Business People Taking an Interest in DISD May Not Be All Bad, In Theory

Categories: Schutze

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Yikes. Now I have to say I found something good on The Dallas Morning-News op-ed page today. Will my Job-like suffering never end?

In today's Dallas'-only-daily-newspaper (alas), Mark Melton, an attorney at Hunton & Williams, has written an essay about the involvement of the "business community" in the Dallas public school system and what he calls "conspiracy theories concerning our motives." I will explain the quote marks in a minute.

But first, his remarks go straight to a question that has long been a kind of knife in my own heart. As a reporter and as the parent of a Dallas public schools graduate, I feel as if I have been staring into the same broken window at the Dallas Independent School District for too many years.

On the one hand, if by "business community" you mean people in the school construction and vendor businesses, then, sure, there have been conspiracy theories -- some of them shared by the FBI, some of them resulting in people being sent off to the pokey for pretty long stretches.

There's a difference, after all, between a conspiracy theory and a conspiracy.

markmelton.jpg
Mark Melton
But, look, Melton is spot-on in one contention he makes. He says the school system has obvious problems running the business side of its operations: "... DISD is an organization with 20,000 employees and a $1.5 billion annual budget. In past years, the district has had significant issues outside the classroom with accounting, finance, compliance, human resources and organizational management."

Yup. This school district over the years has compiled an appalling record for, first, not keeping the books, and, second, scapegoating the hell out of some innocent pawn when they do get caught.

In fact over the years you have to stop interpreting that single trait -- the inability to run the business side -- as some kind of personal moral failing, just because moral failure isn't a big enough theory to cover it.

When new faces take over and new hands are at the till but the same things happen, then it's time to consider whether the institution itself simply lacks the systems, the means or the knowledge needed to get it right.

Melton obviously is not using "business community" to mean contractors and vendors. He's talking about people who own certain skill sets -- valuable skill sets for which they can charge stiff rates in the marketplace -- that they are willing to contribute free to the school system, in order to help it dig its way up to the surface of the earth.

He writes: " ... the business community has an understandable interest in helping DISD resolve businesslike issues, leaving academic professionals to focus on the classroom."

He also gives away the fact that he has a kid at Woodrow, where my own son went to high school. Believe me, that's skin in the game. Ouch.

But I know what else it means: He has seen the very best -- the wonder in our city's public school system. I believe him when he says his own motivations are to do good for the city by helping save what's good in the school system.

But these are perilous waters. Helping DISD better navigate the shoals of bookkeeping and personnel will not keep the district dry, if the district is not also firewalled from exploitation and corruption by the segment of the business community that makes money off the district.

I guess we could have a long fireside chat about whose job that is. It's probably not reasonable to expect well-intentioned volunteers to wade into that cat fight, unless they might be willing at least to share how they protect their own companies from getting suckered right and left.

If nothing else, this guy is sure interesting. So is Todd Williams of Uplift, the charter school outfit. We would ignore them at our peril. The one thing we know the community cannot afford is the way things are now. If somebody's got a reasonable Plan B, maybe we all need to shut up for 30 seconds, pull up our chairs and give a listen, even though just saying it out loud makes me feel like Job for some reason.

Gotta go check for boils.

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East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

If the business community wants to help fix the business operations of Dallas ISD, that's fine. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with their efforts to fix everything in the district with their "business model". Stick to business and leave education to the educators, parents and students.

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

I am all for business involvement in the schools. Ross Ave doesn't like it because they can't control it, so they discourage/restrict/deny businesses being directly involved with individual schools.If a business wants to donate something, it has to be donated to the whole district. It seems the only time a business donates to a single school is when Ross Ave wants some P.R.

Having local business involved in local schools shows children that success & happiness can come with a JOB, and GRADUATION, and HARD WORK. Even those these things are talking points for the BOT, they are discouraged in reality.

Roscoe
Roscoe

There are some other Woodrow parents, former parents and alums (one never really leaves The Shrine) involved in Educate Dallas and other concerned groups. We have seen what DISD can be and want others to have schools like ours.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Woodrow's scores are lower than Spruce's.  Woodrow works for the not-poor kids whose parents are involved.Don't get me wrong--that's okay. 

It's just not truthful to put it out there like all kids are doing super-fantastic in DISD.

