In our age of serial television dramas, ongoing movie series, and endless sequels, you wouldn’t expect the Fort Worth school district to be the subject of one of the most repetitive, pointless, sad, and costly dramas ever: The Never-Ending Saga of Joe Palazzolo, starring the one-time vice principal who was terminated after whistle-blowing on attendance fraud and other violations while working at Arlington Heights High School in 2010. That’s almost a decade of the same plot for those of you keeping score.
School district spokesperson Clint Bond is reviving his character of Mr. No Comment on Ongoing Litigation. District lawyers repeat their roles as taxpayer money sponges. Lots of other cast members are returning, too. For example, at least three employees who have filed recent grievances against the district for its persistent bullying practices are returning as the chorus of Won’t Talk to Media for Fear of Retribution.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll wish you were watching Godfather III, Caddyshack II, or gouging your eyes out with a dull cheese knife. It’s the drama only a monolithic bureaucracy with a documented history of trying to crush whistle-blowers can love. Here’s the updated plot. (You should sit down for this part.)
Our protagonist was awarded $2.4 million by a jury in 2014. That’s how the first movie ended. Since then, the district appealed that ruling to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, which ordered a new trial because of an error in the court’s charge to the jury in the first trial. Then the district filed for the case to be thrown out on a technicality, even though district had just been awarded a new trial. That motion was denied, as was another motion too confusing and bizarre to even try and unpack in this limited space. (Take a breath.)
The district then filed a petition for review in the Texas Supreme Court, a petition that was denied and sent back down to trial. Once back in the trial court, the district filed a plea to the jurisdiction, raising the same arguments it had raised in – and which had been rejected by – the Fort Worth Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court. It was summarily re-rejected. The district then appealed that denial to the Fort Worth Court of Appeals, raising the same arguments that the court rejected the first time. Predictably, the court upheld its twice-confirmed rejection. Dizzy yet?
After all of that, it appears the district is still on the hook for the $2.4 million and managed to rack up god-knows-how-much court and attorney fees in what Palazzolo’s lawyer, Paul Wieneskie, called “a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, to say nothing of wasting the talents of a dedicated educator.”
As for Palazzolo, he said in an email that, after all he’s been put through, he’s nowhere near backing down. He hopes this saga will finally drag to its conclusion.
“I feel it is only right to point out that all of the retaliation I, my family, and friends have experienced at the hands of the district and the board since reporting attendance fraud to [Texas Education Agency] and [Department of Education] would have gone unnoticed were it not for the reporting of Betty Brink in the Weekly,” he said. “The commissioner of education ordered my reinstatement after the very first hearing in 2011, finding that the district had bribed the TEA hearing official at the very first hearing by paying him three times the legal limit for his fee.
“Betty broke that story,” he continued. “Millions have been paid out in legal fees since – all with taxpayer money.”