Bond Election and Home Rule? Incompatible.

no-to-disd-bondsh/t to former State Representative Harryette Ehrhardt and her speech to the Dallas Assembly

An article in Dallas Morning News on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, dropped a bombshell on the citizens of Dallas. However, it was quickly overshadowed by the frightening news that the first case of Ebola virus in the United States was diagnosed right here in Dallas. The Ebola virus will likely and hopefully affect only a handful of people here, whereas the other news has the potential to affect every taxpayer in DISD.

The first sentence of the article reads:

“Dallas ISD has launched a 25-member task force to analyze district facilities in preparation for a possible bond program or tax hike election.

The task force has already begun to meet and expects to finish their work by the end of the school year and make its recommendations for new facilities, school upgrades, and additional programs. This would be right in line with the time line the district has had for the goal of a bond election in 2016. The idea of a tax ratification election (TRE), or property tax increase, had not previously been acknowledged in such a public fashion.

This article will not address the merits of a bond program, tax increase, or the removal of the homestead exemption, which is an option readily available by trustee vote without voter approval. Those issues will be analyzed at a later time. Instead, this article will focus on the problems inherent for a district attempting to plan a bond and/or tax ratification election with the possibility of a Home Rule Charter District looming in the future.

What are the important factors to consider when planning a bond election?

First, the district must demonstrate credit worthiness to the voters. The district has just had two clean audits and expects that their bond rating may rise to AA from AA-. This would save the district millions in interest money when they go to actually sell the bonds to investors. The bonds for an independent school district are guaranteed by the Texas Permanent School Fund and therefore are very attractive to lenders. There is currently no such provision in the law to guarantee the bonds of a Home Rule Charter School District (HRCD). That fact alone may give investors pause.

What would be the credit rating for the new Home Rule School District? It would be a brand new legal entity, and it is doubtful that the credit rating of the old Dallas ISD would transfer to the new HRCD, which will effectively be a “business under new management.” Usually, it takes a start-up business several years to build a credit rating, especially if over a billion dollars of investment money is to be raised and it is already carrying the substantial debt of its predecessor. How long would it take for the new HRCD to establish a credit rating? How likely is it that the voters would approve a large bond package before they were confident that the financial management of the new HRCD was proven sound?

If a charter is written and goes before the voters, there are several more possibilities, none of which bode well for those who would like to see a bond package passed in 2016.

During the time between the charter being written (if one is to be written, it must be done by the deadline of June 19, 2015) and the charter going before the voters, there would be no point in holding a bond election. Why would voters approve a large bond package for the Dallas ISD, an entity which would be obliterated if the charter is passed by the voters? Why would they entrust this additional debt to the new HRCD, which has no history of financial competency? At $2.47 billion, Dallas ISD already has the highest debt among all the Texas school districts, and the new HRCD will inherit this debt. Why give it more debt when it is just getting started?

It is likely that the new HRCD would issue the bonds, and with no credit rating, who would buy the bonds and at what interest rate? There would be a “dead period” during which a bond election will not be attempted, lasting perhaps a year or more until the charter election was decided. A bond election could not feasibly be held at the same time as the proposal to adopt a charter.

There are different scenarios based on the outcome of a charter election.

If the voters vote down the charter, then it would be business as usual and it is presumed that a bond package could then be proposed and presented to the voters for approval, possibly as soon as 2017.

If, however, the voters approve the charter and vote to dissolve the Dallas ISD and replace it with an HRCD, the implications for the bond package are enormous. Not only do the issues of credit rating and bond guarantees come into play, but now the enormous roadblock of litigation raises its ugly head.

A Home Rule Charter School District is uncharted territory and has never been tried before. The law is vague and even education lawyers have varying interpretations of several important issues in the law. Many citizens groups have risen up against the idea of replacing the Dallas ISD with a Home Rule Charter, and it is certain that the charter will undergo legal challenge(s) instantly. That would throw the district into even more instability than the “disruptive change” it is experiencing currently.

