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North Forest ISD dismisses Superintendent Edwin Walker

By P.J. Williams

The North Forest ISD school board replaced Superintendent Dr. Edwin Walker with Dr. Elaine Berry during two meetings held last week.

The board placed Walker on leave May 26 pending his resignation and a financial settlement. The decision was announced after more than three hours in closed session. Six board members voted to dismiss Walker while Mae Sykes abstained.

Walker served two years of a three year contract that would have expired in April 2004. He replaced Gloria Scott who was hired in 1996, fired in 1997, reinstated by the school board after membership changed, and then dismissed in 2000.

Neither Walker nor the board would comment until negotiations are finalized.

Dr. Jacqueline Smith served as acting superintendent until May 30 when, after one hour in closed session, the board voted unanimously to appoint Berry Interim Superintendent.

Berry served North Forest for 34 years until she retired in June 2000 from her post as Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum and Development. “I find it hard to believe that I’m back in North Forest,” she told the board after accepting the appointment.

Berry said she intends to create a strategic plan to address the concerns of the district. The crowd applauded when she said, “There’s one thing we must keep in mind: we are here for the children.”

Approximately 75 concerned citizens attended and more than 40 remained throughout the three hour Friday night meeting. Those in attendance seemed split over the decision to replace Walker, but most supported Berry’s appointment.

“I thought [Walker] was doing a good job. But anytime something happens, they always blame it on the superintendent,” said Tim Watson, a North Forest bus driver for the last eight years. “Hopefully they’ll [Berry and the board] both work together for the employees and the kids.”

Lorenzo Calloway, a father of three children in the district said North Forest needs someone who can forecast future needs, deal with funding issues, and integrate new teachers into the school community. “We need the opportunities to have the same success as in other demographics in Houston,” Calloway said.

The budget was another hot topic at last week’s meetings. Budget and Cash Manager Darrell Dortch and internal auditor Charles Houston reported on a recent negative cash flow. Monday night the board approved the finance department to apply for a line of credit up to 10 million dollars. The department acquired a 2.5 million dollar temporary loan that covered payroll and was repaid by funds from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by Friday night’s meeting.

“Timing is the major issue right now” Houston said. They explained that regular income from the TEA arrives after payroll is due. Also, the district is waiting on reimbursements from FEMA for flood repair damage.

“We are not broke” Houston said. “It’s a temporary deal in one fund.” Dortch added, “And we have several funds.”

Walker had a 3 year contract, that paid $110,000 per year, and ran from 2001 to 2004. However, the NFISD continues to be troubled by falling student population, low achieving schools, low morale, and deficits in their budget. Walker was supposed to solve these problems, but apparently the board thought he was not achieving the goals.

In addition, the hiring and firing had racial overtones, with Walker being the chief administrator of a predominately black staff and student body, although he is white.

Walker came to North Forest from the Diboll ISD, where he was an assistant superintendent.