Whitis’ future at DISD uncertain; Discussions to continue on superintendent contract

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, June 16, 2018
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A week after holding a seven-hour closed session, Decatur ISD trustees will meet again Monday and discuss the employment and duties of Superintendent Judi Whitis.

The meeting will start at 6 p.m. with public forum at the Decatur ISD Administration Building. Trustees have moved closed session, usually held at the beginning of the meeting, to the end.

They’re scheduled to meet with the school district’s attorney, Paige Kyle of Walsh Gallegos, during closed session to discuss the employment, evaluation and duties of the superintendent.

“We will still be discussing some items that came out of last meeting,” said School Board President Wade Watson.

He said he had been advised by counsel not to elaborate more on the personnel issue.

Trustees spent seven hours in closed session June 4-5, a week after Watson sent Whitis a two-page letter detailing “multiple concerns [that] have been brought to the attention of several [board] members recently.” The Messenger received the letter through a public information request.

The letter indicated the board was considering placing Whitis on administrative leave with pay. But after the meeting, the board took no action.

The letter also states that board members have received communications from multiple individuals who feel the district is moving in a negative direction. It alleges personnel felt hesitant to share their concerns with Whitis, fearing retaliation; individuals leaving the district expressed demoralizing and unprofessional treatment; and individuals felt one internal individual was providing counsel not in Whitis’ best interest or the best interest of the district.

Watson said in the letter there was a marked difference between communications the board was receiving and those being provided to directors, which was fueled by canceled meetings and the exclusion of individuals from decision-making processes in matters related to their areas of responsibility. He added there was a growing concern about Whitis’ ability to support the needs of a growing number of new principals and assistant principals on five of the six campuses in the district.

“When you were hired, we expressed we were not in search of a change agent for our district,” Watson wrote. “We have had a lot of changes take place in the last nine months, and various members of the board are not confident that all of them have been in the best interest of the district.”

Whitis, who said last week she was blindsided by the events, stated Thursday she hopes to move forward with the district.

“I do want to be here. There are good things happening,” Whitis said. “I have a plan moving forward to rebuild the trust with the staff, community and business people.

“I’m willing, optimistic and will do my part. I have to be met halfway to make it work.”

Whitis arrived in Decatur in July 2017 to replace the retiring Rod Townsend. She previously served as the superintendent at Valley Mills ISD. She also had a tenure as the superintendent at Fort Davis.

In February, trustees gave a unanimous approval of her performance. They added a year to Whitis’ contract that will run through July 30, 2021, and gave her a $3,000 raise. With the raise effective March 1, her annual salary is $158,000.

Trustees will allot up to 45 minutes for public input, and speakers will be limited to five minutes. Speakers are asked to fill out a form five minutes prior to the meeting.

During the meeting, trustees will discuss construction projects at the high school. Last month, trustees decided to hold off on a classroom addition. Architect Claycomb and Associates and representatives of Steele and Freeman, who was previously selected as the construction manager at-risk, will provide updates on the bistro in the current library and the athletic facilities – locker room expansion, weight room and media center.

The board has two items before them related to construction. One is a contract with Steele and Freeman for the projects and the other item would allow them to delay the projects, according to Watson.

The district will also look to hire a principal at Carson Elementary.

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