Dallas ISD Trustees Are Skeptical of Shadowy Home-Rule District Push

Thumbnail image for morath.jpg
Trustee Mike Morath is involved in the push to turn DISD into a home-rule district. Somehow.
There are plenty of very good reasons to blow up Dallas ISD's board of trustees.
Its meetings are long, petty and often unproductive. In a district that's more than two-thirds Hispanic, just one of its nine members is the same. Choosing trustees by geographic district discourages district-wide thinking and encourages patronage. Plus, maybe democracy just isn't the best way to run a large urban school district.
Bernadette Nutall wondered what the goal behind the push is.

Whether it's wise to actually light the fuse depends entirely on what will replace it. So far the backers of the new push to turn Dallas ISD into a so-called "home-rule district," which would abolish the current board, aren't saying what they have in mind.

The Dallas Morning News had the scoop over the weekend. A new group called Support Our Public Schools, funded by Houston billionaire (and HIllcrest High alum) John Arnold and a half dozen or so other, secret donors, wants to free DISD from a good chunk of the state laws governing school districts utilizing a never-used 1995 provision allowing home-rule districts, which, much like cities, operate under a charter granted by the state. Trustee Mike Morath is also involved, though he's not saying how deeply.

SOPS operatives will be at polling places today collecting the 24,459 signatures (five percent of registered voters) needed to force trustees to appoint the 15-member charter commission that will draft the rules that will govern the new DISD, provided the charter is approved in an election with at least 25-percent turnout.

The battle lines are already hardening. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is for it; other school-reform advocates presumably are too. Teachers are skeptical. Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea declared it "part of a plan to underfund our schools, declare them a failure, and contract out to private operators the control of our neighborhood schools, disenfranchising parents and community stakeholders and de-professionalizing teaching."

And the board? The board met last night to try and figure out why this is happening, and why it's happening now.

"Why are we going to home rule charter?" trustee Bernadette Nutall wondered. "Why did you go this route? What did you want to accomplish? Is it White Rock ISD, is it South Dallas ISD? What is our end goal here?"

Good questions, and ones that deserve answers. It would be nice if SOPS would have given some before they started circulating their petition, but it doesn't really matter. The home-rule idea worth exploring, and any exploration of the subject will be nebulous and unspecific unless there's some concrete proposal, of the type a charter commission would draft.

Then, if that sucks, voters can reject it.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help
30 comments
Tipster1908
Tipster1908

I'm not particularly enamored with the track record of the current trustees. Frankly, it sucks. But unless the rest of the money behind this campaign comes forward to identify itself and give a reason for it and what alternative it is imagining, I do not want to let it come to a vote. Because votes in Dallas aren't about "letting voters decide" they are about a pile of money, figuring out how much it will cost to get what it wants, how much it will gain, and whether it's worth spending the money. This is true in elections where I don't like the outcome (city owned socialist hotel) and where I do like the outcome (finally allowed to buy beer in my part of town).

The thing about this measure that scares me, to be honest, is that for the most part, moneyed interests already get what they want from the DISD coffers. They're pretty adept at putting the right people into the Trustee seats, making sure bond elections pass, that we keep building schools even though some of them are well below capacity, that the correct companies get contracts for services at above market rates. What more could they possibly hope to extract? You can tell me it's actually about the children, but very few people, least of all me, would ever believe that.

pitchblending
pitchblending

The timing of the announcement of this petition is fascinating.  The day prior, the president of the board announced his concern over the mental health of children in Dallas in wake of a recent suicide and attempted suicides of middle school students in DISD.  The real issue is that Mike Miles' policies are not working and it is becoming increasingly clear to the board that our students are suffering from ineffective at best, damaging at worst, corporate reform policies.  It would appear that the financial interests in support of corporate reform and Mike Miles are concerned that they will not be able to push through their policies of more testing and underfunding and are therefore opting to trick the voters into bypassing the democratic process so that they can continue to implement more of the same ineffective and damaging policies, driving down the quality of public education even further, and driving parents into withdrawing their children from DISD's schools and into the privately-run KIPP and Uplift Charter schools in which they are financially invested.  http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/park-cities/headlines/20140228-board-chief-pondered-suicide-as-a-youth.ece

oakclifftownie
oakclifftownie

So who knew abut this and when did they know ? No big deal  there.


The point is what about the real issue of school in Texas... 

