DISD Trustees Don't Want to Close Campuses. But They're Told: They Have No Other Choice.

Fannin1.jpg
The 107-year-old James W. Fannin Elementary, one of nine elementaries the district is likely to close come the 2012-13 school year
Late Thursday afternoon, and only because interim super Alan King had a flight to catch, the Dallas Independent School District trustees finally got around to discussing the 2012-13 budget and consolidating -- which is to say, closing -- those 11 campuses in order to save a guesstimated $11.5 million next school year. But, of course, that's a fraction of what the district needs to cut, thanks to the state Legislature's decision last year to gut its financial commitment to public education.

"What we're talking about this year is a continuation of the same issue" the district faced last year, said Steve Korby, DISD's executive director for financial management. Before the current school year the district lost $77 million out of the budget -- "$65 million of which was payroll." Korby led the trustees through the PowerPoint we looked at Monday, which adds back seventh-grade athletics and $4.50 per student per campus and comes up $3.5 million short. Said Korby, if they don't bump up class sizes at the K-4 levels (which could see 300 teachers lose their jobs) or close those schools (an expected loss of 171 teachers), the district will cut up to 471 teachers at the secondary level.

It didn't take long for the trustees to ask about making more cuts at 3700 Ross; that, after all, is what those who don't work at 3700 Ross always demand first at times like these. At which point trustee Edwin Flores reminded the board about that horrific human resources briefing, which says the district has "half the staff" it needs to actually do its job. Said Flores, the board may "need to cut elsewhere to add back to HR. ... Before we say, 'central office, central office, central office,' there are some things needed there [that] more than pay for themselves" in the long term.

At which point it turned to school consolidations ...

Thursday was the first time the full board actually got around to discussing the sensitive subject, which involves shuttering one of the district's crown jewels: James Bonham Elementary, where, as you can see below in the presentation given to trustees, the district says it will save around $1,134,000 by closing its doors.

Korby said there will be public hearings, at least five, between January 17 through January 26; no time or place has been determined, and time's a-ticking. "I would recommend a full compliment," said trustee Mike Morath, meaning: one hearing at each campus being considered for closing. But Flores and Nancy Bingham suggested having the meetings at the schools they'll be transferring to -- "so they would feel at home," said interim chief of schools Shirley Ison-Newsome. (Update at 5 p.m.: The district just emailed that schedule of hearings, along, of course, with where they will take place; it's at the very bottom of this item.)

Korby was asked: How'd you pick these schools, anyhow? He said that, well, when it came to the nine elementary campuses -- Bonham, City Park, Frazier, Wheatley, Harllee, Arlington Park, Fannin, Roberts and H.S. Thompson, another exemplary school -- he went with those that have enrollments below 251 students. "That was the cutoff, realizing this is a difficult process," he said. "We cut it off at a level that was achievable -- or, at least, hopefully achievable. We looked at a number of others, but we ended up drawing the line at that point." Later, Carla Ranger would characterize that number as "arbitrary."

Again and again, Korby and King explained to the trustees they have no choice -- and that this probably won't be the last time they're faced with having to make this call. Said they, if and when the feds reauthorize No Child Left Behind -- which George W. Bush still stands behind -- rules concerning the allocation of Title 1 funds will further tighten, and money will be harder to come by.

"Comparability is a significant piece of it," said King. "That's the thing that's likely to impact us the greatest. It will make it impossible to provide a full range of [services] to small schools."

But whatever the outcome in D.C., there is still Austin to worry about. Because the district, like all ISDs statewide, is still struggling to get through the last year's decisions. Said King: God knows what the state Legislature will decide to do next year. "At best, we'll hold on to what we have," he said. "We got through the last year and we're trying to get through this budget cycle, but at some point in time the districts around here are going to increase teacher pay, and if we don't we're going to lose teachers."

Board president Lew Blackburn, who just this week discovered he lost out on his second bid to become another district's superintendent, piped up. "We may have to close more schools to increase salaries," he said. And what happens when the district comes back to voters with another bond package? At this rate, Blackburn fretted, "we may not be able to get that."