Would the new HRCD go ahead and assume control of the district after the election, or not? There would be a period of instability while the changeover from the old Dallas ISD into the new HRCD occurred, which likely will take a year or more. There will have to be a secure transfer of systems, student information, employee information, check information, vendor contracts, etc. The re-hiring and re-contracting of the existing 20,000 employees, or recruiting new personnel to take their place, will be time-consuming. And if the charter did start the takeover, and the courts subsequently declared the HRCD illegal, what then? What if only parts of the charter were declared illegal? All of the processes might have to be done over again if the courts declared the charter illegal. This would come at great expense to the district. The voters would be unlikely to approve a large bond package during this time of instability, which will again push back the timing of a bond election still further.

During the time while the legality of the charter is tied up in the courts, it is highly unlikely that the voters would pass a bond package. Taxpayers would have reasonable doubts as to the financial and legal well-being of the district. Investors would be hesitant to buy bonds from an entity which might subsequently be declared illegal by the courts.

How long might the district be in “legal limbo?” Consider that the district was in litigation over the Tasby case from 1970- 2003. We did have successful bond packages during the process, but the legal legitimacy of the district was not in question at that time, as would be the case in the charter lawsuits.

Therefore, if a Home Rule Charter proposal is passed by the voters, it is unlikely that a bond election would be able to be successful for many years following the conversion of the Dallas ISD to the new Home Rule Charter School District. The best guess of the time frame of doubtful passage seems to be at a minimum 3 years from voter approval of the charter, to as many as 4-6 years or longer. This would mean that Dallas would be looking at 2018 at the very earliest for a new bond proposal (11 years after the last one) and, on the long side, 2021 or later. This would completely disrupt the current time frame planning on a November 2016 bond election.

Judging from these facts, it appears that the business community needs to carefully consider the current push to convert the Dallas ISD into a Home Rule Charter School District and look closely at the impact that campaign will have on any future bond proposal. Many in the business community have not taken a definite stand on the Home Rule issue. Support for Home Rule could prove to be a very unwise decision for the economy of the city of Dallas, not to mention the effect on the learning environment of the students of DISD.

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Posted in Teachers Rule

Extra Credit for Superintendent Miles

miles-pass-failSchool districts, including Dallas ISD, have always concocted whacky grading policies in an attempt to pass as many kids as possible. No penalty for late assignments, retests allowed for failing scores, minimum grade allowed on any test, and of course, grading on the curve and extra credit questions.

When kids are performing well, passing classes, and graduating, we don’t discuss grading policies. It’s only when kids are failing that we solve the problem by changing the rules. This seems to be the case for the Dallas ISD board and Superintendent Miles, whose annual performance evaluation is scheduled for tonight.

Apparently, when it was discovered achievement and approval ratings were on a downslide, the board decided the only logical solution was to revise the grading scale. That’s an easy fix in the classroom too. When is an F only a D? Whenever we say so, that’s when! Stroke of the pen!

Last year, Superintendent Miles had to achieve a score of at least 70 to be graded ” Exceeds.” This year he only needs a 62 to get a “performance” bonus of $15,000.

Really? I don’t know what is more shocking, the 8% drop or the fact that 62% is considered worthy of a reward.

Last year, “Commendable” ratings, earning a bonus of $50,000 to $75,000, began at 87 points. This year it’s dropped 6% to 81! I’m sure students wish they could catch that kind of luck on their geometry test.

As if lowering the bar weren’t enough, the trustees added another wrinkle to the formula, extra credit!

The items Miles is scored upon are each worth “points” which add up to a number that determines his bonus. The scale this year has a maximum possible point score of 106!

Extra credit for what?

Forty three schools
ranked “Improvement Required?”

Extra credit for faking graduation data?

Extra credit for running off veteran teachers such that one third of our teachers in the classroom have been there for one year or less?

That’s a grading policy designed for a loser. Need we say more?

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Posted in Baloney Meter, Teachers Rule

About Those “Crushed Souls” in Dallas ISD

miles-soul-crushingIt was only a couple of weeks ago that Matthew Haag at The Dallas Morning News outed the high school credit recovery fraud at the bottom of the booming graduation rates in Dallas Independent School District. Kudos to Haag on a story that will have the biggest legs in town once the Texas Education Agency starts combing through the Dallas ISD high school credit recovery records. The ripples will go all the way to El Paso and back.

This September when the violations of attendance laws became public, Trustee Mike Morath immediately opened a can of red herrings to send the public off into a discussion of seat time. According to Morath, what appeared to be high school truants were actually high performing students running away from boring learning standards they had already mastered. Poor, dear truants had their souls crushed by attending school according to Trustee Morath. All that seat time was unnecessary for students at schools where getting a combined SAT score of 800 in reading and math is still a reach.

