Posted on Wed, Mar. 24, 2004
Tocco to be reassigned, keep salary
By Matt Frazier, Star-Telegram Staff WriterLINK
FORT WORTH - Thomas Tocco will step down June 30 as superintendent of the Fort Worth school district, be given a new job and keep his $314,000 salary.
After meeting for almost three hours in closed session Tuesday night, trustees voted 7-1 to allow Tocco to finish out his contract, which runs through the end of the year.
An interim superintendent will likely be hired to run the school from July 1 until a new superintendent can be hired. Trustees said they would like to have a new leader in place by the end of December.
"I believe that my actions today are in the best interest of the school district and the children -- primarily the children," Tocco said after the meeting. "We do not need further distractions and diversions at this time in our schools."
This month, four of the eight trustees had begun calling for Tocco to step down after federal prosecutors announced that a district employee and a contractor had stolen $10 million from the school district in a kickback scheme.
Trustee T.A. Sims was the lone board member to vote against Tuesday's action, saying that the district should reduce Tocco's salary when he is reassigned.
"I feel it would be in the best interest of the children in the district if we were to save additional dollars by reassigning the superintendent and paying him 75 percent of his salary, which is stipulated in his contract," Sims said before the vote.
Trustees voted that Tocco will:
• Step down as superintendent on June 30;
• Be reassigned July 1 to another district job, which will last through the end of this calendar year;
• Earn his full $314,000 salary and all benefits through the end of the year;
• Be given a secretary and an office for the rest of the year;
• Keep up to 150 unused sick, personal and vacation days;
• Buy the car the district is loaning for his use; and
• Receive $37,500 at the end of the year from the superintendent's fund.
Before the vote, Trustee Rose Herrera said: "It is very unfortunate that we have come to this. This was pushed politically. It's unfortunate for the children of this district."
Trustee Elaine Klos said that the board had not discussed beginning a search for another superintendent but that she hoped to begin the process soon.
She said the board had carefully discussed the amendment to Tocco's contract. A lot of negotiating took place in executive session, she said.
"It was very difficult," she said. "There's been a lot of thought given to this."
While most of the trustees acknowledge that Tocco excelled at improving academics, some have said that he should be held accountable for the financial mismanagement and corruption in the district's construction program.
The FBI began investigating the district four years ago, and as the investigation widened, it drew in investigators from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Internal Revenue Service.
On March 5, Tommy Ingram, the district's former executive director of maintenance, and contractor Ray Brooks pleaded guilty to mail fraud and tax charges.
Sentencing for Ingram, 55, and Brooks, 57, is scheduled for June 18. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of up to seven years for Ingram and slightly less for Brooks, prosecutors said.
Tocco has said that catching Ingram and Brooks would have been nearly impossible for the school district because it does not have the power to threaten jail time.
Board President Lynne Manny said after Tuesday's meeting that Tocco should not be held responsible for the actions of others.
"Punishment for malfeasance should stay with those who actually committed it," she said.
"There have been other things outside of our ability to control that have caused this," Manny said. "I recognize he is head of the district and that this is his responsibility, but you can't convince me that he can know all of these things all the time."
Tocco received an internal audit detailing billing problems with Brooks Construction in 2000, but he waited 16 months to present it to the board.
The audit of work Brooks performed at two schools indicated a number of irregularities, including instances of invoices not reflecting completed jobs and purchase orders being processed after work had been completed.
In 2002, a Star-Telegram investigation found several examples of questionable work and startling charges by Brooks, including being paid $15,300 for 510 hours of hauling dirt -- in one day -- at the Outdoor Learning Center. Such a project would have required 64 dump trucks working eight hours straight, according to a construction expert.
Tocco has improved academics in the district, which Manny points to with pride.
"I would like to say thank you for the test scores. They are absolutely wonderful," Manny said. "Thank all of you. Thank you, Dr. Tocco."
Over the past 10 years, Tocco increased test scores while decreasing the achievement gap between Anglo students and Hispanic and black students.