Ranger, who spent most of Thursday trying to put off the inevitable by delaying several items on the January 26 voting agenda, once again requested the trustees to put off voting on consolidation. But she wasn't asking for a mere month.

"I think we ought to take the opportunity to look at this for another year," she said. "There's a lot to be considered." Yes, she said, these campuses are small, "but there's a lot to be said for smaller schools. They have been and are being touted and promoted as being very successful schools, and many of these are high-performing schools. It was an arbitrary decision: 'Let's go below this number.' ... I am not ready or convinced this is what we ought to do."

Flores would insist that, yes, smaller schools are successful -- but those with 400, 600 students, not 250 and fewer. He said the research bears this out. And, yes, there are studies -- such as Smaller, Safer, Saner: Successful Schools from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities -- that put the number at around 400, give or take. But it goes beyond that, he said, pointing to the fact that a lot of smaller elementary schools share a TAG teacher, who travels from campus to campus like an itinerant educator with "their feet in different places."

Trustees threw out every idea they had to spare the campuses: Eric Cowan asked if there was a way to reduce costs per student. King said, "When you staff it with personnel to keep the doors open and include utilities, no." Blackburn asked about changing attendance boundaries, which, he was told, would only shift the problems to other campuses. They asked about adding fourth and fifth grade to Bonham, and were told that wouldn't fix it. (I've been told repeatedly in recent weeks that the classrooms there are simply too small to accommodate two more grade levels.)

And there are still questions about what the district plans to do with the staffs of the schools that will be closed: Will they sent to the new schools or sent home? A policy under consideration, which was discussed earlier in the marathon meeting, reads: "In the event two or more schools are consolidated or any schools are closed, staff assigned to the closed schools shall be released into the excess pool." Ranger decried that, calling it "antagonistic to teachers."

But, the trustees were told the superintendent can still displace principals, suggesting that those leading exemplary and recognized campuses about to be shuttered may yet have a job awaiting them at one of the schools to which their students will be shuffled.

Bernadette Nutall said she's been meeting with Mayor Mike Rawlings, discussing ways to bring "affordable housing to South Dallas, because economics and education go hand in hand." She talked about trying to repurpose Pearl C. Anderson, and about having "meetings about ways to keep the schools open." Ranger, the naysayer, agreed here: She said the trustees must take it upon themselves to try to lower expenses at the campuses, "looking for ways to save money any way we can."

But King was not so optimistic: He's hoping that outsourcing that custodial contract may give some relief, but it's not sure thing -- far from. Maybe the state will remove homestead exemptions from property taxes? Doubtful. "Or we could go up a little more [in terms of class size] at the elementary [level], and I don't thnk we want to do that."

Cowan said: What happens if the trustees whiff on the consolidation proposal?

Mike Morath said: "It equates to 171 teachers. Doesn't need to get more sophsiticated than that."

[Update: The district has made the full consolidation discussion available via Vimeo. It's below.]
School Consolidation 011212 v3[2]

School consolidation discussion-January 12, 2012 from Dallas Independent School Dist on Vimeo.

Consolidation Public Hearings NR

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34 comments
Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

What will transportation cost be to bus kids from closed schools to other campuses? There are not schools within walking distance from them.What about custodians being laid off, more unemployment to blame on DC when our sorry Governor and new Tea Party folk did this to Texas Education. it's a shame how elected Texans messed up this State last session,and Perry thinks people are going to send him to higher Office,No Way.

It's So Sad
It's So Sad

Schools close because: - children grow up - families move - old people don't have babies (generally) - neighborhoods change When a public school closes, you don't sell the property. It is just closed. It may be rented out or repurposed, but it is still part of your building inventory. When the demographics change and there are more students living in the area again, these schools are re-opened. DISD has done this before. The reason for all the handwringing is the emotional attachment to a school, which is a good thing. But that doesn't solve the money problem. AND I would expect that a small enrollment school would be exemplary. Smaller class sizes, fewer distracting students, more individual attention from EVERYBODY. And then not even having 4th & 5th grade to pull your scores down? REALLY? Having small middle and high schools is a negative. Fewer electives, fewer extra-curricular activities to develop students skills that might not fit in an academic class.  We are all being screwed by the state legislature & governor. That is where the biggest financial problem is. Cutting school funding from the state AND limiting the schools' ability to raise taxes to meet the needs. Guaranteed way to destroy whats left of public schools.

