Tag Archives: AISD board of trustees

AISD board deserves a healthy roster of challengers

Political incumbents have gritted their teeth when I have said over the years that all of them deserves to be challenged at election time.

They usually ask, “Why should anyone challenge me if I’m doing a good job?” My answer usually goes something like this: “Because no one deserves a free ride when citizens are given the chance to offer themselves as a candidate for public office.”

The Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees is facing a potential plethora of challengers if enough residents want to challenge three incumbents who are up for re-election this year.

Heaven knows the board has earned the challenge, based on its performance in that controversial resignation of Amarillo High girls volleyball coach Kori Clements, who quit earlier this year citing parental interference in the way she was doing her job.

The board didn’t back the coach. Neither did the AISD administration, which answers to the board.

Friday is the final day for candidates to step up to challenge the incumbents whose terms are up this year: Jim Austin, Scott Flow and John Betancourt. Flow hasn’t yet declared his candidacy for re-election.

These incumbents need to be challenged. They need to answer for their non-action in the Clements matter. They need to explain why they dummied up. They must be held to account for the shabby treatment that befell the coach of a vaunted high school athletic program.

They should be challenged even if they were doing a good job. I am sorry to conclude that this bunch has fallen short.

Potential tumult awaits officials in Amarillo

A still-small part of me wishes I could settle into a ringside seat in Amarillo, Texas — where I used to live — to watch what might be a burgeoning political tumult involving two elected governing boards.

One of them is the Amarillo City Council, the other is the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Under the city charter, all five council seats are up for election in odd-numbered years. In 2017, voters elected an entirely new council, which had been roiled in dispute, tension and dissension.

The city has continued its march toward a serious economic revival in the two years since the new council took office. The council did manage to ensnare itself in a controversy involving policies governing public comment at public council meetings. I am not sure whether that tempest has subsided entirely.

Were I to vote in Amarillo, I likely would cast my ballot in favor of returning all the incumbents, if all them run for re-election. That cannot happen, as I now live in Collin County. However, I retain a considerable interest in Amarillo politics. It’s tough to shake it off after living there for 23 years, spending most of that time on post at the Amarillo Globe-News.

The Amarillo ISD board, though, is facing an entirely different circumstance. Three board members’ seats are up this year. AISD voters have a chance to select three new board members. It is my strong hunch they’ll have that chance, given the mess that has been stirred up on the board.

You might know the story. I’ll recap it briefly. An Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach, Kori Clements, quit her job after a single season. She walked away from one of the state’s most storied high school athletic programs, citing what she called parental interference; she also stated publicly that the AISD administration –and the school board — did not have her back.

It gets complicated. The allegedly offending parent reportedly is a member of the school board, who clearly should know better than to meddle in the work of a school district employee. That board member’s seat is not one of the three seats to be decided this year. Her term ends in 2021.

My equally strong hunch is that the three seats to be contested are likely to change hands, given the school board’s stone-cold silence on the coach’s resignation or on the issue that allegedly brought it about.

To be sure, I’ll be watching from afar. I simply hope for wisdom and discernment among voters when they go to the polls later this year. This election could be one for the books.

Upcoming school district election might portend big change

I am not normally a betting guy. I mean, I don’t even play any form of the Texas Lottery.

However, I am beginning to sense from distance away that the upcoming Amarillo Independent School District board of trustees election is going to be a barn-burner.

Three trustees are up for re-election later this year, but they are entering a campaign season fraught with questions — and a good bit of anger — among AISD constituents. Many voters appear to be steamed at the way the board handled the resignation of a popular high school girls volleyball coach and the circumstances reportedly surrounding it.

Kori Clements quit her Amarillo High School coaching job. She cited parental influence as the reason for her resignation. The school board has remained silent on the issue. Trustees got an earful from constituents the other evening. Then they accepted Clements’ resignation without comment.

Oh, and one of the trustees — Renee McCown — reportedly is the offending parent who hassled, harangued and harassed Clements over playing time policies involving one of McCown’s children.

