Response to Dr. Horton Q&A in DeKalb
A post for my new readers in the Atlanta area. Those of you in Evanston may also enjoy the summary and response to his public interview.
Last night, Dr. Horton held a town hall meeting in Dekalb County, Georgia. You can read a full accounting of the question and answers on Decaturish. I am going to attempt to break down the fact from fiction in his claims.
The first question was;
Davis asked first about a news story that Horton had hired administrative staff rather than teachers at his current district.
Horton said that he had added school counselors and security, not administrative positions, that were district-wide staff because they needed the flexibility to rotate between schools. Horton said that he had also hired an operations manager and people to organize science and technology programs that the district needed but didn’t have.
This is partially true. The District did use COVID-relief (ESSER) funding to hire tutors and counselors, which led to an increase in administrative staffing. However, the District also added additional district-wide headcount. For instance, he hired a Chief of Staff, a position that did not exist prior to 2021 is certainly a district-wide staffer. He also expanded his teacher residency program, which is district-wide and costs almost $1,000,000 per year.
I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest the District has reduced the number of teachers.
Emails to Parents
Next was a question regarding emails sent to parents suggesting they are white supremacists for wanting to return to the classroom.
Davis also asked about a news report that Horton had told a parent that their desire for their child to return to in-person schooling after schools were shut down due to COVID-19 was rooted in white supremacy.
Horton said that the incident was about a week after the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and tensions were high.
This is partially true. Dr. Horton did send a thoughtful apology to the emails.However, the emails I have suggest that the apology was sent on January 6, 2021, not a week later. Below is a snapshot of the email header which shows he sent at least one apology on January 6, 2021 at 2:42pm, hours after the capitol was stormed. I believe, his recounting of the timeline is false.
Dr. Horton and the Board did receive a lot of creepy emails, however the Evanston Police Department never took action on anything. My reconstruction of the timeline is;
January 5, 2021: District 65 sends out an email “Important: Update on Launch of Hybrid Learning Model” which keeps the schools closed for an extended period of time due to COVID.
January 5, 2021: Parents emailed District 65 to complain, Dr. Horton sent out some combative emails in response.
January 6, 2021: Dr. Horton emails an apology to some parents.
January 10, 2021: Board Member alleges that she was the subject of a hate crime. In the allegations, someone vandalized a Christmas card in her car. Cops end up dropping the case. You can read the police report.
January 11, 2021: District publishes a “Response to Hateful Attacks”
In other words, it was a pretty crazy time and there was national news coverage on the subject, which made it even more crazy. Since then, I haven’t seen any reports or indications of emails like the ones mentioned.
Before those events, in August of 2020 District 65 went national due to a FOX News Story regarding the return to school plan.That story did result in emails I would consider threatening, the District published one of them here. This was a different set of events than what happened in 2021, however.
Improper Contract Awards
This is a story I’ve published and was happy to see someone asking about it;
In response to a question from Decaturish about a report from Evanston, Ill. that Horton’s former business partners received no-bid contracts from District 65 while he was superintendent, Horton said that the company formed with those partners never actually did any business.
Horton said that the organization was originally intended as a 501(c)3 non-profit to do mentoring and coaching for young men in the city, but wound up being filed as an LLC instead.
This is false. His organization was very clearly not a non-profit organization. You can read the formation documents yourself. I have personally formed both LLC and Non-Profit organizations and will attest that the creation process for both is very different. It is pretty hard to accidentally try to create a non-profit and then stumble into an LLC. He literally signed documents attesting to the creation of an LLC, not a non-profit. Forming a non-profit is a completely different exercise.
Furthermore, no proof has been provided to show the firm did no business. He owns another consulting firm Altering the Education Xperience LLC, which has done business with Chicago Public Schools. You can view a list of the bills here. Something he has not disclosed to the public on his Cook County Statements of Economic Interest. So, it is unclear if this firm is doing business or not.
Furthermore, he cited
“No board policies were violated with regard to bringing those individuals in to do work,” Horton said.
This is false. Section 4:60 of the District 65 Board Manual cites
No purchase or contract shall be made or entered into as a result of favoritism, extravagance, fraud, or corruption. The District shall not participate in the purchase of items, goods, or services that are to become the personal property of individuals.
I cannot think of a more clear example of favoritism in contract awards than giving funds to your former business partners.
Horton said that educating parents about how the school district is funded and how the money is spent, along with making sure that decisions are made with input, communication, and clarity, would also improve transparency.
Dr. Horton’s record with transparency is not very good. I’ve documented dozens of cases where he signed contracts over the legal limit of $25,000 and did not provide transparency to the public, in violation of the law (105 ILCS 5/10-20.44) and the state policies. Read them here;
District Hires Felon for $35,800, doesn’t do background checks or post the contract for the public.
