Love­joy gadfly right all along

The Dallas Morning News - - METRO - Twit­ter: @DaveLieber

Brenda Ri­zos says she doesn’t care what peo­ple say about her. For al­most 20 years, she fo­cused her crit­i­cisms on the lead­er­ship of Love­joy ISD. She di­rected her ire mostly at Su­per­in­ten­dent Ted Moore.

For that, she be­came the tar­get.

“In­stead of in­ves­ti­gat­ing him, the school board came af­ter me,” she says. “I felt like I was liv­ing in the twi­light zone, you know?”

Turns out she was right all along.

In Fe­bru­ary, Su­per­in­ten­dent Moore was ousted for undis­closed rea­sons, ex­cept for a brief state­ment by the board that his re­moval stemmed from “al­leged mis­con­duct” with “adult vic­tims.”

Moore said at the time in a state­ment that he was step­ping down for health rea­sons.

Now comes the lat­est vin­di­ca­tion.

The Texas Ethics Com­mis­sion is­sued a fine, based on Ri­zos’ com­plaint, that found that un­der Moore’s lead­er­ship the district used pub­lic money to cam­paign for a “yes” vote in its 2016 tax in­crease elec­tion. The district sought a huge 11% tax bump.

In Texas, school dis­tricts are al­lowed to present elec­tion facts in a neu­tral man­ner. They are pro­hib­ited from us­ing teach­ers to cam­paign on school time, from send­ing pro­vote mes­sages us­ing district email and from var­i­ous other tac­tics used to game an elec­tion.

That didn’t stop Moore. The ethics com­mis­sion fined him $1,500.

A school district spokes­woman said the district is not on the hook for the money. It’s a per­sonal civil penalty as

sessed to Moore, Lau­rie Von­der­saar ex­plained. Moore must pay. Ethics com­mis­sion spokesman Ian Steusloff de­clined to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about the pay­ment.

I called Moore, now ap­par­ently re­tired.

The former su­per­in­ten­dent told me he stands by the ac­cu­racy of his bond in­for­ma­tion cam­paign. The mes­sag­ing was needed, he said, be­cause “the district had reached a point where it was ei­ther nec­es­sary to cut pro­grams or raise taxes. The com­mu­nity needed the in­for­ma­tion to make an in­formed choice.”

He agreed to pay the $1,500 fine, he said, be­cause “I made a fi­nan­cial de­ci­sion to pay a rel­a­tively small fine as op­posed to pay­ing in the neigh­bor­hood of $20,000 in at­tor­ney fees.”

“I feel like the world is finally start­ing to be sane again. What’s bad is bad. What’s good is good.”

Brenda Ri­zos

Slide pre­sen­ta­tion

The cen­tury­old Love­joy district has about 4,000 stu­dents and in­cludes the cities of Lu­cas, Fairview and part of Allen. It’s known for earn­ing high scores in state rank­ings. It’s also known for Ted Moore.

At a state as­so­ci­a­tion meet­ing of su­per­in­ten­dents and school board mem­bers in Hous­ton a decade ago, he gave a slide show pre­sen­ta­tion about how to deal with crit­ics like Ri­zos, a Lu­cas res­i­dent.

With­out nam­ing her, he re­ferred to his top crit­ics as “cy­ber ter­ror­ists” and showed a slide of the fa­mous knifeat­tack shower scene from the movie Psy­cho.

“Do crit­ics have a point?” he asked in one slide. His an­swer: “Even a bro­ken clock is right twice a day.”

Ri­zos later ob­tained the slide pre­sen­ta­tion, com­plained, and Moore was never al­lowed to present that pro­gram again.

Bag of tricks

When it came to the 2016 tax rat­i­fi­ca­tion elec­tion that served as the ba­sis for Ri­zos’ ethics com­plaint, Moore was at his best — or worst.

His bag of tricks was heavy. He staged the elec­tion two weeks af­ter the reg­u­lar May mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion, guar­an­tee­ing lower turnout.

He used tax­payer money to pro­duce videos giv­ing the district’s side.

He took ad­van­tage of a loop­hole in state law and used tem­po­rary vot­ing booths when the prac­tice is mostly for­bid­den.

Very lit­tle elec­tion in­for­ma­tion was shared with most tax­pay­ers. The cam­paign was geared to the school com­mu­nity, par­ents and district staff.

Most un­for­tu­nate from my viewpoint was Moore’s scare cam­paign. If the tax vote lost, he wrote in an email blast to fam­i­lies, teach­ers’ pay would get frozen. Many mid­dle school sports would be elim­i­nated. Fine arts would get cut, and travel would be cur­tailed. A “pay to play” plan would be in­sti­tuted for sports and fine arts.

There was more. Bus ser­vice would be re­duced. Lunch prices would in­crease. Class sizes would grow. Teach­ers would get laid off. Oh, and bye­bye school re­cep­tion­ists.

He ended the email with: “I hope you are hav­ing a good week.”

It was so over the top, but his scare tac­tics worked. The tax vote won, 52%­48%.

‘Love­joy way’

The ethics com­mis­sion nailed him on only a few of the above tricks he pulled to win.

Moore spent pub­lic funds and re­sources — in­clud­ing work done on school time — to pro­duce promo videos that ap­peared to pro­mote a “yes” vote.

The videos went be­yond the al­lowed neu­tral de­liv­ery of facts to ac­tu­ally cam­paign for pas­sage, the com­mis­sion found.

That’s a vi­o­la­tion of the state elec­tion law, which says pub­lic funds can’t be used as po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing. The videos were de­clared to be po­lit­i­cal ads.

One cam­paign phrase used — “Pro­tect­ing the Love­joy Way” — was deemed by the com­mis­sion to be “a call to ac­tion to sup­port” the tax in­crease. A no­no.

Moore’s de­fense, ac­cord­ing to the or­der, was that the district’s lawyer ad­vised him he wasn’t break­ing any rules. The com­mis­sion de­cided to hold the former su­per­in­ten­dent re­spon­si­ble.

Ris­ing from the ashes

This rul­ing is quite rare. In the real world, su­per­in­ten­dents win (for a while) and gad­flies get toasted, even burned.

“I’ve had hor­ri­ble, hor­ri­ble crit­ics on­line,” Ri­zos says. “Peo­ple used to come out and vi­ciously at­tack me. … A lot of peo­ple talked trash to me.”

Now with the rul­ing, things feel dif­fer­ent.

“I feel like the world is fi­nally start­ing to be sane again,” she says. “What’s bad is bad. What’s good is good.”

The other day, Ri­zos had her first meet­ing with new Love­joy ISD Su­per­in­ten­dent Michael Goddard.

Goddard emailed me af­ter the meet­ing: “I look for­ward to a stronger and more col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with Brenda and all our com­mu­nity mem­bers. It’s a new day in Love­joy ISD that in­cludes the abil­ity to be ex­am­ples of re­spect, en­cour­age­ment and love in all our in­ter­ac­tions.

“I’m per­son­ally com­mit­ted to model that and have a very col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship with Brenda and all our Love­joy com­mu­nity.”

Brian Elledge/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Brenda Ri­zos, a Lu­cas prop­erty owner, has for years kept an eye on Love­joy ISD and its lead­er­ship, earn­ing scorn from her com­mu­nity and at­tacks on­line.

Watch­[email protected]­las­news.com dal­las­news.com/watch­dog

DAVE LIEBER

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