We found Morath’s interpretation of the facts to be disingenuous at best since the credit recovery graduation inflation appeared in some of the lowest performing high schools in the state according to TEA rankings and included up to half the graduating seniors in these Dallas high schools.

Since the template for the Superintendent’s evaluation has been put on-line, we now see the actual importance of the questionable senior credit recovery that was the basis of improvement in graduation rates in Dallas ISD.

The Board meets Monday evening to discuss Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles’ performance evaluation. Though posted as a closed meeting, we wish could be a fly on the wall to hear how Miles justifies his continued employment, never mind a performance bonus.

The Academic Achievement portion of the Superintendent’s evaluation is composed of public data available to anyone wishing to track student performance from the 2012-2103 school year to the 2013-2014 school year. We can track that data and determine that Superintendent Miles has led the District backwards on most indices.

The achievement gap, for instance, has exploded. Indicators measuring reading, writing, and science show severe declines in student achievement. Miles’ appraisal, based on academic indicators, might describe the Superintendent as “Needs Improvement.”

What may bring the Superintendent’s evaluation up to “Proficient” instead of “Needs Improvement” seems to rest largely on inaccurate attendance and graduation rates for the District. Based on the preliminary audit on only 10 high schools in Dallas ISD, Trustees do not have accurate data on graduation rates unless they are willing to sign off on potentially fudged figures.

We find it noteworthy that the Superintendent has already backed off his original Destination 2020 goal of a 90% timely graduation rate and has now decided an 80% figure might be a more realistic goal.

Based on the fact that only a little over 5,000 seniors are on track to a timely graduation because of massive End of Course exam failures, we think an 80% goal is unreachable for the class of 2015. That goal becomes even more elusive if TEA is looking over the shoulders of Dallas high school principals who now must follow state attendance laws on credit recovery.

But back to the Superintendent’s scheduled appraisal for Monday night.

The Superintendent got some lift off Advanced Placement pass rates which are available on-line in the district’s MyData Portal. It seems enrolling large numbers of native Spanish speakers in Advanced Placement Spanish has dramatically increased success in the numbers of students passing at least one AP test. Too bad this trick had no impact on the huge number of native Spanish speakers failing their End of Course exams in English I and II.

The Superintendent’s appraisal template includes no category for End of Course failures.

This leaves two categories for the Superintendent to rack up points to make up for dismal student academic achievement in grades 3-8: attendance and graduation rate.

The Superintendent and Board are down to using potentially false attendance and graduation rates to move the Superintendent into “Proficiency.” We know the attendance data will need to be tweaked after TEA reviews the credit recovery violations that fed the graduation rates.

That may be the reason the Superintendent’s contract had to be renewed this summer, way before the potential attendance and graduation fraud were public. Dallas ISD Evaluation department had the data to determine what the Superintendent’s ratings would look like in academic performance and in one year, most indicators moved backwards.

We only have one question for the Trustees who voted to renew in July, 2014.

Are you, Trustees, willing to put your names on a Superintendent’s appraisal that the public now knows may include fraudulent graduation and attendance rates?

Are you willing to put your names on an appraisal where the Superintendent failed in so many categories of student learning, but had a huge win in the category of potentially fraudulent graduation rates? And how do you now explain your votes to extend the Superintendent’s contract when there is little student achievement data to support that decision without questionable graduation rates?

What a conundrum: a data-driven district where the Superintendent doesn’t want to release his appraisal data that is already publicly available on public portals and where the student data for the Superintendent’s appraisal doesn’t support the Trustees’ decision to renew.

Soul crushing, indeed, but only for the taxpayers.

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Posted in Giving Grades, Teachers Rule

Who’s Stupid?

dont-skip-schoolIt would be obscenely funny if the consequences were not so grim and real for so many Dallas high school students.

Caught violating state attendance laws by graduating seniors who were not present for a large chunk of class time, a former Dallas ISD administrator called the attendance laws, “stupid.” We can only wonder why this school administrator was so willing to take her high salary which was available through the only revenue stream available in Texas schools:  student attendance.

Not to be outdone, Trustee Mike Morath called attendance laws, “soul crushing” for high performing students. Trustee Solis chimed in with his approval of high levels of student truancy.

