The man slated to head the Texas City Independent School District made headlines last year for controversial comments about then-President Barack Obama, raising concerns among residents about his selection.

The Texas City Independent School District voted unanimously Tuesday night to name Port Neches-Groves Superintendent Rodney Cavness sole finalist for the position. The school board now has 21 days to finalize his contract.

Trustees reached Wednesday defended the selection and said the board was aware of the comments before picking him to lead the district. Cavness had brought them up during his interview and told trustees he regretted the comments, said Hal Biery, vice president of the school board.

In an interview with a Beaumont-area news station last year about Obama’s directive to schools requiring educators to let students use bathrooms according to their gender identity, Cavness responded by calling Obama a failure and declaring “he ain’t my president.”

“I got news for President Barack Obama,” Cavness told a TV news reporter.

“He ain’t my president and he can’t tell me what to do. That letter is going straight to the paper shredder. I have 5 daughters myself and I have 2,500 girls in my protection. Their moms and dads expect me to protect them. And that is what I am going to do. Now I don’t want them bullied … but there are accommodations that can be made short of this. He is destroying the very fiber of this country. He is not a leader. He is a failure.”

The Daily News was unable to reach Cavness at his office Wednesday.

It’s not common for leaders of public school districts to wade into politics in such a polarizing manner. And residents and former educators in the district immediately took to social media to express their concerns.

Former City Commissioner Dedrick Johnson questioned the school board for its unanimous selection of Cavness.

A school district leader needs to show respect toward all students, Johnson said.

“In a time of significant transition and needed progress ... this is a PR nightmare and possibly a step in the wrong direction,” Johnson said on Facebook.

“It’s hard to support school leadership when the leader vigorously denounces valid national leadership. Yes, we have a right to our opinions but there are some character flaws that are glaring here.”

Cavness’ comments raised concerns about how he would handle students bullying or insulting each other, Johnson said in the post.

“Our district has a serious problem in handling bullying, which is largely based on hate, lies and rumors,” Johnson said. “I have a problem with his brazen slander of the POTUS and a gross mischaracterization of a minority population, while he himself occupied a public leadership position that had a great and direct influence over school children.

“I welcome Dr. Cavness to our area with a great deal of reluctance and will invite him to meet with local leaders and concerned parents to further elaborate on his comments.”

A former assistant principal of Levi Fry in Texas City called the selection troubling.

“Is this the same individual who said last year that “Barack Obama ain’t my president” (false) and “he can’t tell me what to do” (true) Troubling. He was approved unanimously? Wow,” Jesse Hoke said on Facebook.

“To be fair, I just wish him well.”

Cavness brought up the statements during his interview with school board leaders, who were already aware of it through their research, trustees said.

“There was a situation at a school in his district that they had already handled before the issuance of the president’s letter,” said Dickey Campbell, the school board president.

“Dr. Cavness explained to us that he and the district did the right thing by the students but he said he did not say the right thing. He regrets saying what he did. He said he learned a lesson from it. Dr. Cavness was very genuine and all seven of us were satisfied with his explanation.”

Cavness had otherwise impressed trustees with his track record and had been fully vetted, Campbell said.

“His leadership in all areas is outstanding,” Campbell said. “He has a heart for kids. He makes academically sound decisions. He is a leader who believes in teamwork and supporting his team. He is a hands-on, visible leader. I think that when people see what he can do in our schools, they will know, like the board knows, that he’s an influential superintendent that is going to make a positive difference in Texas City ISD.”

The board trusted Cavness’ ability to work with students and employees with different political views, Biery said.

“That’s never been a problem for him,” Biery said, adding he had talked to several references. “He sought other people’s opinions and listened before he made decisions.”

Cavness has continued to speak publicly against allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. According to news reports, he traveled to Austin in March to testify in favor of the so-called “bathroom bill” state lawmakers are considering.

The bill proposes rules that would require people to use bathrooms in Texas schools and other public buildings that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate. It has been criticized as being discriminatory against transgender people, who might not identify with the gender on their birth certificates.

Cavness’ 27-year education career began in Beaumont Independent School District as a teacher and coach, according to the Texas City school district. He was an assistant principal in Silsbee and Beaumont school districts and principal at Beaumont’s West Brook High School.

Before moving to Port Neches-Groves school district, he was the superintendent in Evadale Independent School District from Jan. 2007 to Aug. 2010, the Texas City school district said.

