Ending "Political Catfight," Council Votes to Help Uplift Sell Cheaper Bonds For Expansion

BhatiaatCouncilFeb22.JPG
Yasmin Bhatia at City Hall this morning, where the city council also voted to lift the 300-foot alcohol spacing rule in Deep Ellum, allowing schools and bars to happily co-exist
The Dallas City Council council didn't waste much time getting 'round to the most eagerly awaited showdown of the day: Item No. 53 on its agenda, which creates that nonprofit that would allow Uplift Education to some $85 million in low-interest-rate bonds. As city Chief Financial Officer Jeanne Chipperfield told the council last week, the formation of the education finance corporation would save Uplift some $300,000 in interest payments. Maybe more.

And right off the bat, Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia told the council: "One-hundred percent" of that savings would go toward giving Uplift's teachers a pay raise for the coming school year. "We are asking you to allow us to recognize the hard work and dedication of the public school teachers in our network," she said, noting the charter's high test scores, college-ready rates and the fact that, look, its North Hills Prep in Irving did come in at No. 11 on The Washington Post's list of the best public high schools in the country just last year.

"Would you please allow us to say thank you to them?" Bhatia said, teeing up a long line of speakers that included Uplift students, parents, educators and supporters who reiterated her plea. "If the council votes against the creation of the EFC, Uplift will still go to the bond market," Bhatia said, and still open in Deep Ellum and still expand into Fort Worth to accommodate some of the 6,000 kids on its waiting list. And Uplift will still "proactively seek ways to collaborate with our large ISD peers," she said, acknowledging the spirited debate attempting to pit charters against the Dallas Independent School District.

"But," she said, "we will be limited in how much of a pay raise, if any, we can give our teachers in our next school year."

Which is how today's debate was framed by most of the public speakers, save for those who demanded to know how this wound up on the consent agenda in the first place: Uplift's expansion is a done deal that won't put the city on the hook for the sale of those bonds, but creating the EFC will put the money saved in the pockets of local educators. And who could be against that? Well ...

Carolyn Davis, for one -- but of course. As she's done throughout this debate in recent weeks, she began the council discussion by insisting she couldn't support Uplift or charters because to do so would somehow mean she's against the Dallas Independent School District. "We got 11 schools that are closing, and the question we need to be asking ourselves is what are we going to do to support our public schools we pay taxes to every year?" she said. "I now have a say-so in the district."

"We must support our public schools," Davis said. "I have nothing against Uplift. My problem is sometime[s] we take the brightest minds and we tend to put 'em in charter schools. The other thing, my other concern, is that because of what we're doing, mayor, we don't have a say-so."

But the longer she spoke, the more resigned she sounds to this being a done deal. She told Mayor Mike Rawlings that if this does go forward she wants the council to appoint the EFC's board, which, right now, is filled with Uplift-suggested appointees.

"I think we can co-exist," said Delia Jasso, a Skyline grad. But she too wants to overhaul the board with "all or some council-appointed members."

Next up: Angela Hunt, who said the only thing that ever concerned her was how this would impact the city's bond rating. But after chatting up some outside bond council, she said, "The city has no financial responsibility in this, none, and that's good." Because, look, she said: She wasn't elected to be an education expert. That's not her role, not the council's. "And we're not breaking new ground here," she said, noting that the city has created similar conduits for private and charter schools in the past.

"At the end of the day," she said, "the city's not going to have skin in the game." And that, right there, should be all the council's concerned with.

Jerry Allen made the same point today he made last week: The council can either let Uplift throw away $300,000 in interest payments annually to bondholders "in New York City," or let that money stay here and go toward students and teachers.

But Vonciel Jones Hill, like Davis, views this as nothing less than "an adverse incursion upon DISD" that allows "the brightest and best minds to be drained from the DISD. That, in my opinion, is not good for our city, our image." Allowing the city to help Uplift sell those bonds, she said, sends the message that City Hall does not "have its mind around DISD, and that is not a message I choose to send."

