Audiences for many years loved hearing comedian Rodney Dangerfield complain, “I don’t get no respect.” What is funny onstage and as entertainment is not so amusing in real life, however. There appears to be a rampant case of disrespect spreading throughout the ranks of the Dallas ISD.
The trustees complained about the lack of respect they feel from one another recently at the board retreat on Saturday, July 21. Matthew Haag of the Dallas Morning News reported that: “Trustees agreed that they don’t effectively deliberate difficult decisions together and that they are disrespectful toward one another.”
This attitude of disdain by the DISD administration and among the trustees has developed over many years and will not be changed simply by the hiring of a PR person who will develop glitzy statements and tell us all how we should think about DISD. A little old-fashioned RESPECT is needed in order to develop trust between the DISD administration, its’ trustees, and the public.
Respect is both given and earned. The district could go a long way in earning respect from the public by being honest in all of its dealings. They could start by posting all documents on the agenda for each board meeting and briefing, including the pertinent supporting documents. If they don’t have the documents ready in a timely fashion, then perhaps the trustees shouldn’t be discussing/voting on these issues until all the information is known. If the administration is not hiding anything, then why should they appear to be by not releasing the documents?
The trustees could earn respect from the administration by refusing to be treated like doormats. A perfect case in point occurred at the board retreat. The trustees were scheduled to vote on three issues: two on the superintendent’s contract and one concerning a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). No one from the DISD legal department was present at the retreat to answer questions from the trustees concerning the contract amendment or the TEA waiver. Was this merely an oversight? The language for the waiver was amended during the meeting without any advice or input from DISD legal. The trustees should have demanded that someone from the legal department be present whenever they are scheduled to vote on issues, especially those involving contracts.
Even worse, the trustees passed the MOU, despite never receiving a briefing on it and despite receiving the supporting documents less than 24 hours prior to the board workshop. However, instead of tabling the issue until being adequately briefed on the MOU and making sure that they each understood the implications of it, they simply passed the measure without any discussion. There was a briefing on the issue in the past, but many items in the documents had changed since then and the trustees deserved a full briefing on the changes. The two new trustees, Elizabeth Jones and Dan Micchiche, were not even on the board when the previous briefing took place. I certainly hope that they stayed up all Friday night pouring over the documents to be sure that they understood everything they contained, since they both voted to pass the measure without any questions. It seems that some of the trustees just believed the word of another trustee that the MOU should be passed, without desiring to personally look into the details.
Do they know that the MOU states that: “The manner of performance of the program will be determined solely by the Executive Director of the Center on Communities and Education.”? I take that to mean that SMU will call all the shots. Do the trustees know that they have committed many DISD resources and money to this cause? They have agreed to assign key professionals to this team to develop, follow, and implement a plan (are these professionals going to do this for free?), expand existing AVID curriculum to all schools, develop a STEM program, provide high school to career training, expand early childhood (0-8) opportunities, among many other commitments. This all will cost money, and lots of it. These are all good things, but should we be promising all this at a time of budget cuts? Nowhere in the document is it outlined just from where all the money for this will come. Supposedly, $25 million for Pinkston was dangled in front of the trustees as a carrot, but this is not found in the current document.
This group of trustees has set a dangerous precedent for themselves. They have told the administration that they will pass agenda items without full knowledge of the details, and that they will pass agenda items without any advice from the DISD legal department. They have also allowed themselves to be bullied by someone else’s deadline (in this case, SMU’s deadline for grant application) into making a decision without full disclosure. The board has not even seen the grant application from SMU, so it cannot possibly know what it contains and if it will be as advantageous to the district as they have been led to believe. They have no assurances in writing that they will receive any money to help cover the expenses of the services they have promised to this project.
Do the trustees understand GOVERNANCE? They should NOT vote on issues when they have not been given enough information. They are in control of their meetings, NOT the administration. All this “going along to get along” is making them the laughingstock among school districts. They need to grow a spine, and soon. Whining that they “don’t get no respect” at board retreats is ineffective. They need to behave in a manner which will earn them what they want: RESPECT.