By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
HOUSTON – A southeast Texas school district is ready to open its doors to felons and drug dealers.
The Beaumont Independent School District has a long list of problems – lawsuits, state investigations, police investigations, criminal contractors and more – but it will address one of them tonight: the hiring of felons and drug dealers.
The problem in the district’s eyes is its policy prohibiting the hiring of felons and drug dealers, so district staff is recommending the board revise that at its Tuesday meeting.
The current policy prohibits hiring anyone who has been convicted of any “felony or other crime involving moral turpitude” or “felony and misdemeanor crimes involved controlled substances and/or children,” or anyone convicted of drug possession, sales or use.
Under the proposed policy, the district would “perform an individualized assessment” of the applicant’s criminal history and the context of the crimes in order to, well, sort out desirable felons from the undesirable.
State law already requires background checks for school jobs that involve contact with children, and prohibits the hiring of anyone convicted of various sex offenses and violent crimes classified as Title 5 felonies.
Coincidentally or not, the board will also vote on renewing its contract with electrician Calvin Walker, the central figure in a scandal that has sunk public trust in the board.
After a 37-count federal fraud case against Walker ended in a mistrial, he pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal last July to not reporting almost $1.6 million in income. That was just a fraction of the millions that prosecutors alleged Walker obtained through no-bid contracts, doctored invoices and checks presented for reimbursement that had never been cashed.
The board meeting is the first since the Texas Education Agency announced that it was launching an investigation into allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests, attendance records, special education and the district’s accounting practices.
The felon ban may not even be the most controversial item on the agenda, as the board is also set to shift more hiring authority from principals to the superintendent, restrict principals from talking to the media in various circumstances and set an election date for the fall. The election should have taken place last month, but the Justice Department halted it under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of Section 5 is expected by the end of the month.
Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected] or @jpcassidy000.