DeSoto ISD reconsiders paying former highschool soccer coach after considerations about legality come up

An attempt to resolve a complaint from a former DeSoto football coach drove a wedge between the school board and the state officials tasked with overseeing their work.

Today trustees will consider paying approximately $ 24,000. Stumbling on the deal shows how DeSoto ISD is still trying to straighten itself up after years of turmoil and financial mismanagement.

Last month, the board narrowly cleared the payment to Michael Robinson, who served as DeSoto football coach for a season before becoming assistant sports director.

But AJ Crabill, the restorer appointed by the Texas Education Agency, admonished the trustees during a recent meeting, suggesting their decision may be illegal. Crabill was concerned that they had “deliberately given public funds.”

“This is actively moving us in the opposite direction of restoring the integrity of the school system,” he said during the May meeting.

Robinson filed a complaint after his working hours and salary were drastically cut. His attorney claims the district violated its contractual agreement, costing the former coach thousands of dollars. Robinson referred questions to his attorney, Tiger Hanner.

Hanner argues that the trustees’ vote to pay Robinson damages was both legal and justified. He stands ready to take the case to the TEA – and possibly file a lawsuit against the district – if the trustees give in.

“We have filed a valid lawsuit against the district, and it is in the public interest to settle that lawsuit,” said Hanner.

The complaint was discussed in a closed session. The district officials refused to provide a copy of the audio recording of the hearing.

Following Crabill’s comments on the legitimacy of the vote, CEO DeAndrea Fleming confirmed in an email that the trustees will reconsider the issue. The Trustees are expected to discuss this again in a closed session today.

Fleming noted that trustees were unable to comment on certain employee complaint-related matters.

“We can make it clear that we as the board of directors plan to re-examine the complaint in question in future proceedings in order to clarify for the administration how the intention of the board of directors can be implemented,” she wrote in a statement. District officials did not return notices for clarification.

The trustees are under intense pressure to prove to the community – and state officials – that they are turning the years of financial mismanagement and dysfunction on their heads.

TEA investigators say employees under the administration of former Superintendent David Harris, who served from 2012 to 2018, made expensive purchases that received little oversight from the elected board, including purchases of $ 330,000 to fictional dealers.

Careless bookkeeping and possible fraud contributed to a budget deficit of more than $ 21 million for the district, which forced staff cuts and school closings, investigators found.

Crabill’s job is to coach DeSoto trustees and administrators and guide them through specific improvement plans. As the district curator, he has the power to override any decision made by a school principal, superintendent, or even the board of directors.

He said during the May meeting that he would never advise the board to take decisions that constitute “financial violations of the law”.

Any decision related to DeSoto’s football team is likely to attract scrutiny. It is known as one of the state’s rich pipelines for college-level athletes but has seen huge sales in the top coaching position.

Robinson resigned after a season in which the team went 9-3. They lost in the second round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs to the powerhouse Southlake Carroll. He then took on the position of deputy sports director and later switched to a new role.

According to his attorney, Robinson has negotiated an agreement with current Superintendent D’Andre Weaver that he would give up his contract in exchange for a reinstatement of 20 hours a week for nearly $ 38,000. He was later told by a member of the HR team that he would be reduced to 10 hours a week – although the district budget committee approved his initial hours and agreed to give him more money, his attorney says.

He filed a complaint last summer, but the process dragged on amid COVID-19 shutdowns. Robinson resigned in the fall.

DeSoto district sought to offer Robinson options – including honoring at a banquet and writing a positive letter of recommendation – rather than financial resolution, according to a letter Hanner had sent to the district.

Hanner said the payment was not an illegal donation of public funds as the settlement of Robinson’s complaint would be a benefit to the district as it would avoid additional legal fees and more negative publicity.

During its meeting in May, the board voted 4-2, with one abstention, to pay for “claims for damages” [Robinson’s] Complaint ”without discussion. The agenda item did not include the amount of the payment, and they did not publicly disclose the amount the district intended to pay until later in the meeting when Crabill urged them to do so.

“What amount has the board committed to the district tonight?” He asked the board. “If you voted for this point, ideally you will have an understanding of the answer to this question.”

The board members appeared to be showing some confusion, though Crabill eventually gave them the amount. When asked by the restorer whether this was the board’s intention, at least one member stated that this was not the case.

Trustee Abe Cooper Jr., one of the newer board members, said his concern was that the district was maintaining a semblance of integrity. He voted to approve damages for Robinson’s complaint.

Cooper said it was important for the district to get its employees right.

“Are we in the business of agreeing to Jobs and breaking these agreements at any time?” He said. “If we become like this, we as a district have to be careful. We are trying to restore public confidence. “

The DMN Education Lab deepens reporting and discussion on pressing educational issues that are critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control over the Education Lab’s journalism.

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