Yes, truancy.

As Trustee Morath is well aware, there is a whole menu of opportunities for high performing high school students. They can use Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, dual credit, and independent study in gifted and talented programs. Even our smartest kids would not be in danger of having their souls crushed with such a plethora of options. The whole debate over seat time is specious in terms of the consequences of truancy for urban, poor youth. If Morath actually had any experience in urban high schools, he would find out how unbelievably dangerous and idiotic his remarks are.

Skipping school is one of the most dangerous activities a teenager can indulge. For poor, minority children who are often years behind in their academic development, calling attendance at school an option is actually so irresponsible that it is akin to contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Where were a quarter of the Dallas ISD seniors of 2013 during the time they were supposed to be in school?

According to Morath, these were all high achieving students bored with the classwork they had already mastered. They were so special, just like Morath, that seat time at school was a waste of their young lives.

Maybe middle and upper income white boys, fully entitled in every way, should have special permits to leave school whenever the whim hits. Maybe Superintendent Miles doesn’t know enough to actually raise the level of academic challenge for these high performing students.

For the rest of the students, the other 90% served by Dallas schools, truancy is a short gateway leading straight to prison, pregnancy, drugs, and very dangerous peer groups who gather in Skip Houses.

Once a student starts skipping school, it works just like a narcotic. These students fall behind in their classes and don’t want to return to school. Some of these students were actually high performers who were not sufficiently challenged by their classes. That lack of challenge has nothing to do with lax attendance policies that direct teenagers right on to the mean streets of Dallas, Texas.

Lack of academic challenge doesn’t make the streets of Dallas any safer for these teenagers, many of whom engage in delinquent behavior during their skip days.

Young girls are in danger of becoming young mothers who will generally have a second child before leaving their own teenage years.

Teachers know the scenario. There are teachers whose classes are not adequately differentiated for high performers. These teachers need assistance in increasing the options for students so that every student is not moved through academic standards at the same pace.

Of course, Superintendent Miles has done nothing to guarantee all classrooms have the computers and technology that aid in creating different instructional sequences for kids who need a faster pace or more challenge. And using differentiated techniques doesn’t fit Miles’ demands that teachers use his instructional template with its choral responses.

But back to those mean streets.

Suggesting teenagers can just opt out of being at school increases their chances of being arrested, failing school, becoming teenage parents, and meeting up with other dangerous characters whose life occupations include drug dealing, theft, and mindless wandering.

Calling strict attendance laws, “stupid” or “soul crushing” does nothing to eliminate the life-long consequences for truants. Just like dropouts, they are on a path to destitution.

For a former DISD central administrator and current Trustees to attempt to cover potential attendance fraud with words to dilute the impact of violations of state law should cause every taxpayer in Dallas to take a long look at the quality of the current Board.

Trustee Mike Morath also made false statements concerning most charter school practices. Charter schools don’t want truants. Charter schools keep the doors open through student attendance monies.

Trustee Morath’s insistence that he knows education research is once again proven false. Morath knows very little about public education and nothing about the needs of the majority of Dallas high school students.

Crossing the line into suggesting practices that violate the safety of thousands of Dallas high school students, however, is far more serious.

Parents, taxpayers, and the Texas Education Agency need an investigation not only into Dallas high school attendance violations, but into the message being conveyed by a Dallas school Trustee who is suggesting false attendance records are due to the boredom of high achieving students.

If this is Morath’s version of a Home Rule District, imperiling the safety of thousands of teenagers through risky behavior, it’s one more reason to say no to Home Rule.

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Posted in Baloney Meter

The New Dallas Miracle and the New Jim Crow

miles-txobserverYears ago, when Sandy Kress was the Dallas ISD School Board President, Dallas public school students were transformed in exactly the same way they are currently enjoying a transformation led by Todd  Williams, Trustee Mike Morath, and now, tag-along sock puppet Trustee Miguel Solis.

Decades ago, the public was told that Dallas ISD achievement had risen due to the miracle of standardized testing. In reality, Dallas public schools test scores were rising due to high dropout rates which were carefully hidden from public view.

Attrition works wonders for student achievement. Just ask any of the brand charters how they achieve such miraculous results. Most of the time, dumping low performers and behavior problems are the real reason behind charter school academic success.