Ann Margolin said, look, that's not what this is about. "This is simply a funding mechanism available to charter schools" that lets them "borrow money at a much less expensive rate and lets them put that money back into educating children." Dwaine Caraway said, come on, this is all about the kids, the children. "We should be focused on the children's education. They can get it from home school, they can get it from charter school, they can get it from DISD, they can get it from church." Wherever. You get the point. "The challenge is to educate the children." And damned if he'll deprive a child from getting an education, especially when he's got godchildren in charters.

"No one supports the kids and children and Dallas public schools more than myself, I feel, because I support all kids," he said. "We need to fill the auditoriums at DISD. [But] you can't come to the Dallas City Council and expect us to solve the problems of 3700 Ross. ... That's not our responsibility. We're here in the capacity in which we serve, which gives all charter schools an equal opportunity to step up to the plate. As I understand it, even DISD can come before this council and apply for the same process Uplift is applying for."

The longer he spoke, the more fed-up with this whole "political catfight" Caraway appeared to become. At the end of it, matter of fact, he wanted to know why DISD didn't come to council first and ask for help selling tax-free bonds.

Which didn't sway Pauline Medrano, who has three Uplift campuses in her district -- and a fourth, once the Laureate Prep secondary school opens in the old Baylor building on Elm in Deep Ellum on August 2. Despite Uplift's successes, sorry, she's voting no.

Tennell Atkins said, you know what, Dallas has a "negative image" when it comes to education. And that needs to change. And folks need to go back to Austin and demand more money for public education. But till that happens, this is nothing more than a conduit to help a charter school. After this is done with, said Atkins, "We need to go to DISD, to their chambers, and say, 'How can we help you to better educate our children?'"

Linda Koop said all the previous arguments pitting DISD against Uplift against the council against the kids made her "sad," in that the council was talking at each other, not to each other. But "this is really a hopeful day," she said. "We're engaged in education now. We're engaged in kids. We may disagree on some issues, but today we understand more than we did last week and the week before about what the issues are with education."

Carolyn Davis wasn't done. She said she's voting no. In case you missed that. But, she told her colleagues, if y'all are so concerned about the children and the state of the DISD, then "each and every one of us will get involved in a PTA at our public schools. We must get involved in math contests. We must have our children sit around the horseshoe. We must become volunteers in the district. We must support by giving money."

Then it came time to vote -- on voting to split the creation of the EFC and the make-up of its board, which some on the council wants to control. Which failed.

And then, at 11 a.m, came the vote itself -- and the end, for now, of this discussion. And it passed, with only Davis, Alonzo, Medrano and Hill voting against the creation of the EFC.

Up now: The council is considering eliminating that 300-foot booze rule in Deep Ellum. Whew.

Update at 11:06 a.m.: That took all of one minute. Motion passed. No more 300-foot rule in Deep Ellum.
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Yomama
Yomama

http://www.uplifteducation.org... so lets see Uplift Charter has the guy who determines how many teaching positions a DISD school gets every year ....hmmmmm....maybe someone needs to look a lil further in Mr. G Prado....wouldnt you say that is a conflict of interest?  You determine how many positions a school gets and you sit on the board of a direct competitor  of your employer?  Would any other business allow this?

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

 Charter schools cannot avoid what amounts to the most significant screening of potential students, the very necessity of an application. Less than 5% of public school parents ever make applications to a charter school for their child. They are the more involved parents who therefore have children who statistically should perform much better than average students simply due to more involved parents.But what happens? In charter schools the general level of achievement is no different than in public schools, even though charter students have more involved parents.The major long term danger in charter schools is that they fragment public attention away from having the best public school system possible. In Finland, with the highest performing students in the world, there is no such fragmented school system. There are only public schools! (Also, there are no separate middle schools in Finland, but that is another posting.) All resources in Finland go toward making all schools equal, those attended by the most wealthy of the wealthy and the poorest of the poor. Consequently all the schools are excellent! The US needs such a firm focus on excellence.

Gabe
Gabe

Question that I can't find the answer to:

Is the elimination of the 300 foot rule for ALL of deep ellum, and will it apply to other possible school openings in the future? Or is it a one-time exemption just for Uplift?

If the CBD and Deep Ellum continue to repopulate, DISD may want to look at opening a regular within the "entertainment district" sometime in the next two or three decades. Does this change make that easier and less controversial?

