Far As DISD Trustee Flores Is Concerned, Hinojosa's the Right Man
First, a disclaimer: I've always liked Flores, who's pictured at right; he's affable and accessible. And you get the sense that he loves being a trustee and is able to shrug off the criticism that comes with the job. This is in stark contrast to Leigh Ann Ellis, who looks as if she's watching the the drowning of purring kittens when the crowd grows restless at a school board meeting. Then again, if I was a RIF'ed teacher, I might want Flores to show a look of horror and fear as well.
He's an interesting figure. As intelligent as Flores is -- he earned his Ph.D in something called molecular immunobiology from Washington University before becoming lawyer -- he didn't appear to be particularly curious about how the district operates. Throughout our interview, the Northwest Dallas trustee sounded almost bemused by how DISD hired teachers, kept track of its finances and paid its bills. One of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's most steadfast allies on the board, Flores offers up almost no criticism of the superintendent and, much like board president Jack Lowe, doesn't seem particularly interested in rooting out every last detail of the district's budget mess.
After the jump, unpublished excerpts from our interview.
On Michael Hinojosa
"He is focused on the most important thing -- making sure every child is college ready-and make sure they are ready to go out in the workforce and be productive citizens. He is intensely focused on that."
"He is not a rah-rah, it's-all-about-me kind of leader. He is way too humble for that."
"When Ronald Reagan was running for president the first time, one of his aides said, 'There is a group of blind kids who want to visit you.' Reagan got in his limo with his Secret Service staff to the next event. He later visited the blind kids one on one -- without the press present. That's the thing about Michael. He is just a good guy, a good person who does the right thing. Not because it gets him attention but because it's the right thing."
"I'll tell you this much: He has personally intervened in situations that nobody has ever known about to help kids, but he would never tell anyone."
"He's not in it for himself. Michael could retire today and be fat dumb and happy for the rest of his life without having to put up with all of this crap. He's not doing it for the money; he's doing it because he wants the school district of his hometown to be rich in student achievement."
"Michael Hinojosa is the undisputed master of educational turnaround. He's focused on the right things. Do you have the right teachers in the classroom? Are they teaching the right things? Is everybody teaching the same thing?"
On the board's private meetings with Hinojosa
"Of course, they're tense. How could they not be tense? We'e talking about something that we're embarrassed about that put the district in the worst light possible."
"I felt like we communicated very clearly and he understands what is the expectation and what needs to be done. I think he has a very solid plan and is working very diligently to get it fixed. I can tell you that nobody feels worse about this than he does, but like a good leader he is focused on the task and trying to find the solution to the problem."
On teacher groups like NEA-Dallas and the Alliance-AFT
"If you look at districts around the country, the more powerful the union the worst the district."
"I'm from Mexico, and the unions are incredibly powerful, much more so than here. The unions are nothing compared to them, and yet they have among lowest educational scores of all the industrialized and semi-industrialized countries."
On why trustees couldn't spot and prevent the district's financial crisis
"My first year, our audit letter was two pages long. My second year, three pages long. Last year's audit was 90 pages, plus the management's response. This year, the same."
"You're a volunteer board member. You do this part time and you get a two-page audit letter. You're going to think things are great."
"I'm a biotech patent lawyer, I don't know anything about these things. You trust people to give you the data, you have a $1.2-billion district and 22,000 people working for you, at some point you have to trust these people."
On what led to the crisis
"One thing the media is not making very apparent: Every school has a formula. The school formulas say you have so many kids and you have so many teachers. But kids bring weights with them. If you're LEP (Limited English Proficient) or a TAG (Talented and Gifted) kid or a special-ed kid, you get more money from the state."
"The deficit arose because we staffed above formula. Let's say it's just two teachers per school -- well, that adds up."
"The teachers who [were] unfortunately part of a Reduction in Force earned their pay; they did their job, they were hard-working teachers who were focused on the kids. Unfortunately, it created this huge budget gap."
"The problem is when a school would lose a bunch of kids, they wouldn't lose teachers; but when a school would have too many, they'd get new teachers."
"Nobody said we are 350 teacher positions over formula. No one ever said that. No one."
"People would put bills for the district in a drawer -- bills for $100,000 -- and forget about them."
On his initial reaction when he learned that the district had spent over its last budget and was threatening to be $84 million in the red for the new fiscal year
"It's kind of the flight-or-fight response. At first you're like, 'How did I miss this?' I've been looking at those monthly financial reports and didn't see any red flags. You go through the whole grieving process, you're mad as hell, and you realize people are going to get hurt, and you realize that this will overshadow all our academic gains."
"I assumed we were closing our books once a month. That's how every business does it. Why would we be any different? We get a monthly financial report, and I didn't know those were estimates."
On who's responsible for the district's money problems
"We're responsible; we asked the right questions and the administration asked the right questions of their people and the data they got was wrong."
On whether racial politics played a part in the hiring of extra teachers
"We weren't overstaffed in North Dallas. Let's put it that way. The district was overstaffed South of 30. I guess those principals go to the budget people first. These people weren't malicious; they were trying to do the best they could for the kids." (A note: In an interview, Hinojosa said that he didn't believe that most of the overstaffed schools were in southern Dallas.)
"The people who have been in the system for a while always have the advantage; that's always how it's been."
"These are good people; they are trying to do the right thing for the kids. But the problem is the system is not in place to make sure we were in formula." --Matt Pulle