DISD is broken for the 95% of the kids who are low-income and who don't have involved parents in spite of the fact that it takes in over a BILLION dollars a year.  And most middle class parents still aren't willing to put up with DISD bs (see Bishop Lynch).

Woodrow also just got one of the best principals in DISD.  But once he's gone--and he is closer to retirement than not--it's back to DISD as usual for Lakewood homeowners, parents, and taxpayers.

Freddy
Freddy

Woodrow also works for those who put forth the effort. Why some of the poor kids don't is a mystery - same teachers, same classrooms, same opportunities - but most of them don't take advantage of what is offered. That's really too bad - would you rather be a poor kid at Spruce with no hope or a poor kid at Woodrow who could potentially go to a great college, earn one of the many WW alumni/PTA scholarships and place out of a lot of classes from AP and IB? 

Woodrow is in the second year of transition to an academy school - meaning the students (now freshmen and sophomores) must choose between STEM, Performing Arts, Business and/or tracking in IB or AP in those subjects with the goal being an IB Diploma, which automatically earns 24 hours of college credit in Texas (more at some college).  IB is being expanded beyond the Diploma Programme to a wider range of students - they may earn an IB Career-Related Certificate (IBCC) if they complete their academy choice and take two IB classes.

So maybe you negative nellies should wait a couple of years to see how this shakes out before blasting the school.  BTW not all the achievers are white - last year's top ten was comprised of four whites, four hispanics, one asian and one anglo/hispanic.

Personally I like the principal and his record at Marsh proves he can do things - that may upset some...

Nuffsaid
Nuffsaid

Best principal? He has not proven himself yet at Woodrow. Teacher morale is at all time low. Woodrow lost several teachers this year in the middle of the year. Some IB courses are taught by teachers with no IB training. Please check facts before you say anything good about this principal. He was chosen before the interview and selection process because he has the right color and right connection. Woodrow serves the needs of only a few students. Other schools' scores are better than Woodrow yet they don't have IB or AP program. But guess what, as long as the kids of white parents are high, their kids are in the music program, and Newsweek keeps publishing a bloated ranking, Woodrow is an okay school for Lakewwod. 'Nuff said!

Freddy
Freddy

"Some IB courses are taught by teachers with no IB training"  You asked to check the facts and I checked this - it's untrue.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

    Hey Jim can the new guy ask that everyone at Ross Ave reapply for their Jobs ?

Just 1 of a million
Just 1 of a million

 That would require HR to locate all their credentials and licenses and return them from their files. I'll bet that would be problematical, Perhaps even comical.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

The "senior staffing specialist" person used to "store" teacher files by stacking them floor to ceiling in her office.

She got (gets) away with it bc she was (is) untouchable due to race and cronyism relations.  

As I've posted before, I was down there once when a white, Math-cerftified teacher was walking out after having been told to sit down and shut up after waiting for 2 hours for an "appointment".  We desperately need Math teachers, but HR did everything they could to thwart the campus principal who wanted to hire that candidate.

He walked out.DISD kids lost out.HR scored yet another victory in choosing family/friends/sorority members over the kids. 

Its So Sad
Its So Sad

Me too.I got a job by bypassing HR and going direct to a principal who hired me on the spot.

JimS
JimS

Discussion below of paying bard members (or city council members). The problem is with not. You get what you pay for. Smart committed high energy people can't afford to do it, so you still get some good civic-minded people willing to make a sacrifice, but you get more rich people who don't have to work and poor people who never have.  The trick is to recruit more people somewhere in the middle of all that, and to do that you have to replace their incomes from other work.

Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

Maybe Jim and I have been here to long and have witness the good finicial managers be run off after attempting to get the books in order.I knew one who was more than qualified she did a fine job at DFW with budget the size or greater that DISD, staff fought her tooth and nails finally inside politics won she moved on.The inside machinery must change for the District to improve.How in 2010 could a business have authorized positions budgeted and over hire staff pay them from same budget and not know positions were not avaliable? That's budget 101how do you fund central HR but have people being hired and not approved by HR for job code and funding source? How do certain bussiness people always end up becoming a involved in work with DISD. Placed on committees to improve things and selling their products.