It's So Sad
It's So Sad

Schools close because: - children grow up - families move - old people don't have babies (generally) - neighborhoods change

When a public school closes, you don't sell the property. It is just closed. It may be rented out or repurposed, but it is still part of your building inventory.

When the demographics change and there are more students living in the area again, these schools are re-opened. DISD has done this before.

The reason for all the handwringing is the emotional attachment to a school, which is a good thing. But that doesn't solve the money problem.

AND I would expect that a small enrollment school would be exemplary. Smaller class sizes, fewer distracting students, more individual attention from EVERYBODY. And then not even having 4th & 5th grade to pull your scores down? REALLY?

Having small middle and high schools is a negative. Fewer electives, fewer extra-curricular activities to develop students skills that might not fit in an academic class.

We are all being screwed by the state legislature & governor. That is where the biggest financial problem is. Cutting school funding from the state AND limiting the schools' ability to raise taxes to meet the needs. Guaranteed way to destroy whats left of public schools.

Diane Birdwell
Diane Birdwell

Here is a solution that is so simple, it will make your head hurt----ready?Retool these schools we are closing to become additional AEP-----alternative campuses for violent, truant, drug carrying, whatever... kids who got into trouble.

Now, stock them with all TFA teachers. Let them work their magic with that group all day long. We use the TFA to its upmost, we keep the buildings intact, we get rid of the most disruptive students from our cmapuses---plenty of room a the repurposed schools. That way, we can get more campuses at the acceptable rating. You eliminate the top 40-50 trouble-making, failing, disturbing students on all campuses, and you will see a dramatic shift.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

It's down to kids/families or lucrative contracts.

Contracts approved by trustees bleed us dry.

Look at the disaster with GradeSpeed and the Parent Portal.  How many millions did that simply waste?  Money--gone--poof--into thin air.

TFA.New buildings.Alternative Certification.Safe Schools.IT everything.A bloated counseling department.Executive directors.Head of this, Head of that...

Kids vs. Adults.King is simply trying to make the numbers square.

It isn't the State of Texas' fault  or the Democrats or the Republicans in Austin that we threw $3 million to Highland Park alum Wendy Kopp and the TFA organization.  Even HIghland Park won't pay TFA.  

DISD spending begins and ends with the trustees.  It's time to pay the piper and schools must close.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Well thank goodness we are giving TFA $3 million dollars instead of keeping schools open.

Bonham parents may be on the warpath now, but were they at the meeting where the trustees voted to give $3 million to TFA?  If not, why not?  Did they not realize where that $3 million was going to come from?

This is how it is in DISD:  How the trustees decide spend money affects every single school and every single program.  

The cuts have to come from somewhere.  Pay attention to the IT deal they're up to now.  

Again, it will have to be paid for by children.

Ignore the trustees at the risk of your child's school and education.

Guest
Guest

which says the district has "half the staff" it needs to actually do its job.

Or too few people who are good at their job.

UnFair Pork
UnFair Pork

Sorry to go OT, here, but that DISD logo is the worst thing that I've ever seen.

Every time I see it, I can't help thinking that it looks like a kid getting smacked in the head.

Oh, wait... nevermind.

pencil
pencil

Why doesn't anybody talk about the dirty little secret of the high cost to educate the children of illegals in DISD.

Save money
Save money

When I was in school administrators were paidthe same daily rate as if they were a teacher. If they wanted more money theyhad to work more Days. Plus, Dallashas 10 times more administrators than they possibly could use.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

At the 5 hour 03 minute mark of the meeting, just before the Vimeo (above) begins, Steve Korby says that the budget comparison between last year and this year is "assuming flat expenditures".  Moak-Casey has the increase in expenditures for school districts at an average of 3% spread over all of the funds.  This equates to around $37M for a district the size of Dallas.  Every year DISD has seen cost increases tied to electircity, gas, milk, etc. Assuming that the General Fund will see at least some of these cost of living costs passed on as expenses it would have been nice if one of the Trustees had asked the simple question, "What do you expect the difference in expenditures from last year to this year to 'actually' be?"