According to the Texas Education Agency, if the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills had remained the state's assessment, the number of students passing reading would have increased by more than 20 percent for most tested grade levels.
Eighth grade showed the greatest improvement, to 97 percent in 2003 from 69 percent in 1994.
At the same time, the district brought the scores of black and Hispanic students on the state assessment to nearly equal those of Anglo students.TOCCO'S TENURE
APRIL 7, 1994
Thomas Tocco is named superintendent.1995
APRIL | Tocco's first formal review is effusive with praise. The board extends his contract.
JUNE | Tocco promotes Jean Reyes to principal without telling the board that the two are dating. Tocco files for divorce.
JULY | Tocco launches his Elementary Schools Initiative to overhaul the low-performing schools.
AUGUST | Ten schools are low-performing, but the district also gains its first exemplary school.
NOVEMBER | Parents and community members protest what they call racism at Morningside Elementary School.1996
AUGUST | The number of low-performing schools drops to five.
AUG. 14 | Trustees say they didn't know of Tocco's relationship with Reyes when they approved her promotion.
SEPTEMBER | Reyes resigns.
OCTOBER | The board rebukes Tocco for not revealing the relationship. Tocco and Reyes get married.1997
FEB. 26 | Tocco gets his first mixed review from the board.
AUGUST | Only two Fort Worth schools are ranked low-performing.1998
OCTOBER | A district study says that more than half of students who began high school in 1993 and 1994 dropped out.
DECEMBER | Trustees vote unanimously to call an election on a $398 million bond issue.1999
FEB. 9 | Trustees credit Tocco with voters' sweeping approval of bond package.
MARCH | Tocco receives a raise and new five-year contract.
AUGUST | For the first time, Fort Worth has no low-performing schools, but the district is warned that its rankings could drop because of inaccurate dropout data.
DECEMBER | Protesters at Tanglewood Elementary School give passers-by a list of things they say Tocco lied about.2000
AUGUST | Seven schools earn top state ratings, but six are deemed low-performing.
AUGUST | A federal grand jury issues several subpoenas for documents related to school construction.
SEPTEMBER | In a glowing evaluation, a Washington consultant says the school system is turning around.2001
APRIL | The board cuts some funding for the Elementary Schools Initiative after complaints that some schools don't receive the extra money.
MAY | The comptroller's office reports that the district could save $23 million over five years by improving efficiency and cutting staff.
LATE MAY | Trustees extend Tocco's contract and restructure his salary, worried that he will be lured away by another district.
AUGUST | An African-American advocacy group says it will end nearly six years of picketing the school district. Two of Fort Worth's six exemplary schools were part of Tocco's Elementary School Initiative.
OCTOBER | News reports reveal that a 2000 internal audit showed administrators violated purchasing policies in awarding work to Brooks Contractors, a local concrete vendor.
NOV. 22 | Tocco is chosen as the Texas nominee for 2002 National Superintendent of the Year Award.2002
JANUARY | The TEA says that 10 schools will lose their acceptable ratings for problems in reporting dropouts.
FEBRUARY | Tocco receives another complimentary evaluation.
AUGUST | Fort Worth gets its first exemplary high school, but four others are ranked low-performing because of dropout rates.
NOVEMBER | Tocco's request for a contract extension gets a cool reception from trustees.
DECEMBER | Three top maintenance supervisors retire amid an investigation of their personal travel on district time.
Trustees give Tocco a mixed evaluation, praising his academic leadership but criticizing his handling of business operations.2003
JANUARY | An outside auditor finds that a local contractor may have overcharged taxpayers by as much as $4.8 million on five projects. The audit criticizes the two top managers in the district's maintenance department.
DEMEMBER | The board votes not to extend Tocco's contract when it expires in December 2004.2004
MARCH | Federal authorities say that the school district was bilked out of $10 million in a kickback scheme between contractor Ray Brooks and former maintenance director Tommy Ingram.
Staff Writers Yamil Berard, Bill Teeter and Toni Heinzl Contributed to This Report.
Matt Frazier, (817) 390-7957 firstname.lastname@example.org