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GCISD Board President Discusses Controversies

GCISD
GCISD logo | Image by GCISD

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD (GCISD) has supplied numerous headlines over the last year as the district has taken action on a number of controversial education issues, such as prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory and gender fluidity, as well as implementing a new process for the community to challenge the appropriateness of a book for students and potentially remove it from school shelves.

More recently, GCISD has been a topic of conversation following a recent investigation into its public magnet school, iUniversity Prep, and tension surrounding a parent-led book fair.
 
The Dallas Express sat down with Casey Ford, trustee and president of the board of GCISD, to discuss these and a range of other issues facing the northeast Tarrant school system.
 
The following is presented in question-and-answer format for our readers.

DX: How and when did potential issues surrounding iUniversity Prep come to the board’s attention?

Ford: An internal audit during the summer of 2022 uncovered what appeared to be suspicious activity. At that time, the school’s administration approached me as the board president and formally requested an independent investigation. I was deeply troubled by this news and was determined to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

DX: Who was selected to lead this independent investigation and why? What were they tasked with investigating exactly?

Ford: The GCISD board has maintained legal representation from the law firm Cantey Hanger for some time. Coupling our existing professional relationship with the fact that they have a dedicated “white collar crimes” division, I quickly felt that they were best situated to take the lead on this.

Cantey Hanger was charged with looking into three specific areas: potential student data breaches, financial theft, and intellectual property theft.

DX: So, the GCISD board has its own legal representation that is separate from the district itself? Is that common?

Ford: Yes, quite common. Texas statute is quite clear that the board and the district itself are distinct entities and, therefore, may need separate counsel. For me, it became an essential need of our board when the district’s law firm, Brackett & Ellis, told me early in my tenure that they did not work for the board or represent the board at all when there was a difference of opinion between us and the district.

DX: Were the other trustees made aware of the potential issues with iUniversity Prep and the selection of Cantey Hanger to lead an independent investigation into the matter?

Ford: Absolutely on both questions.

DX: Is the investigation ongoing, or has it been concluded?

Ford: Cantey Hanger has finished their investigation and produced a report that is now in the hands of GCISD administration.

DX: Do you know anything about the findings in the report?

Ford: I am aware that they found evidence of both financial and intellectual property theft. Thankfully, our students’ data was not compromised in any way.

DX: Shifting gears a little, can you explain the recent controversy over a local political organization’s attempt to donate books to GCISD students?

Ford: Yes, a local political group held a book fair separate from the school with Scholastic, which earned them a credit to purchase books from the company. The group then wanted to donate those credits to the school to purchase books for students.

There were several issues. Scholastic is not an approved GCISD vendor because the company refused to comply with our district’s simple requirement: tell us what books you are going to provide and promote to our students. We wanted this listing so that we could assess whether these books were in line with our district’s policies on age-appropriateness and content.

Scholastic refused, so we found a new book fair vendor that was more than willing to comply.

DX: So, utilizing these Scholastic-specific credits would not be possible for GCISD?

Ford: Correct. Scholastic was not an approved vendor. Furthermore, this group wanted to retain control of these credits and dictate what books were purchased from Scholastic and then distributed to our students.

Myself and others on the board felt the process was a means to circumvent our vendor and book policies as a district. We all love donations that benefit our students, but for it to be a GCISD-sanctioned donation, it needed to comply with our policies.

DX: If they held the original book fair separate from GCISD, why couldn’t they utilize this credit and have a book donation separate from the district as well?

Ford: Exactly. But you’d have to ask them. The board was never afforded an opportunity to actually discuss the matter, as the trustees who were pushing this group’s so-called “donation” ultimately pulled it off the agenda. So GCISD, despite what the media has said, never refused any donation — we never even actually had the discussion.

DX: Do you think politics was at the center of this? For the organization and its supporters on the board?

Ford: I’ll let the public decide. But our vendor and book policies were clear the entire time. The item was added to the agenda, and the press was ginned up. Then, before we were able to have an actual public discussion on it, the item was pulled down and the record never set straight in the media.

DX: Briefly, you’ve found some $45 million in unspent money within the district. Can you explain that?

Ford: The district has done numerous capital projects over the years. When those projects are completed, the accounts dedicated to them remain. There are numerous such accounts. When I came on, I asked GCISD staff to do a sweep of these accounts — basically, I wanted to know what was in them.

The first sweep found $30 million of unspent money while a second one found another $15 million. That’s real money.

DX: So, this is money that was originally set aside for construction and building projects?

Ford: Yes, and once those projects were complete, the remaining funds were just left sitting there.

DX: So, what have you done with this money?

Ford: We’ve paid down debt, we’ve created an emergency fund for the district, and we’ve addressed other needed projects across the district that have one-time costs. We put that money to work for taxpayers.

DX: On that note, what other things has this board done for taxpayers?

Ford: We’ve done a lot, but I think the most critical thing we’ve done is lowered the tax rate on the debt portion of their school property taxes. It has effectively put $18 million back into this community’s pockets per year, and we are still paying down debt and meeting our legal obligations.

DX: Anything else you want to share today?

Ford: I’m proud of the work we’ve done at GCISD, and we will continue to do everything we can to best serve parents, guardians, students, and taxpayers.

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2 Comments

  1. Djea3

    Why wasn’t the overage in funding returned to reduce the debt instantly? The issue is that the district is a TAXING AGNECY with powers to tax homeowners directly. The moneys being held cause excess taxation over long terms, possibly DECADES. The district should be fined the value of the interest and principal not returned and paid off. They should just lose the ability to tax that portion at all. This would be equitable solution.

    Reply
  2. Gary

    Excellent job. Glad you stood firm on the vendor issue.

    We want to have a say in what our kids are shown

    Reply

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