Michael MacNaughton
Michael MacNaughton

Suspicions (and hackles) rise because the major players with money in the DISD political game all seem to be north dallas white men who don't have kids in the DISD (Melton notwithstanding). 

Dallas Achieves spent 6 years driving the DISD bus with nothing to show but declining student achievement...oh, and nearly two billion dollars in construction contracts...so much for "business involvement in DISD".

The massive amounts of money being poured into Trustee campaigns this year is an indication of what? The will of the people or the will of the business elite? If I were a parent in West Dallas or South Dallas I wouldn't trust the Chamber either.

East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

 Don't forget East Dallas. They're trying to buy the District 3 seat too.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

We need the middle class back in DISD.If the middle class (and upper middle class) will not use DISD, it's over.We're paying taxes to crooks.We might as well just cut the checks to the crooks and forget the whole pretense of a school district.

If Todd Williams and Mark Melton can get the middle class back BY CREATING A SCHOOL DISTRICT THAT OFFERS KIDS WHAT PRIVATE SCHOOLS OFFER, I will be their most vocal supporter.

Private schools offer:-student-centered programs (Shelton, for example, offers kids with specific needs a fantastic option)  

-NO STANDARDIZED TESTING  (ok, maybe a day or 2 out of the year, compared to DISD's 40 days) 

-excellent facilities and lunches

-I'm skeptical of Todd only bc he is selling something and wants my tax dollars to pay his salary.  That's not wrong of him, but he's in this to make money.  His charters test kids like crazy.  Charters want your choice to be: them or a terrible public school.  They don't want real choice (vouchers) bc then parents wouldn't choose the charter/testing company school.

Phelps is right:  it's the school board.  And if they will continue to sell us out to business people with profit in their DNA, we need to just hand out $8-10k vouchers to every child to cut out the crooks.  Schools will have to compete (like cell phone companies), new schools will open, and kids will win.  

Public ed and public health must be selfless (like private schools) or greed and waste take over.  Business people don't make money by being selfless.

East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

 Look at what Mike Miles will bring: testing, testing and more testing. That's the fastest way to drive the few remaining middle class families out of Dallas ISD.

DISD Student
DISD Student

The problem is standardized testing is pushed by the State.  That's why private schools do have to push standardized testing.  So you problem will exist no matter what.  

Vouchers are great...in theory.  I doubt many students will be able to take their vouchers to Jesuit and St. Marks and say "Let me in."  It doesn't work that way.   

Why are you being skeptical of Todd, a DISD parent?  Since when are DISD teachers skeptical of DISD parents?  Maybe you are also part of the problem.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

A.  I doubt you are a DISD studentB.  I have been a DISD parent, I am a DISD taxpayer, and I actually spend 5 days a week in a DISD schoolC.  The state requires a few days of testing; DISD adds weeks to the number of testing days by writing their own practice tests

D.  Private schools will expand and new private schools will open to meet the demand.  Just like all the cell phone options and grocery store options and car options we have.  

E.  I show up every day.  I go to parent and sibling funerals.  I pat kids on the shoulder when they are sobbing in handcuffs and I tell them it will be okay.  I walk them to the nurse when they are vomiting.  I buy lunches and breakfasts when needed.  I am not part of the problem, except to the crooks.

Anon
Anon

you do not understand the demographics of Dallas, apparently. most (meaning well in excess of 50%) parents who send their children to DISD are on food stamps. they are most certainly accustomed to vouchers for life's essentials.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Please tell me why we can't have campuses especially for below-level kids and kids with behavior problems.

Please tell me why neighborhood schools can't just serve on-level kids who behave and work hard.

I know why!  Because that would cut into charter schools' profits.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

You are a charter shill.

Vouchers ARE "parent" dollars bc parents pay taxes.

Private schools couldn't give a rat's ass who writes the check: parents, grandparents or a voucher.

Only charter operators and DISD bureaucrats oppose vouchers.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

As a certified teacher and a private school parent, I can promise you that some private schools are excellent.

My child does not attend Shelton, but I happen to know that it is one of THE best around for kids with special needs.

Yes, there can be social problems, but take your pick: weeks of your child sitting in a 58 degree classroom taking bubble tests or the outside and rare chance that your child might have a problem with friends in private schools.

