Tag Archives: Beaumont ISD

Taking a gamble with building names?

Princeton’s public school system is in the midst of presenting a bond issue to voters in this North Texas community that they hope will result in the addition of several new campuses to the burgeoning school district.

What’s more, a citizens committee charged with working out the details of the $797 million bond package has come up with names for all the campuses under consideration.

That leads me to this point: The Princeton school district is going to name the buildings after living, breathing individuals. Why is that kinda strange? Because I believe it’s a bit of a risk any governing entity takes when they name permanent structures after fallible, living human beings.

You see, the district is going to hope that individuals being honored in this manner do not mess up and make the district regret inscribing the individuals’ names on the walls of these structures.

For many years I have taken a dim view of this practice. I’ve actually seen it backfire. For example, the Beaumont Independent School District put the name of a former superintendent on a football stadium, only to take it down after it was revealed that the superintendent had run the school system into financial ruin.

I know of some school systems that name buildings after long-deceased historic figures, or even after physical characteristics within the community, you know, names like Mesquite, or Evergreen, or Canyons … get it?

I am not predicting anything of the sort that occurred in Beaumont will occur in Princeton ISD. The names being proposed belong to stellar individuals who have contributed much to the life of the community.

I am just saying, though, that no one is perfect … you know?


Time of My Life, Part 23: Welcome to the ‘catbird seat’

I grew up in Oregon. A career opportunity beat on my door in late 1983. The knock on the other side of that door came from a former boss of mine, Ben Hansen, who had gone on to become executive editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

I had been a full-time journalist for about seven years when Hansen called with an offer for me to come to Texas to interview for a job as an editorial writer for the Enterprise.

He told me over the phone that Beaumont was a fabulous “news town,” that there was much happening there and that as editorial writer, I would be perched in the “catbird seat” from which I could comment on the issues of the day.

Hansen hired me and I started working there in April 1984.

Ben Hansen was so very correct about Beaumont, about the liveliness of the news there.

My culture shock was fairly profound as I packed up from the community I knew well, Portland, and headed for a whole new environment. Beaumont was a world away from what I knew. Adding to the stress of that change was the absence of my wife and my still-young sons; they stayed behind while my wife sought to sell our house. They joined me later that summer, just in time for the start of the school year.

However, a couple of things happened to relieve me of the stress of being without my family.

One was the amazing pace of news that unfolded that spring. Beaumont is a racially diverse community, roughly 50 percent white and 50 percent black. The first month of my employment at the Enterprise featured an election that resulted in the election of an African-American majority on a newly reconstituted Beaumont Independent School District board of trustees. Also on the ballot was a referendum to rename a major Beaumont thoroughfare after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The street renaming effort failed narrowly. The new BISD school board took office amid a palpable sense of tension in the community. Beaumont was late in the school integration game. A federal judge ordered the merger of the Beaumont and South Park school districts; the “old” BISD was mostly black, while the South Park district was mostly white.

Tension anyone? They had it!

Ben Hansen’s description of Beaumont was spot on. I was thrilled to be part of it, to watch it up close and to be able to offer some commentary that sought to lead the community through its travails.

The second aspect that lessened the impact of missing my wife and sons was the amazing embrace I received from my colleagues at the Enterprise. They knew of my circumstance. They went out of their way to include me in their after-hours fellowship.

The friendships I developed among many of those individuals are among the most solid I have forged with anyone I’ve ever met over my many years on this Earth.

My love for them is deep and is indelible.

We all shared a love of our craft and we would laugh and occasionally argue over what that day had brought.

Man, it was more fun sitting in the catbird seat than I ever deserved.

How are they going to find that kind of dough?


Stories like this pique my interest partly because I once was part of this community, and also because I wonder about the nature of the judgment handed down by the court.

Here’s the summary: A Jefferson County, Texas, judge has ordered two former Beaumont Independent School District administrators to pay the district $4 million apiece in funds they admitted to embezzling.


Devin McCraney once served as BISD’s chief financial officer and Sharrika Allison was the district’s comptroller. I don’t know either of them, as they came on board long after my wife and I left Beaumont in January 1995.

District Judge Milton Shuffield ordered the two of them to pay $4 million each, plus another $93,000 in interest.

Here’s what makes me scratch my head.

I worked for nearly 37 years in daily journalism. I made a decent salary during a good bit of my working life. My combined salary over the course of my entire career never even came close to a fraction of the amount of money assessed by the judge in this embezzlement case.

How does the judge expect these individuals to pay back the money?

Did they pocket the money somewhere in a secret place? Will they be able to just hand it over once they uncover it?

I guess I should note that both of them received prison sentences, which took them out of the work force for several years.

I don’t know what these individuals earned while working for BISD, which has fallen on extremely hard times in recent years. The state education agency swooped in and took over day-to-day management of the district. Its former superintendent, Carroll Thomas, “retired” after helping steer the district into the tumult that resulted in the state takeover.

Now a district judge has ordered these two former administrators to repay the district millions of dollars.

I’m a layman watching this story from afar. How does that work?


Be careful when naming structures

carrol thomas

BEAUMONT, Texas —  For many years I have held the belief that it is risky to put the names of living people on the side of buildings or other structures.

Why? Their legacies aren’t complete. Something might happen to tarnish their good names.

Today I laid eyes on just such an example. It only reinforces my belief in this principle: Make sure the person you are honoring has passed from the scene before you put his or her name on a structure.

Thomas leaves his mark

We drove by the Carrol “Butch” Thomas athletic field this morning. It’s a shiny new field where Beaumont’s public high schools’ athletic teams participate.