Marissa Barnett: 409-683-5257; marissa.barnett@galvnews.com


(28) comments

Carlos Ponce

There's an old saying, "If it ain't broke,, don't fix it." Texas educators have dealt with this situation nicely. They know their schools, they know their students. As Supt. Cavness states, "Now I don’t want them bullied … but there are accommodations that can be made short of this." Sound reasoning. What Obama failed to realize is what is good for San Francisco schools may not be right for all schools. Those who oppose this candidate because of his comments seem to be of the Berkely mold: Freedom of Speech applies only if you say what I agree with.
"Dickey Campbell, TCISD School Board President stated:
'Dr. Cavness has a proven track record of strong financial accountability and utilizing effective academic practices, while enhancing teamwork. He is a big supporter of enrichment programs including academic, athletics and fine arts. He also is a proponent of CTE and STEM programs. These are just a few reasons why we believe Dr. Cavness is the ideal candidate to lead Texas City ISD.'
'Texas City ISD has the highest academic rating the Texas Education Agency gives to districts and we have the highest financial ratings. We have a great staff in place and we believe that Dr. Cavness is going to enhance our strengths and challenge us to keep striving for excellence in all areas.' ”
Has any of what Dickey Campbell stated changed? I think not.

Jarvis Buckley

This is a great leader PNG is losing.
He will protect your children.

David Smith

Welcome to Lamarque Dr.Cavness

Mike Trube

I don't recall the Constitution stating it protects just certain people to free speech. It's my understanding it's intended to protect all people. This man should have the same rights as all citizens. He has a right to his opinion and a right to vocalize it. What the constitution doesn't do, is keep you from getting your feelings hurt. The man should be judged on the job he is hired to do, nothing more. Now, if he breaks the law, that's a different story. He should not have to apologize for his opinion.

Gary Scoggin

He certainly has the right to his own opinions and to express them in the right manner. However, when speaking for the District, he is accountable to his Board. The First Amendment doesn't apply here.

Karen Sawyer

I'm not impressed with him at all. How can you respect someone's authority when he doesn't respect authority himself?

If you're having trouble getting past the topic or the fact that it was Obama, imagine for a second it was someone refusing Trump's authority and tell me if you're okay with that.

Kelly Naschke

News flash to Karen.....Trumps authority has been questioned from day one from the left. I believe they call it "the resistance". From the media, to celebrities, to all the bought and paid for protesters that don't even know what they are protesting.

Karen Sawyer

Not exactly a newsflash there Kelly. Everybody knows that.

But I'm not too thrilled about having a superintendent being one of them.

PD Hyatt

ROFLOL@ that statement.... The so called progressives like to think of themselves as the party of the tolerant.... From what I have seen over the last 2 decades they are only tolerant of you if you can swallow the perverted garbage that they spew.... If not then they will riot and trash everything in their path.... Just look at the marches that the left has been doing since January.... They have trashed every march with their signs and their garbage....

PD Hyatt

The ones who hate what the Supt that Texas City is going to hire, are the exact same ones who have said the same thing about Bush 2, and Trump.... If they are honest that is.... What Obama did was against God and nature.... To say otherwise is to put yourself in the camp of the progressives that booed God during their Convention.... That is a camp that I would not want to be involved with....

Robert Buckner

I am impressed with the man

Kimberley Jones Yancy

I would like to know about his credentials; do they warrant over looking a pattern of controversial statements that are proven to be divisive.? We need a leader who will be able to unify our two communities in a peaceful manner. I am placing my children in his hands. What does he see when he sees my children? As a result, his opinion matters to me. Will he disregard the office of the current POTUS if he doesn't agree with an order? Is that what we want to teach our students to disregard authority when we no one is being discriminated against? Everyone has a right to their opinion. However, our opinions shape our decisions. Young people in our community took all of 24 hours to find a consistent pattern of questionable statements on the internet made by Dr. Caveness. Our students are concerned and eyebrows are raised. Or perhaps his statements were just bad judgment or a mistake? No one is perfect. But should we be willing to take that risk? It is definitely a time to pray. At the end of the day, he can go back to the Beaumont area Triangle but how will he leave our community; better or worse? A community school district that is now majority-minority. Again, I would like to hear more about his credentials and how he can unify our communities. As a parent of three at LMHS, I am seeking an superintendent who is competent, has a heart for ALL children and knows how to display wisdom in turbulent times. Is Dr. Caveness the one?

