Lance Hindt’s final year at Katy ISD
The turnout was sparse for the March 19 board meeting of the Katy Independent School District. The trustees were considering a handful of important, yet not particularly exciting, items on the agenda that night — from an update on the ongoing Hurricane Harvey recovery effort to a report about purchasing a plot of undeveloped land for the construction of a new school campus.
Then Greg Gay stepped up to the lectern during the public forum portion of the meeting and everything changed. Within two months, Lance Hindt — a gregarious local boy turned veteran educator who had returned home to lead Katy ISD as its superintendent — abruptly announced his retirement effective Jan. 1, 2019.
Gay told the board members about a bullying incident in a boys bathroom that occurred decades ago while he and Hindt were students at West Memorial Junior High School.
“Lance, you were the one who shoved my head in the urinal,” Gay said to the seemingly stunned superintendent. In an audio recording of the meeting, Hindt can be heard muttering, “This is unbelievable” before asking then-school board president Ashley Vann to call for the next speaker.
Hindt, 53, strenuously denied taking part in any attack on Gay but later admitted “when I was young and dumb, I did dumb things.”
By any measure, Hindt had a successful tenure as superintendent of the 80,000 student district until that night. He was interviewed and eventually picked after former Superintendent Alton Frailey announced he was stepping down in January 2016. Hindt backed teacher pay raises, guided the district through a voter-approved $609 million bond package and created Katy ISD’s first ever five-year strategic plan, which outlined future goals for the school district. He publicly defended Katy ISD’s controversial $70 million football stadium against critics, even though the project came from the previous administration.
He was standing outside, shaking hands and offering high-fives with incoming students, when Bryant Elementary School first opened its doors in August 2017 and, unlike his predecessor, Hindt had no problems utilizing social media — including while sometimes wearing silly hats — to pump up the morale of students and staff. He also won praise for quickly opening up KISD campuses as temporary shelters for people who were displaced by the flooding from Hurricane Harvey and working tirelessly to make sure the community was safe.
“Katy is where my roots were first grounded and being part of this community again and being able to give back to the community that helped raise me has been on of the best life decisions I had made,” he said in an email to the Houston Chronicle in April. “To this day, my dad and brother reside here. So being here in Katy, serving this district, is not just a job, it’s really personal for me.”
Gay recalled going home after the schoolhouse attack that left him bruised and bleeding. He told KISD trustees he put his father’s .45 pistol in his mouth and briefly considered suicide.
“I was bullied — unbelievably bullied,” Gay said. “I had nobody to turn to.”
District trustees point out the vetting process and background check Hindt went through before they offered him the job following a national search conducted by Houston law firm Thompson and Horton.
“If Dr. Hindt had things in elementary, junior high or high school that this community didn’t like, I guarantee you, we as a board would’ve heard about it,” said former KISD trustee Charles Griffin.
Katy ISD released a statement from Hindt the day after Gay’s explosive allegations where he unequivocally denied any part in the attack.
“I do not suggest that Mr (Gay) was not bullied, only that I was not part of it,” Hindt said.
But thanks to the internet, the bullying claim leveled against the KISD superintendent quickly spread. Newspapers around the U.S. picked up the odd story and versions soon began appearing in other countries. The publicity helped bring forth more troubling allegations against Hindt.
In April, David Carpenter, a judge now living in Alabama, waded into the controversy with his own account. Carpenter, who called Hindt a “vicious bully,” told reporters he recalled him hurtling 25-pound weights at students in the early 1980s when they all attended Taylor High School.
A civil suit from 1983 also surfaced from a Houston man who said Hindt, then 18, accosted him during an altercation following a party. According to court documents, Hindt left the man — identified as William Stein — “lying on the ground in an unconscious state.” Stein was in a coma for several days after sustaining multiple injuries, including blunt trauma to the head and rib fractures. The suit was settled two years later with Hindt and the host of the party paying the court costs, according to the court documents.
Hindt — who led the Allen ISD before coming back to Katy — also is accused of plagiarizing portions of his University of Houston doctoral dissertation after officials with the National Association of Scholars said it appeared strikingly similar to one published earlier by a high school principal in suburban Atlanta, Ga. UH officials would only confirm the cheating allegations are under investigation.
Even as the claims and allegations against him snowballed, Katy ISD officials — both in the administration and among the Board of Trustees — strongly backed Hindt, as they had done from the very beginning. They claimed the controversy was part of “our modern news cycle and social media culture” and said the “frenzied attacks” lacked context and distorted the truth. In a statement from then-president Vann on behalf of the trustees, she said their responsibility was to judge their superintendent based on the totality of his record and “not just on claims of what a 14-year-old boy is alleged to have done 40 years ago.”
The uproar — primarily stoked by social media — continued to grow after Gay’s damning statement to the school board. Vann told reporters she received hate email, primarily from outside the Houston area in states like Florida, Indiana and Illinois. Following the bullying allegations, Hindt said he and his family also were targeted with a barrage of personal attacks he referred to as a “smear campaign.” It eventually led to his surprise decision to resign effective Jan. 1.
“This malicious campaign against me is hurting them severely and I cannot allow it any further,” Hindt said during a May 10 special KISD board meeting. “I cannot justify putting my wife and kids through it anymore.”
Vann also stepped down as Katy ISD board president but remained a trustee.
Hindt has declined interview requests about the bullying allegations against him or the “smear campaign” he said he was subjected to afterwards.
He was the fifth highest paid superintendent in Texas with a base pay of more than $386,000, according to October 2017 data from the Texas Education Agency. Soon after his bombshell announcement, the KISD trustees released a hastily drawn up revised contract with Hindt that will award him two years worth of his salary — more than $770,000. As part of the deal, the district agreed to retain special outside counsel to pursue legal action on Hindt’s behalf, “on account of the damage to his reputation and interference with his employment caused by defamatory statements made or published by a third party or parties.”
Because Hindt is a government official, some legal scholars said prevailing in a defamation lawsuit would be unlikely.
Hindt stopped attending school board meetings in July, with his then-deputy Ken Gregorski representing the district’s administration. Gregorski became the acting superintendent in December and just over two weeks later, the district named him the “sole finalist” to formally replace Hindt once he leaves office.
Even selecting their next superintendent proved contentious for the Katy ISD school board when three of the members — including their longest-serving trustee — voted against Gregorski after the board’s four-member voted to keep the selection “in house.”