McCown is not one of the candidates who will stand for re-election this year; her term expires in 2021. I hope to be able to hear how she might campaign for re-election in two years if she decides to run for another term.

Meanwhile, seats occupied by trustees Jim Austin, Scott Flow and John Betancourt are up for election this year. They, too, will have some explaining to do. They’ll need to justify — again, assuming they all run for new terms on the board — their decision to clam up publicly about a resignation that captured the community’s attention. I get that it’s a long-standing AISD policy to not comment on personnel matters. My sense, based on my attendance at the recent AISD board meeting, is that voters likely won’t care about policy; they likely might demand direct answers to direct questions.

Here’s a question that might get posed to candidates as they run for election to the board: Do you believe the school system has provided sufficient support for its educators, the individuals that the community entrusts to care for our children while they are attending public schools?

Kori Clements said she didn’t get it from the administration, or from the school board while she sought to fend off a hectoring parent.

Amarillo voters have been known to clean house on their governing bodies when circumstances merit it. They did it in 1989 when they replaced virtually the entire City Commission; the city’s economic condition drove voters to rebel against the status quo at City Hall. They did so again in 2017 when they replaced the entire City Council, some of whose members engaged in open sniping and quarreling with senior city administrators.

Amarillo’s public school system well might face a similar uprising — this year and in 2021.

Prediction: AISD’s coaching pain will linger

We’ve returned home after a wonderful but brief return to the Texas Panhandle.

I am left with this lingering feeling about what I have witnessed regarding the stunning resignation of a high school volleyball coach: The Amarillo Independent School District’s athletic community is going to be in pain for perhaps beyond the foreseeable future.

Kori Clements quit after a single season as head coach of the Amarillo High girls volleyball team. It is a vaunted sports program. Clements is one of its star products, graduating from AHS in 2006. She played under a coaching legend, Jan Barker, and returned to succeed her mentor when Barker retired.

It didn’t go well, according to the letter that Clements submitted announcing her resignation. She said she is leaving because of pressure exerted by a parent of one of her athletes. The parent allegedly said her daughter deserved more playing time and Clements implied in her resignation letter that the parent made it impossible for her continue as coach. I heard some testimony this week about the parent allegedly calling on the coach unannounced at her home to, um, discuss this playing time matter.

What’s worse is the chatter about the parent, who apparently is a member of the AISD board of trustees. Her name is Renee McCown. Where I come from, the school system is witnessing a serious abuse of power by an elected official over a school district faculty member.

It is an unconscionable circumstance. The athletic community is hurting. Several AISD constituents displayed their pain earlier this week at a school board meeting. I listened to them express their angst — even anger and disgust — at the lack of support given to the coach who, if you heard the testimony from some of the athletes who played for her, is a beloved figure.

The pain won’t dissipate soon. It might have been exacerbated when the school board accepted Clements’ resignation with no comment. There was no public expression of support for her, or public expression of regret over the circumstance she said precipitated her resignation.

I feel sad at this moment for my former Texas Panhandle neighbors. I’ll keep watching this matter continue to evolve from some distance. I just know that the wounds are deep and painful.

Trustees should have looked at those who scolded them

AMARILLO, Texas — I cannot get past a bit of body language I observed Tuesday night at the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting.

I watched several AISD constituents stand before the board to offer public comment on the issue that brought them to the school district board room in the first place. They sought to speak to the board about the sudden and shocking resignation of Kori Clements, the head volleyball coach at Amarillo High School. Clements quit citing pressure she received from an AISD parent who didn’t like the lack of playing time her daughter was getting from the coach.

Some of the constituents who stood before the board spoke in tones that reminded me of a scolding you would get from your mom or dad. Many of the trustees never looked up from the dais where they sitting. They didn’t look their scolding constituents in the eye.

When Mom chewed me out when I was a kid, she usually would instruct me to “look at me when I’m talking to you!” I also had this annoying tendency to smirk when Mom scolded me, which prompted her to tell me to “wipe that smirk off your face or else I’ll wipe it off for you.” 