Carlos Ponce

Credentials: Please read the quote from Dickey Campbell, TCISD School Board President in my post.
Please read the GCDN article "Texas City ISD board names sole finalist for district superintendent"
You will have all his credentials there in print for you to peruse. Does Dr. Cavness make a habit of questioning authority? No, but he felt strongly about Obama's decree and spoke when asked by the media.
If TCISD backs down on their approval of Dr. Cavness, the students will be denied his leadership with years of excellent credentials.
Kimberly, you often make CONTROVERSIAL and ERRONEOUS statements. Does that mean you should be denied employment?

Kimberley Jones Yancy

Why do you assume I haven't? Smh. And controversial and erroneous to whom? Case in point. This candidate does nothing to bring us together. We had such hope. Praying for us all.

Carlos Ponce

Why do I assume you haven't? You keep asking for his CREDENTIALS when they have clearly been stated in this paper and by the TCISD Board President.
Kimberly, think about the10 ft tall portrait of Andrew Jackson in the White House you posted was brand new. It first hung in Abraham Lincoln's office back in the 1860s and is between 2.5 to 3 ft tall. ERRONEOUS! And you don't think your comments are controversial?????? You seem to toss in the "Race Card" at whim on most topics. There's an old saying, "Whoever uses the 'race card' isn't playing with a full deck."
"This candidate does nothing to bring us together." If you want to be left out, that's your business. The rest of TCISD wants what is best for the STUDENTS of that district.

Kimberley Jones Yancy

Mr. Ponce race is not a game and its especially not a card to be played. I am so sorry that you feel that it is....even using the term is an insult...but you would not know that. (SIgh) I pray Dr. Caveness realizes that.....

Carlos Ponce

"Mr. Ponce race is not a game and its especially not a card to be played. "
So Kimberly, stop playing the race card anytime you disagree with something.

Jose' Boix

Ms. Yancy, regarding your statement "... do they warrant over looking a pattern of controversial statements that are proven to be divisive.?." Is there a "pattern of controversial statements.? To me such wording denotes a proclivity to be divisive. This does not seem to be the case here, in my opinion.

Pinkie Oleander

I am very concerned about this choice. TCISD has been able to avoid much of the controversy which affects other institutions in Galveston County. Opening the door to an individual who seens happy to make controversial political statements seems like a poor idea, particularly in a district that is seeking unity and grappling with a suicide spree. In this case evidence of good judgement may be more critical than the experience of running a specific school configuration. Texas City is not like the rest of East Texas.

Gary Scoggin

" Texas City is not like the rest of East Texas." -- and we should all thank God for this every single day. 😀

Gary Scoggin

Does this disqualify him? No. But it was inappropriate for him to have made those remarks and his choice of words was poor. Publicly reacting to policy changes like this is the Board's job, not the Superintendent's. His job is to keep his mouth shut and implement the Board's policies.

Carlos Ponce

" His job is to keep his mouth shut and implement the Board's policies."
The BOARD'S policies - not Obama's.

Gary Scoggin

Exactly. If the district decides to not follow federal policy it is a Board decion, not the Superintendent's. I expect him to have more discretion here than he had there.

Jack Cross

I which the GDN would have thought through this editorial before they printed it. Here is why, The TCISD school board did not whitewash this, they extensively questioned Dr, Cavness about his comment, They examined his record and found no record or instances of concern. He is highly qualified and respected at PNG. The TCISD board decision was unanimous and this school board has an African American on it. The TCISD school board is one of the most respected school board in the county. You don't see controversy in the news, they don't have a problems passing bonds because the public trusts them. They are doing an outstanding job absorbing the former LMISD,

I trust the TCISD board, the public trusts the TCISD board and the Galveston News should trust the TCISD board instead of questioning their decision.
The Galveston news knows there is a TCISD school board election tomorrow, the GDN have have seen the letters in the paper, they know there are some people in the former district that do not trust the TCISD board, I don't agree with them but I respect their right to question the board and hold them accountable. This editorial brings into question the decision making of the board and it adds fuel to the fire at a time when a lot of of us are trying to pull these two communities together and put all these things that pull us apart behind us.
What in the would did the GDN seek to accomplish with this editorial?
The economic progress and decisions on where families choose where to live depend a lot
on the school system. I see the possibility of some really good schools in both TCISD and the former LMISD along with the services provided by COM if we can pull together and put all this mis-trust behind us. Come on GDN Editorial board what were you thinking, other than sensationalism, what is the answer to your viewpoint? Did the TCISD board make a mistake? If so, what do you recommend they do? Who is the GDN to question the recommendation of a much respected Search team of DR Moses who is a past superintendent of LMISD and past head of Texas Dept of Education. The TCISD saw all the data and they sat long and asked the questions, what more do you expect?

