Former Abilene ISD Leader Arrives Monday Amid Controversy
Blooming Grove ISD announced this week they are set to hire former Abilene ISD superintendent Dr. Heath Burns to take over as the district’s new superintendent. A series of meet-and-greet events are scheduled for next week to introduce Dr. Burns to the staff and students of all three schools and to parents and other interested members of the community. Burns is the only remaining candidate for the position. According to state law, he cannot be officially hired until a 21-day waiting period is satisfied, during which both the applicant and district can back out of the agreement.
Burns is the lone finalist for the position after the school board used a search consultant, Arrow Educational Services, Inc, and initially considered as many as 42 candidates before narrowing the field down to six applicants. Burns’ selection was a unanimous decision by the BGISD Board of Trustees. He has been a school superintendent for the past 15 years, most recently serving as superintendent of Abilene ISD since October 2009. Before taking over in Abilene he served as the head of Anderson-Shiro CISD for three years and Angleton ISD for five years. Burns has enjoyed a successful career as teacher and administrator with a track record of developing programs and overseeing various improvements at schools and districts across the state. He has become known for his ability to put together successful bond election projects for the recent district’s he has served. He was nominated by Abilene ISD this past fall for superintendent of the year in his region.
In spite of Burns’ career achievements and the full support of the Blooming Grove Board of Trustees, the announcement has caused concern among many local parents and citizens. Less than a month ago, Burns abruptly resigned his position in Abilene in the midst of an ongoing investigation by Abilene police relating to as many as four inappropriate teacher/student relationships within his district. According to an Abilene police affidavit, police contend that Burns and the ISD withheld information concerning multiple alleged sexual assaults between teachers and students. Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge is concerned that Burns and others within AISD violated a statute involving their failure to report child abuse in a timely manner. Burns disagrees with the claims. Other Abilene administrators are also being investigated and two teachers have been arrested during the investigation. Burns has maintained no wrongdoing on his part while publicly disagreeing with the Abilene Police Department. The matter is still under investigation.
At a news conference on Wednesday, February 4th, Dr. Danny Wheat, the President of the Abilene I.S.D school board spoke on behalf of the Abilene Board of Trustees to explain the particulars in the resignation of Dr. Heath Burns. Dr. Wheat said they are focusing their efforts on making positive changes for the school district. On February 2nd, the A.I.S.D Board of Trustees and Dr. Burns came to a mutual agreement that Dr. Heath Burns should step down as Abilene I.S.D Superintendent.
Dr. Wheat said, “Past and current issues have impacted the trust and confidence within our community and within our district….. These hurdles would take us away from our primary goal. That being of the education and safety of our children.”
Dr. Burns had four years remaining on his $1.2 million dollar contract. The Board of Trustees and legal counsel agreed to an exit strategy and payment of $407,500 with resignation effective immediately.
Court records show the Abilene Police Department obtained a search warrant Wednesday, February 4th to obtain files linked to former Abilene ISD Superintendent Dr. Heath Burns, Abilene High School Principal Jennifer Raney, and Associate Superintendent for Legal & Human Resources Mark Neal.
The affidavit states: “Your affiant believes the communications will show that Jennifer Raney, Heath Burns, and Mark Neal had cause to believe that a child attending Abilene High School was involved in an improper relationship with Breanne Brown and failed to report it within 48 hours as required by Texas Family Code 261.101 (1) & 261.109 (2).”
On Friday, February 27th, the Abilene Police Department executed a search warrant (3) against Dr. Burns and confiscated his cell phone and tablet in relation to the ongoing investigation of Breanne Brown, the former AISD employee charged with sexual assault for allegedly having sex with a student.
The controversy surrounding Dr. Burns is well documented. Friday, March 6th, the Corsicana Daily Sun ran a story about the hiring and detailed much of the issues regarding the criminal investigation by Abilene police. News sources in and around Abilene have followed the story for weeks and many social media outlets show differing opinions about Dr. Burns with plenty of debate as to whether or not he should be a serious consideration for superintendent until the investigation is completed.
According to the recent article in the Corsicana Daily Sun,
Burns said reporting “rumors” against school teachers and other employees without investigating the rumors was “a position I did not believe to be in accordance with the law, and could not in good faith do.”
Burns said second-hand information that is investigated but cannot be substantiated as having any basis in fact does not trigger the duty to report under the law.
One of the many issues aired by concerned citizens relates to Burns’ future obligations to deal with the ongoing investigations in Abilene. Per the terms of the Voluntary Separation Agreement (4) between Burns and AISD, Burns agrees to make himself available to provide reasonable assistance in the District’s defense of any proceedings relating to any incidents that occurred on his watch. How much time will this take away from Burns’ new responsibilities as BGISD Superintendent? How much of a distraction will it be?
8. After February 2, 2015, Burns agrees to provide reasonable assistance to and cooperate with the District, its Trustees, agents, and attorneys in response to, or in defense of, any demand, claim, complaint, suit, action or legal proceeding brought against the District, its Trustees, or agents, arising from any acts or events alleged to have occurred during the term of Burns's employment with the District, at no additional expense to the District other than reimbursement to Burns for his documented reasonable and necessary out-of-pocket expenses, plus reimbursement of any salary lost by Burns by virtue of his taking time off from his then current employment to assist the District at its request.
In a March 4th open letter (5) to Blooming Grove friends, teachers, parents and students, Burns introduced himself as the lone finalist for the job and volunteered information about his career as an educator and his personal life. The letter also addressed the challenges he has faced upon departure from Abilene ISD without offering any specific details or any attempt to defend himself.
A “meet-and-greet” is scheduled between Burns and employees this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, March 9th, 10th and 11th at the Blooming Grove campuses.
Dr. Burns will meet with Elementary on Monday, March 9:- at 7:20 am and 3:45 pm.
On Tuesday, March 10, Dr Burns will meet with Junior High and High School at 7:20 am and 3:45 pm
Any concerned parents, teachers or community members are welcome between 8:00 am and 3:00 PM Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday at the high school office.
(2) 261.109 Sec. 261.109. FAILURE TO REPORT; PENALTY
(3) Search Warrant – APD-Burns – February 25, 2015 –search warrant
(4) Voluntary Separation Agreement and Release – Burns-AISD – February 3, 2015 – seperation agreement
(5) March 4, 2015 to Blooming Grove – Burns_Open Letter_March 4
An interesting piece of information has just come to light about an event that took place in 2005, involving a suicide by a principal in the district Dr. Burns served as Superintendent.
From a comment posted on the Corsicana Daily Sun Facebook Page 3/8/2015
“I am reserving judgment while I conduct my own research, but, from what I can tell so far, it appears as though back in 2005, when Mr. Burns was employed by the Angleton ISD, he had an employee with an allegation made against that employee for acts that would have occurred when that employee was with the Hempstead ISD. Once informed of the allegations by Mr. Burns, that employee killed himself with a gunshot to the chest. I have not been able to determine, as of yet, whether or not the allegation investigation continued against that employee after his death. For this analysis, the only thing that matters to me, is that from Mr. Burns’ perspective, the last time he dealt with a situation similar to this, the result was tragic.
So, fast forward to the Abilene ISD allegation. If Mr. Burns delayed information, I can see it being from the perspective of a man who likely believes he caused the suicidal death of the last person that he dealt with in this situation.
I think that we all can agree that not everyone who has an allegation against them is determined to be guilty of that allegation.
It surprises me that with the huge amount of success, admiration and accomplishment that this man has achieved in his career, he is being judged by this one instance of possible poor judgment.”
Article – TX- Principal dead of apparent suicide
Article – Police probe death of Angleton principal