District steering contracts to business partners over $150,000. Contracts not posted for the public according to the law.
District pays over $300,000 to former colleague of Dr. Horton for residency program and doesn’t disclose to the public until later.
In every case, the District has claimed that the omission here was accidental and not intention. They’ve claimed to the ISBE that the process for transparency has improved, however I cannot prove this.
Regarding questions about Facilities;
In terms of aging facilities, Horton said there’s an existing master plan for the district, but in general health, life and safety are first priority. The second priority is the building’s roof, windows, and other exterior features, and next is beautifying and improving spaces.
This has been a subject I haven’t written much about, but according to interviews I’ve conducted with teachers, District 65’s facilities have been pretty ignored. For instance, there are ceiling tiles at certain schools that are falling down. I documented cases of the District leaving shipping containers full of toxic mold on properties. One of the challenges here is that District 65 eliminated the head of facilities position and instead has a, “Head of Culture and Climate." This position was awarded to a former colleague of Dr. Horton’s who doesn't have any professional experience working in facilities.
Teacher Residency Program
Regarding teacher residency programs, he claims;
Horton said that the number of people enrolling in teacher education programs is down, and one solution is teacher residency programs such as the one through the National Center for Teacher Residencies that include a stipend, apprenticing with a master teacher, coursework, and placement with additional support after a year.
This is a true claim and teacher residencies are, in theory, a great idea. I wrote a lot about the District 65 Teacher Residency program yesterday and the challenges it faced. I’ve come to the conclusion that a residency program makes no sense for a District the size of Evanston, however for DeKalb, it’s not a terrible idea. The fixed costs to run such a program are high, over a million dollars per year, even in the best of circumstances.
I will post a more complete summary of these exchanges at a future date, I don’t yet have all the documents and permissions to share emails, however.
This response is signed notably by only two board members.
Dr. Horton had been in office 2 months, at this point. His term began 6/30/2020 and this FOX news story was in August of that year.
The Head of Culture and Climate was a Vice Principal at Wendell Phillips Academy when Dr. Horton was Principal in 2011-12.
As always, this is great Tom. One company of his that nobody seems to discuss is St. Chi Enterprises, which he opened in Sept. 2020 to "purchase and lease real estate across the United States." What do we know about St. Chi's holdings? Given the concerns about gentrification associated with the new school in Evanston, you would think that it would be a no-brainer to disclose whether the national real estate firm he is operating on the side is potentially benefiting from the investment of public funds from the District.
On the "white supremacy" stuff. I was on the Zoom call that Fox picked up on in August 2020. I think it was one of the first times he had a quasi-public meeting. I distinctly remember him making the statement about allowing students of color to come back to in-person school first. I didn't care too much about the impact to my kids since we were in no hurry to send them back before they were vaccinated. But my immediate response was "you can't actually do that. It's against the law." This drilled home to me that the Board hired someone who was in over his head. I couldn't imagine previous superintendents Paul Goren or Hardy Murphy being so careless in that setting--even though Horton was navigating a very difficult situation.
I'm not sure how much Horton has actually grown on the job. It is hard to imagine him in charge of such a large district as they have in DeKalb.
Although I hope DeKalb hires him to get him out of Evanston, I have to admire the process they are undergoing when compared to how the feckless District 65 board undertook the Horton hire. Requiring candidates to account for their experience, qualifications, and character is essential. DeKalb may ignore citizen concerns and still hire him. But if/when things go south there will be a demonstrable record that the concerns were well known by the public and the board.
I just imagine how Evanston could have possibly gotten a better candidate if we had a similar opportunity to scrutinize the candidate before hiring.
Tom, I hope you continue this blog post-election. It would be very useful to try and get the board members on the record about how they intend to execute the next superintendent search. I did not see all of the candidate forums, so i don't know if Salem, Hernandez, or Wilkins were asked this during the campaign.
I saw Halperin defend the process recently on the District 65 parents facebook page by saying they wanted it to be anonymous to "attract the best candidates." Of course, this is illogical. They love Horton and he was applying all across the country in 2019 in public searches. Even though the board president claimed during the search that the candidates "requested anonymity", it is pretty much impossible to believe that this was the case with Horton.
Please, ATL friends, take all of this with a grain of salt. You will find Horton an agent of change. He will change test scores and readiness levels. He will change how your district funds projects and spends money. He will change the teacher/staff satisfaction. Lots of change. Well, considering the turmoil you’ve experienced, perhaps not. Horton is a great man. Just ask him.