Leaf and Paz.

The hearing took place largely in open session, but trustees entered into closed session several times to deliberate with Castillo. At one point the board voted to waive the privilege of the third-party investigative report that trustees requested. A copy of the report was not made available to the Star-Telegram on Tuesday evening.

Leaf described herself as a passionate supporter of services for students with dyslexia. She had been working to implement a reading program with support of the principal when she became aware of efforts to move her from the campus.

“I filed a grievance against Trustee Paz because I believe she improperly used her position as a school board trustee to remove the principal on our campus. In doing so, she impeded the educational advances of our most struggling students,” Leaf said before the hearing.

During the hearing, Leaf accused Paz of slandering the principal, parents and “anyone who does not agree with her.”

“Trustee Paz has abused her position by misusing confidential information, improperly influencing campus level management, giving misinformation to the press and much more,” Leaf told trustees. “Her conduct has harmed and continues to harm campuses — our campus both in delaying a reading program and injuring parent and teacher morale.”

Last summer, the campus atmosphere at Daggett Montessori was an ongoing concern — one that drove some parents to address the school board. While concerns covered different themes, they centered largely on potential school leadership changes being considered for the 2018-19 academic school year.

Some parents worried about a racial rift that emerged and a subsequent lack of action by the school administration. Others questioned whether the district’s proposed plan to move the principal was best for academics, including putting in a supplemental reading program that is now underway.

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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.