New FBISD Superintendent Smith begins term, reason for Whitbeck change still unknown

ByDave Manning Community Impact Newspaper logo
Saturday, February 10, 2024
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New Superintendent Marc Smith began his term Jan. 22, but Fort Bend ISD's board's reason for making a change at the top position of district leadership remains undivulged.

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In December, former Superintendent Christie Whitbeck said she was given an ultimatum by the board to retire with severance pay or be dismissed. This is despite her efforts in campaigning for the November voter-approval tax rate election, or VATRE, and receiving a two-year contract extension and raise in July.

FBISD didn't provide Community Impact an interview with Smith before press time on Feb. 2; however, emailed responses to questions were returned later that day. At the Jan. 8 meeting where Smith signed his contract, he thanked board members for their faith and trust in him.

"We are all here to make sure that we do everything possible to provide the best, the highest quality education for the students in Fort Bend ISD, and I commit to you that every day, that's what you're going to get from me," Smith said.

Two-minute impact

The FBISD board of trustees voted Dec. 4 to accept Whitbeck's retirement and approved a severance package of $491,000, which is funded by property taxes.

Smith was appointed to replace Whitbeck by the board Jan. 8. He was runner-up to Whitbeck in 2021, the last time the superintendent position was filled, board President Judy Dae said in emailed responses to questions.

The board declined to comment on why Whitbeck was asked to retire and why they hired Smith so quickly, even though initially FBISD Deputy Superintendent Beth Martinez was named acting superintendent for the rest of the 2023-24 school year until the board hired a new candidate.

Whitbeck has declined to publicly announce any details about the move other than to say she was "blindsided" by the sudden action by the board, particularly since she was given a contract extension and a raise in salary in July.

"So when I was talked to about this [stepping down] it was 19 hours after our [voter-approval tax rate election] passed, and I was blindsided. I was completely and totally blindsided," Whitbeck said at the Dec. 4 meeting.

Meanwhile, Dae and other board members have said they believe it's time for the district to move forward under Smith's new leadership.

"Dr. Smith is coming home to Fort Bend ISD, and we look forward to a bright future for our district," Dae said. "I am asking the FBISD community to put our full support behind Dr. Smith and move the district forward for the best interest of our students."

Smith previously served for six years in FBISD as an executive principal and assistant superintendent from 2006-12.

Community Impact submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to FBISD for electronic communication regarding Whitbeck's retirement and Smith's hiring; however, district officials said on Jan. 31 that they believed the information may be exempt from disclosure and requested an opinion from the attorney general's office.

The background

Dae said in an email the board was looking to put the change in leadership behind it, and indicated no further comment would be forthcoming from the board regarding the situation.

"Because Dr. Whitbeck's resignation is a personnel matter, the board cannot comment on the reasons for her resignation," Dae said. "Many community members asked the board to release Dr. Whitbeck's evaluation from June; however, because Dr. Whitbeck's evaluation is confidential, the board cannot release it."

Dae explained that Whitbeck was not barred from releasing her evaluation to the public.

What they're saying

  • "I do not appreciate how this board has handled this situation... I had been asking for [Smith's] resume; I had been asking about interviews, and I had not been privy to that information," trustee Kristen Malone said in a December board meeting.
  • "There's nothing nefarious going on, despite what some may say; it's just not true," trustee Rick Garcia said at the Jan. 8 meeting.

The other side

Throughout the hiring process, board members have clashed, and Malone raised concerns about the hiring process, employment contracts, and the financial burden to the district.

Malone, a vocal supporter of Whitbeck, said she wasn't given much time to interview Smith or review his contract claims other board members and Dae refuted.

Contracts show Smith's salary is higher than his predecessor.

What's next

The district has not announced any media or community events introducing Smith as the new superintendent, FBISD Director of Strategic Communications Sherry Williams said.

Dexter McCoy, Fort Bend County Precinct 4 commissioner, spoke out against the district's hiring process at the Jan. 8 meeting. He said the 21-day waiting period was during winter break, discouraging feedback.

"That 21-day waiting period is meant for those who support the candidate to be able to talk about why and for the community to get educated on what strengths they bring to the table, as well as those who might have concerns to be able to express those concerns," McCoy said.

FBISD's next board meeting is Feb. 26. The other side Throughout the hiring process, board members have clashed, and trustee Kristen Malone raised concerns about the hiring process, employment contracts, and the financial burden to the district.

This article comes from our ABC13 partners at Community Impact Newspaper