Michael
Michael

I still don't think the school should be in the Deep Ellum, but at least the 300 foot rule is gone and now we can see if the school can co-exist with its neighbors...

Ellum08
Ellum08

So now it's for 'The Teachers', instead of 'The Children'?

Bbetzen
Bbetzen

Anyone who says they care about education in Texas should contact Governor Perry to demand that a special session be called regarding the $1.4 billion in additional sales tax revenue that we will have that was not projected a year ago.   Texas is doing better than projected, except for our school children.  Thousands of teachers are planned to be fired this next school year, 2012/2013.  This could stop that process and fund our schools with only $400 million from the "Rainey Day Fund" that is projected to have over a $7 billion balance by the end of the bienium. See more details that were released only yesterday by the Center for Public Policy Priorities: http://cppp.org/files/7/2012_0...

Call the Governor to demand a special session!  http://governor.state.tx.us/ap...

facepalmattack
facepalmattack

Who really didn't think this was going to go thru? The DMN was for it, so the power players were already nodding their heads. This was a done deal from the get go. There's something folks in Dallas need to understand....you ain't got no say, if you ain't got no cash to play! Peace :)

Whodunnit
Whodunnit

Yeah, load up the Education Finance Corporation with City-appointed members (after all, the City has such a wonderful track record with similar organizations, like the Dallas Housing Finance Corporation). The demise of Uplift is in sight.

Evan
Evan

I can understand the hesitation towards charter schools in general, but the Council seems like they're of the mindset that if DISD doesn't have it right, no one should have it right. Unless I'm missing something, how does voting no on the bonds issue help DISD? How does it help anyone in Dallas? There's no cost liability to the city, so even if DISD is in shambles, and even if the council doesn't necessarily believe that charter schools are part of the solution, this should be a no-brainer. From what I've read here, I'm not certain that Alonzo, Hill, Medrano, and Davis even knew what they were specifically voting against.

Mary Hasan
Mary Hasan

Some of the charter schools don't have it right either and no one is paying attention.  It's about money for some and the children are the commody they need to get the money.  I knew when the mayor met with Blackburn something was going on.  Councilman Atkins stated that Dallas has a negative image.  Well some of that negativity can be placed on the council, not just the school.  I was born and raised in Dallas and I have a negative image of DISD, and Dallas City Council.  As a matter of fact, the negative image of Dallas comes from all branches of government.  If Atkins wants to work on the negative image, then he needs to start with the Dallas City Council. 

Hometown Boy
Hometown Boy

Evan, you are spot on. Voting "no" did not benefit DISD one iota but allowed politicians to placate their base who don't like competition from charters, particularly those who appear to serve their students better. You never saw anyone screaming about Uplift taking students with more motivated parents also decrying DISD magnets, which do the same (with an academic application to boot) and leave the comprehensives behind. Why not? Because this has NOTHING to do with what's best for kids. It's all about which group of adults gets academic credit for students with more motivated parents. It's also about teacher unions seeing teaching jobs go to charters where typically teachers see no need to join a union because they feel treated more like valued professionals instead of widgets

cliffhanger
cliffhanger

Actually, the magnets get slammed for that all the time. That despite the fact they outperform charters and also maintain transparency to boot.

biscuit98
biscuit98

Let's call bullshit this being for the teachers.

Uplift has already taken $10million of your federal tax dollars to give their teachers a raise.

The money they save will be siphoned off to feed their Charter Management Organization which they intend to grow to over 100 people.  Nothing like feeding the desk jockeys while their teachers do parking lot duty like the true "professionals" they are.

 

Lakewoodhobo
Lakewoodhobo

Good. Deep Ellum gets its pAArty school and bars don't have to worry about changes to the neighborhood. A good day.

cynical old bastard
cynical old bastard

 Doesn't the school still receive 75 street parking places during the day?

abuckley1970
abuckley1970

 No, that was never on the table.  They get 8 spaces on Elm Street adjacent to their school.  The imaginary spaces they were trying to claim was on Indiana Street and there was only 16 of those.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

The linking of the bond issue to teacher raises was masterful salesmanship.  Bravo.

I wonder if the Uplift teachers will remember this a year from now?

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