The New Dallas Miracle is touted as rising graduation rates and efficiency in taxpayer dollars in Dallas public schools. While Matthew Haag’s story in The Dallas Morning News is a superb narrative of compromised high school principals willing to follow their Commander’s orders by violating state attendance laws, The New Dallas Miracle has been only partially unclothed.

Dramatically rising graduation rates in Dallas also rest on extremely high student attrition rates covered by certain Leaver Codes. These Leaver Codes are actually attached to dropouts, but once certain Leaver Codes are used, no one questions the disappearance of thousands of high school students in each cohort.

Yes, we said thousands. The current senior class of 2015 had over 1900 additional students their sophomore year. We don’t have the ability to track students individually through the data. It could be that attrition rates are much higher due to students moving into high-dropout neighborhood high schools and covering the trail of extreme student attrition by adding more students who are simply counted as part of the cohort.

How high school students can disappear off the books and not be counted as dropouts is simple. Students are given Leaver Codes of “Returning to Home Country” even though they are third-generation native Texans with Hispanic surnames. Other favorite Leaver Codes are “Attending Private School” and “Home School” and “Moved to Another State.”

For those unwilling to believe Dallas ISD principals would attach phony Leaver Codes to dropouts in order to increase their graduation rates, we suggest a re-read of the audit of the senior class of 2014.

The effects of high student attrition attached to the right Leaver Codes are the Dallas Miracle in action. Moving kids off the books increases the graduation rates by increasing the percentage of the cohort who walk across the stage. Only the students who were given actual dropout status in Leaver Codes lower the graduation rates.

But the Dallas Miracle is currently imperiled, and not one Trustee seems to be aware.

Added to the loss of almost 1,400 students from this year’s current senior class are the historically high failure rates on the five End of Course exams this year’s seniors must pass to graduate.

End of course failure rates of at least one test for the seniors of 2015 are 50% at South Oak Cliff, 35% at Seagoville, 34% at North Dallas, 44% at Carter, 38% at Conrad, and 37% at Pinkston. Aside from the Texas Education Agency stopping the practice of allowing one-third of many high school seniors in Dallas ISD to graduate after violating state attendance laws, attrition in the class of 2015 added to failure on EOC exams will certainly destroy The New Dallas Miracle. The number of DISD high schools on the unacceptable list will undoubtedly rise.

All of these issues, improper use of Leaver Codes, violation of state attendance laws, and extremely high failure rates on required End of Course exams may bring The Dallas Miracle to an end.

Did recent efficiency studies include the $5 million School Improvement Grants allotted Roosevelt, Wilmer Hutchins, Spruce, or North Dallas?  After all, when Roosevelt High School is now down to 79 seniors out of 169 sophomores in the same cohort, and those 79 seniors include at least 38% who have failed at least one End of Course Exam, how efficient is that?  North Dallas has already churned out 27% of its senior cohort. Another 34% have failed at least one EOC exam. Based on loss of students and EOC failure rates, North Dallas High School ranks right in the middle of the nine high schools identified as among the worst 5% in the state.

We are only asking because we need to enlighten Todd Williams, Eric Celeste, and Trustee Morath who ran around town spreading the word of the great Dallas Miracle led by Superintendent Mike Miles.

If we run the numbers on the attrition in Dallas high schools and subtract the endangered seniors who may not graduate because they can’t pass the required state tests, 16 out of 19 of our comprehensive high schools rate from 29% of the cohort graduating to around 66%. And that assumes seniors actually attend class this year.

Just as Sandy Kress’ Dallas Miracle had no substance, studies of efficiency in Dallas ISD schools need another formula, one that approximates the reality of the actual inputs and outcomes.

The New Jim Crow Dallas Miracle suffers the same delusions as the rest of the corporate reform movement. Data is misused to protect Superintendent Miles and the renewal of his contract.

Misuse of Leaver Codes in Dallas high schools allows 2,000 students to disappear without dinging the graduation rate while another quarter of the class has failed at least one test needed for graduation.

The actual consequences in lost income over a lifetime of the majority of Dallas ISD seniors who are either gone or in academic peril are permanent. The classroom to prison pipeline is still the reality.

There is no Dallas Miracle.

Posted in Baloney Meter, Rotten in Denmark
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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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Superintendent Mike Miles

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