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TEA disciplines Granbury ISD administrator who used district's plane for family trips

The State Board for Educator Certification said Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Dawson used professional privileges for personal gain.

GRANBURY, Texas — The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has disciplined a Granbury ISD administrator following a WFAA investigation that revealed he used the district plane for personal use. 

In November, a WFAA investigation found Assistant Superintendent Jimmy Dawson used the plane to fly to Abilene and visit his daughter for her birthday. He took his wife, another district employee, on the trip. 

In September, Dawson told WFAA he hadn’t used the plane for personal trips. He said the flight to Abilene and others like it were training flights. 

The TEA said it launched an investigation based on WFAA’s initial story and a tweet promoting it.

Last month, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) issued Dawson an inscribed reprimand, a permanent mark on his certificate. The reprimand says Dawson used professional privileges for personal gain.

Watt Lesley Black Jr. has spent 30 years in education as a principal and school board member and teaches education ethics and law at SMU. He compared Dawson’s actions to a bus driver using a district bus for a vacation. 

Black told WFAA an inscribed reprimand is significantly more severe than an uninscribed one, which would be between just the TEA and Dawson. 

“It’s a pretty significant thing to happen to an educator,” Black said of the reprimand. “The inscribed reprimand would probably be for ethical violations that are pretty serious.”

Following WFAA’s first story, the district paid a law firm more than $20,000 for a review of the plane, which was initially designed to help teach students aviation. It discovered Dawson flew just three times with students but seven times with his family. The review concluded Dawson logged 10 flights as training, including a trip the week of Thanksgiving that was also to Abilene.

“That seems to me to be unusual and raises a bunch of legal and ethical questions,” Black said. 

Just 64 of the plane’s 136 flights were listed as student instructional flights, according to the attorney review. 

While the district owned the plane, neither Dawson nor the district’s other instructor, Mark Kirk, were licensed by the FAA to teach students how to fly. 

Following WFAA’s initial report, district parents also raised concerns about a flight to College Station on a weekend. Kirk flew with students on the day of a Texas A&M football game. The flight is listed as a "college visit" on the district log. It’s unclear how many students were allowed to use the district plane for campus tours.

Granbury ISD said neither Dawson nor Superintendent Jeremy Glenn would answer questions on camera for this story. Board President Barbara Herrington did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Dawson publicly apologized in a board meeting in December. 

"It never was my intent to bring any negative attention to the aviation program," Dawson said. "I regret the position this has placed our wonderful school district in."

WFAA requested emails from board members, Glenn and Dawson to learn more about the plane program and investigation.

After WFAA spoke with Dawson in September, Glenn told board members, “Both Mr. Dawson and Mr. Kirk log significant hours in our airplane and have taken dozens of students on demonstration flights.”

Dawson took three students on demonstration flights in the 19 months the district owned the plane. 

Hours before WFAA’s first story ran in November, Glenn told the board, “We never heard back from WFAA” after the district’s initial statement in September. 

In those two months, though, WFAA had several phone calls and dozens of emails with a Granbury ISD spokesperson and open records coordinator. 

Asked about the discrepancy, the district spokesperson said, “There were gaps in our communication during those two months.” 

Dawson told WFAA in September the district’s board and leadership were aware of the flight. However, the legal review found Dawson never had written permission to fly. It added that he didn’t violate any policies, though, because, before WFAA’s story, there were no written guidelines on the use of the plane. The district has since implemented new written guidelines. 

Attorney Miles Bradshaw and KBS Law, which prepared the review, also did not respond to multiple requests for comment from WFAA. 

The board unanimously voted to sell the plane in January. A California buyer got it for $96,000. The district had initially bought it for $42,000 in April 2021 and then spent $50,000 on upgrades. 

In the January board meeting where the district agreed to sell the plane, board members noted higher-than-expected costs that came from maintenance and hangar rental fees, as well as insurance and the risk associated with the program. 

"What this says to our students, families, and community is that GISD accepts the risk the plane creates because the most we can lose is $100,000, according to the insurance,” Board member Karen Lowery said. “Every time this plane would take off and land, it created a risk of accident and liability to the district.”

While several districts across the state have aviation programs to teach students about planes and engineering, WFAA couldn’t find another district in the state that owned a plane for its program.

“It’s such an unusual circumstance that the school district would purchase an airplane,” Black said. “There’s probably a lot of ways to serve the interest of flight-related education, aeronautic-related education without purchasing an airplane for the district.”

Granbury ISD said it is now using a flight school for its education. Dawson will not be part of the program or teaching, according to the district. 

A spokesperson said the district has disciplined Dawson internally but could not share details. 

The review conducted said Dawson’s actions warranted at least a written warning and training or a written reprimand and training.

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