Mike Morath Must Go

morath-is-an-assAfter the Home Rule Commission voted against writing a charter, this was Mike Morath’s response:

“I think the real problem is, we as a city don’t actually care about our school system, and that is reflected in the people we elect to the board and the way that they behave. You’ve got three or four people that are very seriously harming the decisions of the majority of the board,” he said.”

To put it mildly, I disagree with Mike Morath and I find his statement completely offensive.

The way I see it, a caring, concerned public was completely on board with a dramatic overhaul of business-as-usual in DISD when Hinojosa finally left. Taxpayers were tired of the constant corruption in the district, and a surging population of middle-class parents in the district were tired of the constant disruptions (like the RIF during Hinojosa’s tenure) that plagued DISD and made headlines every other week.

And although the public felt very little respect for the school board members who visited Hinojosa upon them, they were willing to give them one more chance. DISD stood on the cusp of possibility and excellence.

But then the school board members blew it.

Instead of hiring Alan King and addressing the corruption / fraud / waste / mismanagement and oversized bureaucracy while supporting and replicating the most successful schools in the district, the school board hired Mike Miles.

The rest is unpleasant history. Excessive salaries, a ballooning bureaucracy, top-down mandates, falling test scores, astounding levels of teacher turnover, kindergartners taking final exams in Art, multi-million-dollar skyscraper deals and even more scandals in the headlines confirmed the public’s worst suspicions about the DISD school board members’ ability to put the kids first.

So how can it be any surprise that, when confronted with anything coming from 3700 Ross (even though the charter commission just borrowed the room), the public balked?

The truth is that the Home Rule plan didn’t fail because the city doesn’t care about the school district; it failed because the public saw it as an initiative led by district insiders / cronies and the public already doesn’t trust the current school board trustees, the superintendent, the mayor and all of the “reformer” minions who apparently hang out in an echo chamber with each other while parents see their children’s schools devolving into chaos.

If anything, the 10-5 vote against writing a charter very much represented the feelings of Dallas taxpayers for the first time in a long time. I applaud the 10 commissioners’ careful, time-consuming deliberation of the fine print and their obvious concern for the students in the district.

If Morath cannot recognize this, if he cannot see the depth of sacrifice and generosity this city has given to support DISD, then Morath truly needs to go.

As for the “the people that we elect to the board and the way that they behave” part of Morath’s statement, couldn’t that apply to Morath himself?

It’s not true that this city doesn’t care about the school district; maybe it’s true instead that the public just doesn’t care for Mike Morath.

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Posted in SOPS, Trustee Elections

Home Rule Fails 10-5

sops-voted-downThere were four earthquakes recorded in the Dallas area yesterday.

It was probably not detected by seismographs near the Irving swarm but there was another distinct thud Tuesday evening that might be attributed to Mayor Mike Rawlings stomping his feet when he learned the Dallas ISD Home Rule Charter Commission had voted 10-5 to NOT write a charter that would convert all of DISD into a special class of charter schools.

After two rounds of discussion, Chair Bob Weiss closed out the debate on the two options; to write or not to write a charter, with a very powerful summation of the commission’s activities and his own views on home rule.

Weiss made the very real observation that Chapter 12 is a “very bad piece of legislation.” Roger that, Bob. It is indeed a stinking mess.

Weiss also took issue with SOPS’ proposals on governance, specifically those that deal with removal and recall of trustees, rightly pegging them as threats to democracy, saying, “I will never surrender my voting rights.”

Pointing out that school districts desiring improvement have not yet used all the tools in the legislative toolbox that they have been given, Weiss challenged school reformers to bring their ideas and applications for campus program charters to the Board for consideration.

Concluding with a pointed admonishment of those, including the media, who would dismiss anyone’s right to be heard by labeling them a “special interest”, Weiss closed his argument against a charter by saying “No one can tell me I am not a part of the conversation.”

Weiss has no doubt endured intense pressure from both sides in his role as chair of the commission. Still he managed to elevate the proceedings of the last 7 months from the expected circus sideshow to a respectable display of democracy.