My point is that Mom demanded respect when she thought I messed up. I needed to show that respect by looking her in the eye.

I couldn’t help but think of what an AISD constituent might have said to trustees — particularly the one trustee who is believed to be the cause for Coach Clements’ resignation — while he or she was lecturing the board about the merits of offering total support for the school district’s educators.

It might go something like this: Ladies and gentlemen of the board, I am here to talk to you tonight about the resignation of a highly respected coach who has stated that she didn’t get the support she deserved from the board and the administration. She said she was pressured to do the “politically correct” thing . . . 

Oh, and by the way, I would appreciate it very much, board members, if you would look at me while I am talking to you. This is serious stuff and I think you owe it to me — as a taxpaying constituent whose money pays for this school system — to look me in the eye while I am addressing you.

I would bet you real American money that constituent would have received a standing ovation from the crowd that had crammed into the meeting room.

The trustees — especially the one who is believed to have pressured Kori Clements to quit her job after one season — most surely could have shown their “bosses” more respect than they did Tuesday night.

How? Just look ’em in the eye when they’re speaking!

Amarillo is showing how it is so ‘tightly bound’

The beans apparently have been spilled over the identity of the parent who harassed Amarillo High School girls volleyball coach Kori Clements enough to make her quit a plum coaching job after just one season.

Renee McCown, that would be you. Or so it appears.

Oh, brother. This is likel to get ugly. You see, McCown is a member of the Amarillo Independent School District Board of Trustees. It’s bad enough that a meddlesome parent would feel the need to hassle and harass a coach over the decisions the coach makes about giving her athletes playing time. Coach Clements quit because the parent griped incessantly that her daughter wasn’t getting time on the floor during volleyball matches.

The school board is meeting Tuesday. The chatter I’m getting from afar is that many in the community are outraged over the treatment of the coach. The outrage deepens because the person responsible for the messy treatment happens — allegedly — to be someone who most certainly should know better.

That the source of the harassment would be a school board trustee makes this matter even worse than it otherwise would be.

Every now and then you hear about elected officials meddling in administrative matters or worse, in the work of employees who report to the administrators. At City Hall, you might get a council member interfering in, say, police work, going over the head of the city manager and the chief of police. Don’t misunderstand: I am not saying that has happened in Amarillo; I use that example merely to illustrate a point.

School trustees make a single hire: that would be the superintendent. As chief administrator, the superintendent hires all the administrative staffers who report directly to the top person.

In the military, they call it the “chain of command.” One does not dare break that chain by going over and around the people who are responsible for those under their direct supervision.

If what I understand has happened in the relationship between an AISD school trustee and a highly respected high school volleyball coach is true, then we have a serious case of malfeasance — on the part of the trustee — on our hands.

One of two things ought to happen quickly. The trustee needs to apologize publicly and pledge to never interfere again. Or that person needs to resign from public office.

Look far and wide for new superintendent, AISD

I’ll have more to say later about Rod Schroder, who today announced his retirement as Amarillo Independent School District superintendent.

Today, though, I want to say that AISD’s loss is huge. Schroder devoted 40 years to public education and served the school district with utmost distinction and honor. He’ll be missed greatly.

Now, about his successor.

I’ve long been a fan of nationwide searches for a job this important, this critical. A lot of public institutions in Amarillo and the Panhandle seem to flinch at the notion of looking outside the region — or even outside existing staff — to find chief executive officers.

Schroder was promoted from within AISD when he took the helm. Yes, he’s done a great job.

What’s more, there might be a capable assistant superintendent already waiting in the wings. The board of trustees will make a key decision in fairly short order on how to proceed.

My own recommendation is that it put the word out through professional journals, websites and other outlets to let the U.S. education network know that this job is about to become vacant.

A national search gives the school board a wide range of options, giving trustees a healthy list of candidates from which to choose. They’ll bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and perhaps an innovation or two that no one here has considered.

Good luck, AISD trustees. You’ve got a big void to fill.

Let’s get busy.