How will this be received by the Extracurricular Activities Entitlement Crowd ?

You know Will the Friday Night Football Lights stay on ?

iwearblack
iwearblack

Might as well get rid of the Trustees as they're not doing anything but lining their pockets anyway... Let the voters decide... Even if the new plan is bad, at least we have a choice of bad...

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

I signed the petition today, however I do not know where I stand.  Hopefully, we will see the pros and cons of the movement soon.  Right now, only those who will gain and those who will lose are speaking, yet we don't know what it is will be gained or lost.


It is way to early to say yes (as does the Mayor) or no (as does the Alliance-AFT).  Give us more facts.

FREDD
FREDD

Morath, former city councilman Griffith  and others are actively involved in ideas to elevate the district, such as International Baccalaureate in the East Dallas/Lakewood schools.  I for one will be interested in this and will sign the petition to let the voters decide.

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

If this doesn't work maybe a class-action suit by former students cheated out of an education may be in order.  It's all the rage in other big cities.

Or we could hold the TEA to a veracity check - did the DISD really set the world record since 2009 on increasing the graduation rates of 9th graders, or were the numbers cooked?

Guesty
Guesty

I'm not sure I'm in favor of the "plan" given the lack of any actual plan. 


But it is not a surprise to see that some DISD trustees are opposed to a plan that takes away power from the DISD trustees.  


In other news, teachers' groups are opposed to any plan that would create the possibility of expanding the school year, eliminating teacher contracts, or allowing for more flexibility in teacher pay.  

ruddski
ruddski

I think anything that hints at "privatization", or deviation from state or federal central planning is going to meet with resistance from people who believe that money, and more money, will solve whatever woes DISD experiences.

Maybe they are right, maybe the move towards "neighborhood control" of neighborhood schools will lead to some version of "separate but unequal", but from what I read that reality already exists.

You can't always trust parents to judge what's best for their children, unfortunately, but like Eric says, why not let The People decide after the ideas have been fleshed out a bit more?

Guesty
Guesty

@pitchblending  Which teacher group are you associated with?  Serious question.  I'm trying to figure out who is already mobilizing the troops.  

pitchblending
pitchblending

@Rumpunch1 You signed the petition before you could even know where you stand because you, like the rest of us, were given no information on what the billionaires behind this effort are hoping to achieve, nor how they will achieve it, nor why they cannot achieve it through a democratic process.  If we want to change the way the board is operating or influence the decisions they are making, we need to start going to more board meetings and looking into which board members we should be supporting in upcoming elections.

Los_Politico
Los_Politico

@Guesty That's where I fall too. I'm generally not in favor of giving people power to propose a drastic change without knowing the change. Sure we can vote on it afterwards, but I also know Dallas has 8% turnout in local elections and I'm not sure I trust those 8% to think things through. They usually just vote the way their pastor tells them to...

Guesty
Guesty

@RichGans  I think it fair to say that any fair minded individual can probably ignore any article that uses the word "plutocrat" in reference to an actual person the title if the article.  And of course anything on Salon, which is nothing more than the liberal answer to conservative talk radio.    


Given that the attack amounts to nothing more than saying that Arnold thinks governments should move to 401K type retirement plans rather than traditional pensions, like almost every other business and most of the federal government, I'm not sure exactly what substantive information is contained in the article.  As far as I can tell, his major problem with traditional public pensions is the fact that they allow employees to retire in their 50s and draw pensions for longer than they were actually employed.  You can agree or disagree with the that policy argument, but I don't think it says much about that person's other policy views (by the way, he was on President Obama's finance committee and supports a raise in the minimum wage, so he isn't one of the Heritage hacks).  


Or are you saying that everyone who ever worked for Enron was committing fraud?  Because there are literally tens of thousands of people in Houston that would disagree with you.  As far as I know, Arnold was never implicated in any of the Enron shenanigans and worked on what everyone recognized was originally the legitimate core business of Enron (trading natural gas).  And he made almost all his fortune after Enron collapsed and he started his own business.  


I write this not because I'm a supporter of the proposed change or of Arnold (he could be a complete asshole for all I know).  But the fact that people are already tossing mud in this campaign tells me that forces are aligning not based on the merit of the proposal, but based on other financial interests (e.g. teachers groups, those who have connections with the current trustees that result in favoritism, etc.).  And the fact that the pushback came so quickly and violently is exactly the reason that our schools will continue to swirl down the shitter--nothing good can come to those who challenge the status quo.  Hell, as this episode illustrates, you don't even have to say what your change will be, just that you are in favor of change, to draw out the attacks.  

ruddski
ruddski

So, if a guy connected with Enron is for school choice initiatives, should choice be denied?