Weiss obviously made his decision to oppose the charter after a thorough examination of the law and all its ramifications. He, and the other nine commissioners who also voted for the resolution to not write a charter, are to be applauded for their courage to do the right thing for Dallas schools, in spite of ongoing pressure from the Mayor, Todd Williams, Mike Morath, and their media shills.

But what about the five on the other side of the fence?

Edwin Flores’ vote could have been predicted last June. Mike Morath’s appointee, Flores must be true to his millionaire buddies in the lobbying group Texans for Education Reform. Charters are their mantra; big ones, little ones, any ones that bring them the dollars pinned to the backpacks, embedded in the software, and buried in the dirt our schools are built on.

Danae Gutierrez‘ vote to write a charter was not a surprise either. Photographed hamming it up with Flores’ fellow TER member Florence Shapiro at a Parent Revolution conference in California, Danae has changed her tune from a skeptical “How do I know they don’t want the $1.6 billion dollars” to something that sounds a lot like “I will say anything they want me to say if I can get part of that $1.6 billion dollars.”

How’s that new job going, Danae?

Julie Sandel, a teacher at Hillcrest High School, was a surprise vote for a charter. Her early comments were always very supportive of teachers, yet her vote was a slap in their face. Charter district legislation is designed to delegate teachers to non-professional status, so why would a teacher support it?

Julie’s fellow teachers should ask her that question. The teachers who spoke at the commission meeting last fall overwhelmingly denounced a charter, so it is puzzling that their representative would ignore their wishes. Julie sits next to Danae at the meetings, so perhaps whatever changed Danae’s mind is catching.

At least we now have the litigation poster child. The District Advisory Committee that chose Sandel was found to be illegally constituted, yet there was no finding of harm to the teachers who brought suit since the commission had not yet acted. Well, should the commission reverse its decision and come out with a charter unfavorable to teachers we can now point to Sandel as the bogey man.

Lew Blackburn Jr. is still trying to figure out what he voted on. He asked if they were voting on whether commissioners felt that they had gathered enough information to decide whether to write a charter. Um, no.

The only cogent remark Blackburn has made in the past regarding a home rule district is “Somebody tell me why not?” I can’t tell you that again, Lew, you’ll just have to figure it out for yourself.

So Lew Jr.’s vote was either from confusion or ignorance. At least I’d like to think that. The other possibilities I will leave up to your imagination.

Nancy Bingham’s appointee Ricardo Mendez remains the enigma he was when he first appeared. Who the heck knows what he thinks. Apparently not what Nancy thinks, as she claims she is opposed to home rule. But Nancy also worships the ground Mike Morath walks on, so maybe she did the Texas Two Step and got the best of both worlds.

All pure speculation of course.

The end game is that SOPS got their stink bomb back in their face. Let’s take a minute to enjoy the fresh breeze, and then get back to the real job in front of us, doing something that helps the kids.

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Posted in SOPS, Teachers Rule

What We Need Now are Some Heroes

sops-stinkbombLast year, this blog likened the home rule charter initiative to a stink bomb tossed over the fence.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, trustee Mike Morath, and Todd! Williams, under cover of Support Our Public Schools, and with the help of local businessman Monty Bennett, not so local billionaire John Arnold, and no doubt many other unnamed special interest groups, lobbed one hell of a stinker when they rolled out a petition to convert Dallas Independent School District into the nations’ largest collection of charter schools.

The smoke has cleared but that sucker still smells.

At the heart of this unnecessary and expensive proposal is, essentially, a proposal that would shift control of DISD from taxpayers and the trustees elected to represent them, to a select group of politicians and businessmen that, good intentioned or not, think they know what’s best for Dallas kids and their parents. Their plan is apparent when the latest SOPS proposed charter is picked apart.