RJ
RJ

Most private schools are mediocre. The large majority of them were formed for racist reasons. Not everyone can get into St Marks or Hockaday - and even so there can be social problems in that environment.

Meg
Meg

I think you may have an inflated idea of what middle-class means if you think it means paying for 2-3 private school tuitions without batting an eye. Maybe you are thinking upper-middle to upper class? Any middle class family with feel the squeeze of 10k - 25k per child.

DISD Student
DISD Student

Again, you are comparing apples to oranges.  The majority of parents choose grocery stores, cell phone plans and cars with their own dime.  They do not get a voucher, understood?  

All a voucher system would do re-create the issues you have with vendors e.g. your new private schools that pop-up to reap DISD money.  Really private schools compete for parent dollars, which is why they are great.  Those private schools that would depend on DISD money are then going be the ones cozy with DISD.  You will have the same issue you have with current vendors.  

"Middle-class"?  People are postponing marriage and child-raising, and when they do have kids they are fewer.  These folks will be able to afford private school with out batting an eye.  

 

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

DISD absolutely does not have to spend so many endless days giving practice tests.  And they certainly do not have to subject every child to all of the tests.

If DISD would offer specialized campuses for below-level kids and other campuses for kids with behavior issues, they could spare 80% of DISD kids from all the testing AND bring up the struggling kids.  

But doing that might cut into profits for vendors and contractors and consultants.

And that right there--the unwillingness to spend money to free the neighborhood campuses from having to serve so many different types of kids-- is the core of what is wrong with DISD and why the middle class will move out and take their spending money with them before they use DISD.

RE vouchers, we want every child educated.  The public is willing to pay for it.  Now it's down to who gets paid to educate the child.  I say let the parents choose, just like they get to choose grocery stores and cell phone plans and cars.

Publicly funded education is a great and noble idea.  Handing those public funds off to the same crooks to waste and abuse year after year is not a great or noble idea.  

Imagine how Dallas would take off if kids currently in DISD boundaries got vouchers.  Property values would go up, families would fight to get back in, DISD itself would probably improve overnight, businesses would invest, etc.  

DISD Student
DISD Student

The State requires testing.  The State requires that certain thresholds are met by school districts.  DISD spends more effort on standardized testing than other schools because it has more LEP and ED students.  

It is not like cell phones, and groceries.  I would add cars, but recent government policy suggests cars are now different.  Nobody gets a voucher from the government to buy a cellphone service.  It is up to an individual to buy that service.  Very few people get vouchers from the government to buy groceries.  Those people are poor, but the issue with DISD is that you would have a majority that needs vouchers.  If you think the game is rigged now, wait until schools pop up that live off government vouchers.   

A more consistent position along the cell phone line would be to abolish DISD, and provide NO voucher.  Which ain't a bad idea.

Titus Groan
Titus Groan

You touched on this but let me expand - public schools are now a nightmare of bureaucracy.

Testing?  We've got a bureaucracy for that.  Discipline?  We've got a bureaucracy for that. Curriculum?  We've got a bureaucracy for that. Grading?  Yep, we even have a bureaucracy for that.

I'm shocked teachers nowadays don't have to fill out a form to use the restroom.  Or maybe they should install the biometric clock on all toilets.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

At the bottom of DISD online attendance (Chancery), it says Pearson.

The same company selling all the tests to captive public school kids.

Not only do we have bureaucracies for everything, we also have vendors for things we didn't even "need" 5 years ago.  Imagine that.

Eric Celeste
Eric Celeste

Excellent points all. And Todd Williams is fantastic. Anyone who doesn't listen to what he has to say is an idiot.

Phelps
Phelps

You don't find crooked contractors and vendors without finding very, VERY close associations between them and a school board member or county commissioner, and usually more than one.

If we want to solve that particular problem, then we have to start by not electing the Same Damned Crooks over and over.

JimS
JimS

... or paying them.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

But could we ever pay them enough to compete with what the vendors/consultants/contractors can give them? 

I don't know what the answer is.  

I just hate seeing kids sitting in rooms that are 58 degrees year round, standing in 25 minute lunch lines for inedible food, taking test after test after test while trying to ignore the kid next to them who has behavior problems and throws chairs periodically.

Phelps
Phelps

Meh.  Anyone who is going to steal on that scale isn't going to stop stealing just because you give them a salary.

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