I mean, people still wear Che t-shirts, don't they?

I understand the hesitance, after a conservative forced democracy on 50,000,000 Muslims, then stole all the oil.

pitchblending
pitchblending

@Guesty @pitchblending I am not in a union.  I am a maverick teacher who is truly concerned about the negative effects I have witnessed in the past two years under Mike Miles and his corporate reform policies. 

Guesty
Guesty

@pitchblending @iwearblack  Which is about as useful as farting in the wind.  Even if you have a good board member, the board is dysfunctional.  

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

@pitchblending @Rumpunch1 I agree that we all should become more involve.  However, I will stand by my point that it is to early to say yes or no.  Bring us a plan, if it sucks then we vote it down.  As far a your fear that the billionaires will take over and will buy the election.  Well that has already happen, this just might be a new set of billionaires.

pitchblending
pitchblending

@Guesty John Arnold and other billionaire "philanthropists" have been pushing corporate reform for years.  The over testing of our students under the Department of Education, NCLB, and Race to the Top ARE the status quo.  The people opposing the removal of the democratic process that would empower the community to take back our schools for our students are the opposition to that status quo.

damicoaustin
damicoaustin

@Guesty  Arnold was (is) behind an effort to turn defined benefit pensions into 401ks for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which would put employees' money to the whims of the market. And TRS has faced numerous benefit cuts, and a law last year raise the age to retirement to 62 for full benefits. The Texas teacher pension is very modest; retired teachers get an average of less than $22,000 a year in pension money. Yet there are interests (e.g. Arnold) after the $ by turning pensions to defined contribution plans.

pitchblending
pitchblending

@Guesty @pitchblending @iwearblack You can go to board meetings and voice your concerns.  If you are not a teacher you can volunteer at your neighborhood schools and create relationships with real students, teachers, parents, and administrators and find out what's going on at ground zero so you can make educated choices about what is truly best for our children.  Once we let the genie out of the bottle in allowing this democratic process to be lost, I'm afraid we might not be able to put it back in.  In the meantime, our children become the guinea pigs and suffer the consequences.  Mr. Miles and the corporate-reform entourage surrounding him are only exacerbating the dysfunction, and in the meantime, enrollment in private charters such as KIPP and Uplift go up.  It is a tag-team operation.

pitchblending
pitchblending

@Guesty @pitchblending When you follow the money trail and see the influence this network has been exerting, it becomes glaringly obvious that they are indeed pushing for the privatization of education.  That does not mean to say they are all bad.  Many of them may simply be grossly ignorant to the realities of what educating children is all about. 


Unfortunately, the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and others have been using their power and influence to dictate policies coming out of the Department of Education.  These policies indeed encourage more testing and promote tying teacher effectiveness to the results of these standardized tests.  The validity of the standardized tests themselves is scientifically dubious.  For example, a higher indication of student achievement in college is not predicted by ACT scores but by GPA.  This implies that the place where we need to give back local control if we want to see real results is in local CLASSROOM control.  That means a teacher has the professional autonomy to meet the needs of her (or his) students as she sees fit. 


Why do you think writing performance has become so abysmal in recent years?  It amazes how little people who haven't taught for more than two years really know about how very much teachers must, especially at an elementary school level, train students to pass standardized tests. This is not real learning.  I also took the ITBS as a child, and I can assure that what occurred when we were children and what is occurring now are vastly different.  Implementing the Teacher Excellence Initiative and putting more pressure on teachers to condition their students to pass multiple choice exams will only dumb down the population even further. 


 Now, if dumbing down the population to accept increasing poverty, a lack of jobs, and a loss of the democratic process is what those behind Race to the Top and the deceptively named "Support Our Public Schools" are actually trying to achieve, then they are doing a fantastic job.  If they truly want to educate the students, they would be hiring more bilingual teachers, supporting bilingual instruction for ALL students, buying musical instruments and hiring more music instructors, and buying more leveled books and authentic Spanish literature for our schools.  They would also be concerned about how little unstructured play time elementary school students have and the implications of this on long term social emotional development and behavior.