Dallas Dad
Dallas Dad

Are we sure that the property value of Bonham, due to the development on Henderson Ave., has nothing to do with the decision to close it? The district is already renting out the parking lot at night. I'm sure there are quite a few developers who would love to take Bonham off the district's hands.

As for as Nutall's "talks" with the mayor - she's just politicking because election time is coming and she knows she's in trouble. She marches to the orders of the Citizens' Council and the Chamber of Commerce and puts the interests of the North Dallas business community ahead of her constituents.

Bonham parent
Bonham parent

Bonham has looked at numbers and does have room for adding grades 4 & 5. 

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Things will be OKAY As long as we have Friday Night Lights in the stadiums Stop those and all hell will break loose.Meaning folks will converge on Ross Avenue like we have never seen before.

This will be true in the Burbs as well.

The second year of the State Wide Education Funding Cuts put in place by 2011 session in Austin will come into their full glory as this falls High School  football season opens .Opps I mean school starts .

Look for real change in Texas Education Funding and Spending during the 2013 session or a whole new bunch in Austin for the 2015 Legislative session.

Help how ever slow might be on the way..

Crowak
Crowak

What about approaching the corporate community to adopt these 'historic' and successful schools lightening the burden on the district? 

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

re Nutall: All the housing in South Dallas is already "affordable". South Dallas just needs housing. Period.

re Bonham class size: what a croc! Since when do 4th graders need phyiscally bigger classromms than 3rd graders? I mean, I know there's an obesity epidemic and all, but can we not be given better excuses, at least?!

Ellum08
Ellum08

Interesting that most, if not all, of those planned closures are 'historic' schools, some that are official City of Dallas landmarks. Does that have anything to do the schools chosen as well? In terms of maintanence (or lack of maintenance, we are talking about DISD after all) costs?

I wonder what is going to happen to those buildings once they are closed.

Ellum08
Ellum08

DISD, I have an honest question for you.....

Do you think the type of school affects the performance of the children who attend? As in, do children who go to school in a shiny, new building do better (in your opinion) then children who attend school in an older facility?

I went to elementary school in a 1950's building, middle school in a 1940's, building and high school in a 1950's (with recent additions) and I didn't seem to suffer from an academic standpoint. Granted this was before computers became dominant in most classrooms, but still.

One of my other issues with DISD is that they are building 'suburban' style campuses in inner city neighborhoods. The new Adamson construction absolutely decimated one of the older neighborhoods in North Oak Cliff (granted a lot of it was run down, but it was still a neighborhood.) And they are about to do the same for the new Dade campus at MLK and Grand.

I guess I don't understand the disconnect with the City trying to get people to move back into the city, while DISD continues to close those schools that could serve those moving back into the inner city.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

So what if the property value is the motive?  If you need to sell off assets to stay afloat, is there anything inherently iniquitous about selling off the most valuable one first?  Sounds smart to me.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

Great.  Have they looked at the cost of busing those kids to Bonham vs. where they go now?  Or the cost of leaving other spaces vacant while Bonham is full?  Or how many non-Bonham 4th and 5th graders go homeless if you close somewhere else to keep Bonham open?

It's not a game of Tetris.  There's economies of scale and proximity to consider, across a whole section of town. 

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Smaller classrooms are an issue because to fit 2 additional grades, you are adding a significant number of students.  That implies that you are increasing the number of students per classroom.  The smaller rooms will not accommodate that growth.

StopDISD.org
StopDISD.org

They will probably demolish them like the 102 year old historic O.M. Roberts elementary.   Why is DISD moving forward with a proposal to rezone / further destroy the Jubilee Park community and build a new 22 million dollar O.M. Roberts school that it is recommending for closure?  It's bad enough that the district spent 2.6 million to renovate OMR only to demolish it.   We demand better Education! Better Compensation for our Teachers! and Preservation of historic schools and neighborhoods!

