School board members in DeSoto ISD voted to fire Superintendent David Harris months after extending his contract. As has become usual in school districts around the state, the board members refused to state the reasons for getting rid of the leader.
“We were told it was a normal meeting, and clearly that wasn’t the case,” Traci Sanders, a parent attending the meeting, told the Dallas NBC affiliate.
The district released a statement on the firing from Board President Carl Sherman Jr.: “With respect to the temporary assignment of the Superintendent’s duties, please note that the Board’s decision was, as the meeting agenda stated, in relation to concerns regarding the Superintendent’s evaluation, employment and duties.”
There is speculation that Harris’ departure is due to a disagreement with the board over the future of the football team. The statement said that is not the case.
“These concerns are completely separate and apart from the eventual hiring of the DeSoto High School Football Coach. The committee hiring process will proceed as normal in order to find the best candidate for the position.”
Another parent, Don Wilson, told the Dallas ABC TV affiliate: “They shouldn’t be satisfied with giving us so little information.”
There has been a wave of superintendent firings over the past few years, frequently done without disclosing to the public the reasons for the departure.
In Bryan ISD, Superintendent Tommy Wallis was fired in 2016 after administrators found he had used district funds to pay for hotels while seeking outside employment, covered up records from public information requests and conferred privately with a vendor seeking a contract with the district. He was fired for initially undisclosed reasons, and provided a job reference.
Crosby ISD Superintendent Keith Moore was banned from school grounds after being let go in January, again with no reason provided to the public. Moore was also provided with a job reference as part of his severance agreement.
In many cases, school boards cloak looming actions with vaguely worded agenda items, particularly those regarding executive session, although state law requires a degree of specificity.
In the case of Harris, there is no reason to believe he committed any infraction aside from possibly disagreeing with the board on issues. But not disclosing the reason leaves the door open to speculation.
DeSoto provided notice that it was meeting in a special session on Harris, noting that part of the meeting would involve “Consultation with Legal Counsel on Legal and Procedural Issues Related to the Employment, Evaluation and Duties of Superintendent.”
A federal complaint targeting DeSoto in 2016 alleged the district’s buildings were not accessible to people with disabilities. The district settled the complaint last year, agreeing to a number of changes.
Harris came to the district in 2012 starting at a $180,000 salary. That was increased 18 months later to $200,000. His latest contract, which runs through 2021, pays him $260,000 a year. It is unclear whether or not he will continue to receive pay.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]