What Did The Mayor Mean When He Called Out the School District This Morning?

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Megan Feldman
Mayor Tom Leppert, DISD trustee Edwin Flores and superintendent Michael Hinojosa at SMU in July
This morning, during a speech at a Big Brothers Big Sisters benefit breakfast, Mayor Tom Leppert announced a few possible corporate relocations to Dallas -- among them, he said, a Fortune 200 company to which he clearly sent an iPhone. But that wasn't the breaking news that jumped out from the reporting.

First, there was this from Elizabeth Souder at the bottom of her brief recap:
Leppert added that Dallas ' "Achilles element" is the struggling education system. He said the public schools must improve, and Dallas needs a research university to meet the needs of corporations.

"All the things we've done in the city become moot if we don't improve our education system," he said.
Then, this from the Dallas Business Journal:
Dallas' biggest weakness is its education system, Leppert said, adding: "not only in the K through 12, but we also need to address it in higher learning."
It's been almost a year since word first leaked that Leppert was thinking about, just maybe, taking over the Dallas Independent School District. To some Friends of Unfair Park, today's remarks sent the signal that perhaps he hasn't completely abandoned the idea about which he never said another word. Hence my phone call to the mayor's chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh, who is waiting by the phone to see if Dallas made the World Cup's latest round of cuts. I will see the mayor shortly at the Woodrow Super Bowl event, but till then, my questions for Heinbaugh (among them, "Why was the mayor calling out DISD?") and his answers, follow.

At an event like this morning's -- during which he was touting corporate relocations, a big player on his agenda -- why mention the school district at all?

This is not anything he hasn't said before. The mayor is right: No matter what we do in terms of economic development, in terms of the arts, in terms of turning around downtown or the southern sector, none of that matters if we can't turn around the school. The mayor is very supportive of the reforms Dr. [Michael] Hinojosa is putting into place and pursuing, but those are all fragile gains, and they're going to have to be sustained over a longer stretch of time. You're a DISD parent. You get that.

So, if he says it all the time, why say it this morning? Is there an ulterior motive?

This is something he has brought up repeatedly. The reality is you don't always have reporters there, and when you put the two together -- reporters and a mention of relocaton, not ot mention talk of education -- for you it gels into a story. For us it's what he says day in and day out.

How often does the mayor talk to the superintendent these days?

On a fairly regular basis. They bump into each other at functions, and when there are concerns over issues, they will meet or call each other.

And what's the nature and tone of their conversations these days?

You'd have to ask the mayor. But, look, it's going to take a lot of support -- from state funding to the board's oversight and the quality of the board's overesight to make sure we don't slip.

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