Businessmen and billionaires are free to contribute to supporting public education by all means, but with no self-serving strings attached.  They can best serve our communities by focusing on creating real jobs for our students as they are graduating, using their political clout to change funding formulas and policies promoting over testing on a state and federal level, and changing the unfair tax laws which have allowed a select few to experience an unprecedented increase in profits at the expense of the middle class and those living below the poverty line. 

Guesty
Guesty

@pitchblending @Guesty  


The world is not us vs. them, one side vs. another, with everyone uniformly falling into line on each side of every issue.  There are rich people on both sides of almost every issue.  Attack the people you are attacking with things they have done and positions they have taken, not vague references to what all the other "billionaire 'philanthropists'" have done. 


But if all the smartest people in the world line up on one side of an issue, perhaps you should take notice (by that I mean Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and the other people I presume you are tarring with your reference).  I don't think all rich people are smart, or all smart people are rich, but there is a significant overlap in the populations.  


And what does any of this have to do with testing?  For all we know, the people backing this are against testing.  Or they are in favor of different testing.  I personally took the ITBS every year as a kid and don't understand why we just don't do that once a year and be done with it.  But I'm not sure why that matters because as far as I can tell, home rule would not affect testing one iota.


I hate to tell you this, but our schools are well out of the community's hands now.  And how is opposition to change "opposition to that status quo."  I expect that  you are in favor of maintaining certain parts of the status quo (e.g. teacher pensions, contracts, and strict seniority pay) while in favor of changing other things (less testing).   

Guesty
Guesty

@damicoaustin @Guesty  They only average the last 5 years of service.  Given seniority raises, a teacher with 30 years experience in most large school districts would be making $70,000-$80,000 a year in their last five years of service.  Obviously the average would be much lower if they have fewer years of service.  

damicoaustin
damicoaustin

@MikeWestEast @damicoaustin @Guesty  On "whims." Good point, but a well managed fund like TRS can weather crashes like 2008, while the state continues to underfund it. For an individual, the results could be catastrophic.

damicoaustin
damicoaustin

@Guesty @damicoaustin  good points...although I don't see how you got 70,000+  ... that scenario would require a pretty high average salary for the formula. Keep in mind that the defined benefit is one of the "benefits" of working in profession that doesn't pay as much as other comparable professions.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@damicoaustin @Guesty "Whims of the market?"  Please tells us what magic place of guaranteed return has the TRS funds.  Everyone and everything is subject to the whims of the market whether they know it or not.  The difference is here the taxpayers, also in the market, backstop the teachers.  As a taxpayer, I prefer teachers have the same risk I do. 

Guesty
Guesty

@damicoaustin @Guesty  My understanding of his proposal is to change future benefits to 401Ks, without touching current benefits.


But either way, I'm not sure that means much about his sincerity regarding education reform.  A fair minded individual who cares about the future of governments' ability to provide services could come out on either side of this debate.  There is no dispute that the current teacher pension system is more generous than what most people have available to them.  But the bigger problem is that it hides the long term liability in a way that keeps the current beneficiaries from paying the full cost of the services they are receiving.  


A teacher who retires at age 65 this year after 40 years of service (i.e. a true lifer) would likely get a pension between $70,000 and $75,000 a year for the rest of their life (between 20 and 40 years for most) (source).  Someone with 20 years service retiring at at 65 (i.e. a second career) would have about a $35,000 pension for on average longer than they worked as a teacher. Those liabilities were incurred years ago, and unless their pensions are fully funded (most are not), then people in 2034 will still be paying to cover the cost of educating kids in the 1970s.  


The $22,000 average you point to includes lots of people like my Dad, who only taught for a short time and draw a small pension as a result (e.g. 10 years teaching will likely net you a pension of $10,000 to $15,000 per year).  Indeed, if the $22,000 number you point to represented the typical pension for someone who spent an entire career teaching, teachers would be far better off with a 401k with an employer match.  


I'm not saying teachers don't deserve it.  What I am saying is that the cost of pensions are real and have a very long tail.  Proposing some way to account for that while the employee is earning the benefit, e.g. through a 401k matching program rather than a traditional pension, is one way to deal with that expense.  If you do it that way, the cost of the benefit is clear and paid when it is incurred.  It isn't the only way (though it is the only way to be sure you are covering the entire cost).  Just because someone advocates for it doesn't make them a monster who hates poor people.  

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

Around The Web

From the Vault

 

General

Loading...