The 22 page charter document SOPS proposes to govern the district lays out few changes affecting students. The charter proposes board authority for school start date, school day length, student retesting requirements, and the 90% attendance rule for class credit. Many of these proposals are already on the table for discussion during the current legislative session. None have any solid documentation supporting a claim that increased student achievement would be a result.

Most of the charter is concerned with governance changes. Many of the proposed changes, such as trustee recall, November elections, and changing term lengths, are not possible for any school district to implement under present law, so you have to wonder why they are even included.

The answer is, quite simply, SOPS and Co. don’t really care if those provisions are struck down as illegal. They don’t care if other charter provisions are already possible under current law.

They just want the charter designation, which would provide key provisions which could give control of the district to the select few which win the battle of Board control. The proposed charter provides for a process of trustee removal which could result in a quorum of 5 trustees voting 3-2 to remove a trustee, for reasons they alone determine warrants that action.

Eyebrow raising, don’t you think?

Another sweet deal is found in the ability of the Board under the SOPS charter to place all executive power, including purchasing and contracting power, in the hands of one individual.

Read that again, it means exactly what it says. When Commissioner Danae Gutierrez, before she went over to the dark side, said in March of 2014 that home rule was “all about the $1.6 billion of the district”, she was amazingly prescient.

So, in the face of the reality of what a district charter could mean for Dallas, this SOPS charter or any other, it would seem like the best outcome for Dallas would be for the Home Rule Commission to fold up and go home.

But the Commissioners are still circling the stink bomb, eyeing it warily as it sizzles and sputters.

Now is when we need heroes.

Maybe on the count of 3, the Commissioners will all rush forward, grab that sucker by its little curly sops tail, and hurl it back over the fence.

Maybe then Mike Rawlings will turn his efforts towards keeping libraries open, rec centers open, guiding development that provides spaces for children to play, providing employment opportunities for parents, and even saying a good word about Dallas schools every now and then.

Maybe then Todd Williams can approach the Board and offer to work a charter miracle in on of Dallas’ lowest performing schools. If his ideas are good for the district they should certainly be good for one school.

John Arnold and Monty Bennett and the rest of the funders can buy some books or fund some field trips. Dallas won’t turn down their philanthropy.

Mike Morath and the rest of SOPS? Well, they can dig a hole and bury the stinking mess they brought to Dallas.

They aren’t invited to the party on the other side of the fence.

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Posted in Chicken on a Soapbox

Meet the New Face of SOPS

flo-shapiro-parent-powerThe Home Rule Commissioners met for the first time in 2015 and it was clear that most had forgotten what they had heard during their previous months of listening to community members and local experts. The overwhelming majority of those who took the time to address the commissioners at the community meetings wanted DISD to improve, but were opposed to using home rule as the mechanism.

Most pointed out the obvious – the changes which are needed can be done under current law, and what is lacking is a superintendent and board of trustees willing to implement the desired changes. Changing the governance will have little effect, especially if the same kind of people are put in charge, which is likely to occur since the same people who put the current superintendent and trustees in place are those in support of Home Rule.

Superintendent Mike Miles testified that he did not need Home Rule to improve DISD. He stated the only thing he needed from the legislature was more funding. Of the trustees who spoke to the commission, two were clearly against Home Rule, one was clearly for it, and one was ambivalent. One trustee did not address the commission but promised to send written comments. Of the many organizations which spoke to the commission, only Support Our Public Schools (SOPS) was in favor of Home Rule. As a recent letter to the editor of the DMN stated, “The home-rule commission has had the discussion. The community has spoken; just because the verdict is not to your liking is no reason to force the debate back open.”

It appears that the Home Rule Commission (HRC) is not satisfied with the outcome of the community discussion and has decided it needs to cast a wider net. Since the Dallas community has voiced its opposition to Home Rule, the HRC wants to hear from “experts” around the country who will undoubtedly tell them that what Dallas needs is Home Rule.

Commission Chair Bob Weiss stated the problem well: “When do we know enough to take an up or down vote?” The HRC could spend years amassing information, but at some point, they will have to act on their knowledge. Will they have the courage to listen to those who live in Dallas and will be most affected by their decision? Or will they listen to the special interest group which comprises SOPS- many of whom do not live in Dallas and many of whom do not have children in DISD?

