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Beaumont ISD’s Race to the Bottom

Little of that goodwill remains today. The district’s growth, test performance and financial stability once so celebrated now appear to have been, to varying degrees, illusions. Texas is growing, but neither Beaumont nor its schools are getting much bigger. Carrol Thomas spent 16 years as the city’s school superintendent—an almost unheard-of tenure for urban school leaders—and the multimillion-dollar surplus estimated when he left the district in 2012 has evaporated. Gone, too, are a $389 million bond package, much of it spent on projects that ran over budget, and millions in hurricane recovery funds. In their place, auditors discovered a $40 million budget shortfall, and federal investigators have found millions in embezzled public funds.

The state has returned, this time to take over the district to save it from financial collapse. To remain solvent, Beaumont ISD has cut treasured school services like buses from after-school sports, tutoring and dozens of jobs. Another casualty of the recent scandals is the trust Thomas built between the white and black communities. For a time, he really did bring the city together—Beaumont ISD was a model Texas school district with a visionary school leader. It’s hard to know how much to blame him now, or whether the district was simply destined for another fight. But Thomas’ legacy, far from the bridge-building he promised, is a level of animosity that old-timers say is the worst they’ve seen. By the time the state stepped in last spring, Beaumont had reclaimed its reputation as Texas’ most dysfunctional school system.