61 year-old Walter Dansby officially becomes Fort Worth Independent School District’s newest Superintendent next month. He started his career with the district 38 years ago to teach and to coach basketball. KERA’s Bill Zeeble sat down with Dansby to talk about plans for the state’s 5th largest school district that comes with serious challenges.
Zeeble - Why did you want this job?
Walter Dansby: I really think I can make a difference. I really think being here all these years and knowing the problems of the district, knowing the people that are here, and that we can put solutions together to solve problems. This is why I want to be here. In ’73 and ‘74 I didn’t need a job, I took a $9,000 cut to teach and coach. So you’ll know this is what I wanted to do, this is where my heart is.
Zeeble – What had you been doing?
Dansby: I was a commissioned clothes salesman out of college and the highest commission salesman in the area. And I won’t name the store I was working for.
Zeeble: So you said your 1st priority is to get the financial house in order. And I’m wondering what specifically needs to be done.
Dansby: First of all, looking at the central office and seeing how we’re operating here, but we have to look at the fact that we have to look at our campuses and look at our staffing as well. Our biggest dollars are in staffing. That’s central administration and on campuses. But also, we’re going to do our best that we can do to make sure those programs on campuses are working and working well. That our budget, and our efforts to reduce those budgets do not interfere with those campuses, nor those instructors that teach those classes.
Zeeble: Does that mean teacher cuts, staff cuts?
Dansby: Well it’s a delicate situation you have to deal with. As we move through the budget process, those are the priorities we have on the table.
Zeeble: How long do you think it might take to figure out what needs to go, what can stay?
Dansby: We’ve certainly been working for the past several months, so we have some idea right now. But right now we’re not ready to reveal that. Hopefully we can work through this without having to relieve anyone of their job if people are going to stay in Fort Worth ISD.
Zeeble: Now there are a number of less than maximum-performing schools that need to improve and sometimes doesn’t that take extra dollars or extra people?
Dansby: It certainly takes extra dollars and extra people. One of the things I talk about as well is to make sure we do not diminish our efforts to bring our schools up to standard. That’s why I say it’s a very delicate situation we deal with when we’re dealing with our financials, and also what we want to do with our kids.
Zeeble:Talk about politics a little bit. At times this board has been called dysfunctional. If there are some issues, how do you negotiate such an obstacle?
Dansby: First of all, I’m not a politician, I’m an educator. I see things differently than other folks. The board has gone through some trying times last few months and so they have worked through that. Some agree, some disagree, but that’s what boards are made of, why they’re there. They really care about the kids and this community. They’re going to do what they think is best for the community. You’ll see that as they move forward, I really think that even with the vote they made the other night, where they stood in unity, an 8 – 0 vote, which is really something I hadn’t seen in a while, for superintendent, I think they’re coming together.
Zeeble: Is there any issue that you say separates or differentiates you from the last superintendent?
Dansby: I don’t have a learning curve, I don’t have to start over again. Because I’ve been here, and so I know the system, I know the policies, I know the politics, I know the people. So that’s the big advantage I have that she didn’t have.
Zeeble: How do you think that helps?
Dansby: No doubt, it’s really a great-jump start for me. I don’t have to get to know people, I don’t have to get to know the politics of Fort Worth. I don’t have to learn where the schools are. I don’t have to learn who the principals are, learn who central administration is. I don’t have to learn all the factors of dealing with our budgets. I mean I’ve lived it.