Already there is one commissioner, Danae Gutierrez, who has used the bully pulpit of a local paid shill’s blog to put forward her opinions. Interesting that she found time to write this, but was unable to attend the actual commission meeting where her ideas could have been discussed openly. The content of her post was supposedly to put forward her recommendations for a charter (notably absent is her previous conviction of the need for universal pre-K), but it seems that the real intent of her post was to bash and marginalize those who are opposed to Home Rule.

She states, “The sample of participants at the meetings was limited and repetitive, and, as such, did not fully represent nor give a fair voice in the Home Rule process.”

Fortunately, there are podcasts available of the HRC meetings to fact-check her statements. The podcasts reveal that there were actually many diverse speakers at each community meeting, parents, teachers, taxpayers, and, in contrast to Ms. Gutierrez’ opinion, there were only a handful who spoke at more than one meeting: Bill Betzen, Todd Williams, and Susan Schuerger were among those who spoke multiple times.

It is rumored that SOPS board member Louisa Meyer was overheard outside of one auditorium handing a copy of Ms. Schuerger’s list of 20 “talking points” to another women with instructions as to which points she was to read to the commissioners as her recommendations. If one listens to the podcasts of the HRC community meetings, it would appear that these instructions were obediently followed as various sections of Ms. Schuerger’s talking points were read verbatim by several audience members.

If this is what Ms. Gutierrez is addressing as “limited and repetitive,” then her point is well-taken. However, apparently what she found repetitive was the overwhelming opposition to Home Rule.

As more information becomes available about Ms. Gutierrez, it is not surprising that she has taken this stand.

Apparently Ms. Gutierrez has come under the sway of the Texas education “reform” movement, and has been introduced, along with her right hand woman Nadia Kahn- Roberts, to Texans for Education Reform, the lobbying group funded by wealthy individuals such as John and Laura Arnold, Todd Williams, and David Weekley. Home Rule commissioner Edwin Flores sits on the TER board as an education advisor, along with Mike Morath, Ken Barth, and Mike Rawlings.

Florence Shapiro, who we see together with Nadia and Danae in the selfie (posted on twitter) that accompanies this article, is the chair of Texans for Education Reform.

The three best buddies are apparently at a Parent Revolution conference in California.

Texans for Education Reform, in addition to a streamlined home rule law which would make the current takeover of Dallas schools an easier process, supports Parent Revolution’s efforts to remake the parent trigger law in Texas, which allows for parents to call for the closure of a public school after two years on the failing list.

Parents who signed petitions to” improve their schools” under the parent trigger laws enacted in California were dismayed to find they had instead signed away their right to have any input into their local school and had instead handed it over to a for profit company.

That California trip must have been a heady experience for Danae. She also claims in comments on this article that she successfully intervened to prevent leveling at some DISD schools. Not all schools, just some schools. However, Ms. Gutierrez does not consider herself to be a part of any special interest group and persistently derides those whom she considers members or agents of special interest groups to which she does not belong.

Ms. Gutierrez states that she intentionally listened to “a substantial number of diverse perspectives, opinions, problems, and solutions that DISD is facing” and that “through these additional exchanges with “not so traditional” and less vocal stakeholders” she has come up with her list of ideas for the Home Rule charter draft.

Rather than listening to those who bothered to take the time to speak, on record, before the whole commission, she has chosen to give preference to unnamed individuals with whom she has had private conversations. None of her discussions with these “stakeholders” are a matter of public record, are discoverable, or are available for the other commissioners to learn from, and yet they form the basis for her decisions as a commissioner. Ms. Gutierrez, as a member of the Home Rule Commission, needs to name these people who have so influenced her opinion.

