The recent indictment of an Alief school trustee -- and the revelation of his criminal record -- has prompted the question: Should the state or local districts require the same background checks for board members as they do for employees and volunteers?
"I think everybody should be scrutinized; anybody who represents or works for the school district," said Cheryl LaBelle, who retired last year as a secretary for the Alief Independent School District, in southwest Houston. "It's not even a matter of fairness. The first priority of the school district is to teach our children and protect them."
The idea of checking school board members has generated support from some current board members. Manuel Rodríguez Jr., president of the Houston board, and Don Ryan, president of the Cypress-Fairbanks board, said they would favor such checks.
"You are in a position where you have a leadership role in the district. I think the community would want to know if you had anything on a background check," Ryan said. "Our main focus is on the protection of the students and staff. So anything we can do in that regard to increase that protection, I think the board ought to take action to do that."
[Edgar Dansby III, the Alief trustee indicted in December,] is accused of falsely claiming he had a degree from Southern Methodist University and using taxpayer money to rent the gowns he wore as a board representative at several high school graduation ceremonies. The gowns were supposed to represent his alma mater.
A spokeswoman for SMU said the university has no record of Dansby, 50, attending or graduating from the school.
Harris County records show that Dansby pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor prostitution charge in 1982 and was sentenced to six months' probation. He also was twice convicted of theft in the late 1980s and received deferred adjudication, a form of probation, on a third theft charge. None of those resulted in a final felony conviction.
State law forbids candidates for public offices to run if they have a final felony conviction and were not pardoned.
Dansby's attorney, Cornel Williams, declined to comment.
State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, who co-authored the bill requiring the checks, said he doesn't see a need for board members to undergo checks.
"A board member is not in close or constant contact with the students," said the Democrat from McAllen. "Also, this is a political official. At least the majority of the time, you have a challenger. They'll dig that (criminal history) up on their own."
As part of the new law, teachers and some other employees must be fingerprinted.
State Rep. Rob Eissler, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he wouldn't mind if local districts adopted policies requiring background checks of trustees.
The Republican from The Woodlands said the next Legislature probably will discuss including board members in the law.