Fred
Fred

Some of the older buildings are better-built than the new ones and are more solid over time and really cost less to repair.  There are plumbing and wiring issues of course but that's minor compared to building a new school that will fall apart in 20 years.  Also the history of the school is important and inspiring for the students as well as the community.

Here's a good example in our community:  http://id3410.securedata.net/m...

Guest
Guest

Maintenance & energy are both good points.  A logical (but simplistic) approch would be to rank schools and the associated annual operating costs in order of student enrollment.  Another logical approach would be to list them in order of annual operating cost-per-student.  The two lists may not be that different.  Either way, you start at the bottom (smallest or highest unit cost) and keep adding schools until you hit the total  figure than needs to be cut.  This may have been the process used (not arbitrary), but it was not explained that way.   

Tim Covington
Tim Covington

It's not just maintenance costs. There are also energy costs. How much does it cost per square foot to heat and cool those older buildings?

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Older buildings have more windows, which I personally think benefits most kids.  It seems to regulate them better. 

But no, shiny and new in no way equates to a better education.  It's the quality of the teacher that matters.  Period.

No one ditches or avoids DISD bc they don't want their kids in lovely, older DISD buildings. They avoid DISD because race-based, crony, and nepotism-minded administrators hire incompetents to carry out their agendas.

Parents just want good teachers and happy children.

Advocate
Advocate

Titus Groan: listen to your own question. How ridiculous.

Bonham parent
Bonham parent

Titus Groan - Many of those kids would no longer be on a bus across the freeway.  Others would stay in lower grades because their siblings will still be there - that means not transfering away from their home school.I don't want to see any schools closed unless they are not performing, but Bonham is rated as the #2 elementary in DISD.  Why shut down our most successful schools.  As far as size goes, let's take a look at the size of the magnet schools. 

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

"the classrooms there are simply too small"

So I don't think it's a problem of the number of students. Per the attached documents there is room for 85 more students at the school. If you add those 85 students you will not increase the number of students per classroom over capacity.

And by my back of the envelope calculations there are 45 students per grade (pre-k 3, 225 students), and generally those numbers decline in the higher grades. It should be pretty easy for the local parents to find out how many 4th and 5th graders would have been at Bonham had they not been sent to a seperate school for those 2 grades. Just look at the size of the last 2 3rd grades. If it adds up to less than 85 you seem to have a strong case.

StopDISD.org
StopDISD.org

Great Information!   The problem is DISD presents all the negatives about older schools. 

For instance after the $2.6 million dollars of taxpayer money was spent to renovate O.M. Roberts, DISD claimed that the school was still unsuitable for its students.  They pushed for new school, one without any heating / cooling problems (BTW the 2.6 Mil in renovations included a brand new AC unit and storm windows that were destroyed with the school this last August)

Ellum08
Ellum08

I don't doubt that it might be more to heat/cool an older school versus a new facility, but if DISD actually maintained their historic buildings, or ANY of their campuses for that matter, it might not be as big of an issue.

These historic schools were built to adapt to the climate before a/c, heating, etc. (large, operable windows, tall ceilings, etc.)

The windows at Long Middle School were practically falling apart before DISD decided to do something about them. Absurb.

Hence the reason why I will never, EVER vote for a DISD bond election again. They don't take care of what they have and won't take care of what they build in the future.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

The building is not rated anything.

The teachers and students are successful.  Also, few elementary schools have the luxury of not having to worrying about the 4th and 5th grade state tests.  It is 5th grade Science and 5th grade Math that keeps most elementary schools from being "Exemplary".

I understand your frustration and I am on your side of this issue; I hope Bonham stays open.

K-5 elementary schools resent K-3 schools bragging about their ratings.  K-3 have easier standards.  

Instead of pressing the "Exemplary" rating, swoop in and demand to see some of the contracts the trustees are considering.  Reclaim Bonham's money from the morass of contracts.

TFA just got $3 million.  That's 2 years of keeping Bonham open.  That's one contract that could have been stopped.  The trustees approved it.

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