Is she afraid to put her ideas forth in a forum where they could be debated openly and as a matter of public record? Does she even realize that not one of the points in her plan requires Home Rule to implement- each one can be done under the current system? Did she even consider discussing these objectives with her trustee, Miguel Solis? As president of the board of trustees, he is in a position to bring her plans forward for discussion as soon as the next board meeting. That would certainly bring about changes more quickly than a Home Rule charter would. Therefore, if she is serious that these are her urgent concerns, then she should be pursuing that route, rather than posting her suggestions on a blog.

If Ms. Gutierrez has something to add to the conversation, she should do so through the appropriate channel of her appointment as a Home Rule commissioner, which is the governmental body charged with writing or not writing a charter for the district. This position is privileged and not available to all citizens; she was chosen to represent the community. Her ideas should be discussed openly with her fellow commissioners at a commission meeting, not put forth in a blog forum in which the comments are known to be censored.

Democracy is admittedly messy: it is public and transparent, there are disagreements and a consensus must be formed, which often requires compromise. The new “reformers” do not seem to like this process. They prefer closed doors, hidden agendas, allegiance to preferred special interest groups, and little, if any, community participation. It seems that Ms. Gutierrez has joined this special interest group while attempting to present herself as a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth single mom. The public should not fall for this new poster child for SOPS. She is merely one more wolf in the clothing of a sheep.

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Posted in Baloney Meter, Giving Grades, SOPS

DISD Teachers Await Climate Survey Results

DISD campus administrators have been informed of the Fall Climate Survey results for their campus. In other words, the results are in and teachers want to see them.

DISD teachers completed the Fall Climate Survey in December, after receiving a link to the Survey in their email. Many teachers put their concerns about privacy and anonymity aside (the survey is, after all, linked to those individual teacher email accounts) and complied with the district’s request to provide feedback.

Before Winter Break, the district released just a portion of the results. Despite an attempt by either the DMN or the district itself (or both) to spin the numbers in a positive light, the REAL results showed that the majority of DISD teachers/staff still feel the district is headed in the wrong direction. What a surprise.

The only true surprise to me is how many teachers braved the fear and intimidation tactics of the district to go ahead and speak freely anyway. Keep in mind that, before the Survey window closed, teachers at multiple campuses were told their responses reflected on them and that negative responses could result in more Professional Development for their campus.

The district also chose to conduct the Survey using a link sent to teacher email accounts. This is a not-at-all subtle signal to teachers: we can trace your answers back to you, so watch what you say.

Of course, if tamping down dissent is NOT the district’s actual goal, then why doesn’t the district go back to using scan-tron bubble sheets like they did for the OHI surveys? All teachers and staff met in the library, took a pre-printed scan-tron, bubbled in a choice after each question and then dropped the sheet into a cardboard box or envelope. No muss, no fuss, complete anonymity.

Nevertheless, DISD teachers did their part. They braved the scare tactics and they took the time to complete the survey. It’s now time for the district to release the results for every campus in DISD to parents, taxpayers and teachers.

Share your school’s results here!

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Posted in Administrative Policies
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Foundation for Empowerment (FCE) released 3 papers:

1. Disruptive Change: Mike Miles and the Crisis In Dallas ISD, which has been prepared with consultation by education academics, extensive research, review of data and education literature, and meetings and interviews with people of Dallas holding varying and sometimes conflicting points of view;

2. Digging Into Data and Evidence: Mike Miles, Dallas ISD, and Trickle-Down Education Report, by Dr. Julian Vasquez Helig, Lindsay Redd, M.A. and Dr. Ruth Vail; and

3. The Challenge of Disruptive Leadership in Dallas ISD, by Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D. and Matthew Birkhold, M.A.

"You will see from these papers that, after much research and discussion, we believe the current Superintendent lacks the pedagogical, leadership and integrity qualities necessary to lead Dallas ISD and recommend the Board terminate his contract."

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Contact the Superintendent and Trustees:
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Superintendent Mike Miles

Lew Blackburn, 1st Vice President
District 5
Term Expires 2016
(972) 925-3718
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Miguel Solis, Board President
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District 4
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District 1
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District 6
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