The 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.