Dedrick Johnson

Jack, what does it mean to say that TCISD has an African American on the board? Let me make something clear. Just because there is an African American in any committee... board... or governing body, doesn't mean that person carries the belief of the entire black community. The African American community has varying approaches and a diversity in SOME values. Contrary to popular belief, one person NEVER represents all of anyone because of color. Next, I need to point out that the issues that stem from Dr. Cavness' controversial statements and past should concern more than just the African American population. This is a statement of leadership... not loyalty. This is a statement of right or wrong, not race.

I do agree with you in that our TCISD board is a great one and has managed many challenging issues in the past. But they have done so because they have been safe and fair in avoiding potential conflicts like this. Their past record of efficiency and competency does not absolve them from critiques from those who will be most affected by their decisions.

Dedrick Johnson

Dr. Cavness is a controversial pick to say the LEAST. Everyone is hung up on his controversial "he ain't my president" comment. It was more than just that... It was hostile. It was offensive. It was personal and partisan. "He is a failure!" And emotional commentary like this has no place at the HEAD of our newly created school district. Laura Elder words it perfectly in her article.
What most people fail to realize is that this is not the only negative thing attached to this candidate. No matter what you feel about transgender students, he has an obligation to provide them with a safe environment conducive to learning.
Dr. Cavness arrives with controversies of refusing to entertain the renaming of the Indian mascot.
Dr. Cavness was also being sued by parents who's kid he himself allegedly bullied into an illegally obtained confession, when he was a principal in the Beaumont area.
These things, in their totality, concern me greatly... as they should concern us all.
Texas City has managed the first year of this difficult merge of districts successfully in my opinion. We need a superintendent who will accelerate that progress into a united district.
Sure... HE HAS THE RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH. But that does not absolve him from the consequences that come often come along with that right. Especially from those who desire to be leaders in our schools and communities.

If Dr. Cavness was our BEST choice, then the district should have tabled the vote until the new board was elected this weekend. After all, that's the body that will govern this district under his "leadership".

Jack Cross

Dedrick, TCISD has two African Americans on the board not one, and it does make a difference on issues like this and you know it. We are hounded on this issue almost daily, Voter ID, district map drawing, picking juries and more. All I was pointing out was that I trusted this board and the fact that there are two African Americans who supported this decision has weight. When you were on the TC commission, I had no idea what political party you or other African Americans belonged to because all of you never voted in a political way. If I was blind, I would not even know the color of any of the African American commissioners on how the way you voted. You like white commissioners looked out for your district but you voted for what was best for the city. There should be no partisan politics politics in local elections and I don't want Dr Cavness doing that. Like you I respect and trust this TCISD board. I am satisfied that his comments have been apologized for. Why do we not put this behind us, should affirmative action have no end. Cavness and people like him are not the biggest threat to the black community. We should be concerned about the destruction of the black families and the senseless killing of blacks on black in the democratic run cities. You say you care about freedom of speech, tell that to any conservative who is invited to speak at major colleges. Derrick, we don't have freedom of speech anymore, we have political correctness

Dedrick Johnson

Mr. Cross... I am aware that our schoolboard has two African Americans on it. My point about representative views still stands. I simply questioned what you meant and quoted you when YOU said the schoolboard "has an African American on it".
The rest of your discussion is in agreement with mine ... until you jumped on a whole different track to destination "irrelevance" , speaking on Black on Black killings and affirmative action. Whites kill whites every day too... that has nothing to do with me questioning whether this man is the right person for our school community after the controversies of his past. I know you mean well Mr. Cross but you cannot compare his leadership and political speeches as a man who's hired and has a salary paid by taxpayers... to the service of me and my fellow commissioners who were elected to represent our constituency. We will have to agree to disagree on SOME things. But at least we can agree that we both want whats best for our students... And thats likely someone who isnt so assertive with his own personal political views when it comes to leading and guiding a diverse community of students.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.