Why the concern over Thomas’s name being on it? He retired in 2012 as Beaumont’s school superintendent. Two years later, he crap  hit the fan at BISD. The Texas Education Agency fired Thomas’s successor, dismissed the school board and took over day-to-day operation of a school system injured grievously by malfeasance and outright corruption.

Two points: I once observed this school district from my post at the newspaper in Beaumont; but  never met Thomas, who became BISD superintendent after we left Beaumont for Amarillo.

I followed this story from afar, though.

It’s impossible for me to believe that much of what exploded after Thomas retired wasn’t already building while he was on the job.

He was a polarizing figure in Beaumont, according to all that I had heard about him. What’s more, the very idea that a sitting superintendent would allow his name to be inscribed on a structure seems off-putting in the extreme.

Thomas said at the time of his retirement that he was leaving while conditions were good. However, the storm clouds were beginning to form.

They broke not long after he left town.

Zooming past that gleaming athletic structure — with his name towering high above everything else nearby — just makes me recall the hazard associated with honoring a living individual

Knowing what I know what has happened to the school district he left behind leaves me with a bitter taste.

Terrible story playing out in Beaumont

It pains me terribly to watch this story play out in a city I grew to love while I lived there.

The Beaumont Independent School District is no longer “independent.” The Texas Education Agency, led by Education Commissioner Michael Williams, is about to take over the public school system.


This is not pretty. However, it contains a lesson that other school systems across the state ought to heed with great care.

I lived in Beaumont for nearly 11 years before moving way up yonder to the Panhandle in January 1995. I saw the Beaumont district go through a lot of pain starting in 1984. The TEA at one point brought in monitors to watch the district’s every move up close and personal. The district worked its way through some messy administrative issues then.

Now it’s come to this.

Williams has named seven managers to oversee operations at the school district. The superintendent has been stripped of his duties. The board members are out of office. The managers comprise local leaders with a keen interest in restoring trust to the public school system. Of the seven people named, I know only one of them: Jimmy Simmons, president of Lamar University.

I’m not up to speed on all the particulars of what ails the Beaumont district. Near as I can tell, the district has fallen into a spasm of incompetence, fiscal mismanagement to the max, conduct that borders on malfeasance — all of which has destroyed the public’s trust in its school system.

I’ve been acquainted with Commissioner Williams for a number of years, going to his days as a Texas railroad commissioner. He’s an aggressive, proactive guy. He’s a West Texan, a lawyer from Midland. He doesn’t appear to suffer fools … at all!

The lesson here for the other 1,000-plus school districts is to ensure you keep your houses in order, spend your money wisely, do the best job possible educating the students in your charge — and do not anger those students’ parents.

I hope this Beaumont story ends well. If it does, it will emerge a better public school district. It might even become a great one.

Good luck, board of managers.

Beaumont school system off the tracks

It pains me terribly to watch what is happening to the Southeast Texas public school district that educated my sons.

The Beaumont Independent School District is hurtling toward a serious train wreck.


My sons came of age in Beaumont after we moved there in 1984. My wife and I uprooted ourselves from our hometown of Portland, Ore., and came to Texas so I could continue my journalism career.

It’s been a great ride for three decades.

But watching the Beaumont ISD implode is painful for me. I feel as though I have an emotional stake in the future of the school system that’s been wracked by controversy for decades.

The community was slow to desegregate its schools, doing so finally in the 1980s after the federal courts ordered it to happen. The very week I took my post at the newspaper that hired me a landmark election occurred in which the school district elected a majority African-American school board.

The racial composition of the new school board by itself was enough to cause serious apoplexy among many Beaumont residents, which testifies graphically to the racial tensions that have existed in that community.

It’s been a rough ride. BISD has been rocked by all kinds of incompetence, feather-bedding, lack of due diligence, mismanagement, alleged malfeasance. From my perch way up yonder, it appears that the district is on its last legs.

The state has all but ordered the school board to disband. The superintendent has been asked to step aside. The Texas Education Agency is poised to take over management of the district; BISD officials plan to appeal … good luck with that.

And then I see this story in the Texas Observer about BISD students working to save teachers’ jobs.

Educators always say they care about the kids. In Beaumont, that declaration is sounding more hollow all the time. The students in this case, are taking up the role of grownups in a dispute that is rapidly spiraling out of control.

Big-time brouhaha in Beaumont

Some major trouble is brewing in a city I used to call home. It pains me to watch this play out even from such a huge distance.

The Beaumont Independent School District is about to lose control of itself. The Texas Education Agency — headed by Education Commissioner Michael Williams, no shrinking violet, to be sure — is about to seize control of the troubled school system.

The school board has voted to appeal the TEA takeover. It won’t work. To whom will the BISD board appeal?


I haven’t followed the details of the troubled district. BISD seems to have been run like a three-ring circus. I’ve read accounts of the superintendent allowing the construction of a huge new activities center that will carry his name. There have been significant personnel issues involving key senior school district administrators. Money hasn’t been spent wisely. Academic performance among students continues to flounder.

And school trustees continue to fight among themselves.

That last item seems to go back several decades.

I arrived in Beaumont in 1984 just as two school districts were merging under a federal court-ordered desegregation edict. One district, a mostly white one, merged with another, mostly black district. The combined district held a school trustee election the very week I arrived at my post at the newspaper. For the first time in the community’s history, a majority African-American school board emerged from the voting result.

You’d have thought Planet Earth had just changed course and began hurtling toward the sun, in the eyes of many folks all over the city.

It has been rough sailing ever since.

The TEA already has intervened in BISD’s affairs, sending in monitors in the late 1980s to keep a close eye on matters. The school system managed to right itself then. This matter seems much worse.

It’s painful to watch even from way up yonder.