As the Home Rule Turns, A Dallas ISD Saga Continues

home-ruleAs the Dallas Home Rule Charter Commission prepares to meet for the first time, and begins what may be months of work writing a home rule charter that will transform Dallas ISD into a charter school district, it may be a good time to look back on a previous news article to see where we stand now relative to what we knew then.

It is widely agreed that Mike Morath and Mayor Mike Rawlings worked behind the scenes for months (weeks? days?) before the Support Our Public Schools rollout in March 2014 to garner support from the community, well at least the business and politico community. Nobody asked this chicken, but they never do.

Last March, the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew Haag got some deep throat information from three unidentified sources concerning the efforts behind the home rule rollout. It is worth rereading the entire article, but here are some excerpts:

“The three people, who agreed to speak to The Dallas Morning News on the condition of anonymity, said that in recent conversations, Morath and Rawlings mentioned replacing the district’s publicly elected board with appointed members.

“It is orchestrated. I hate to see stuff that’s not grass roots being portrayed as it is,” said a former city official whom the mayor recruited unsuccessfully to endorse the effort. “They should be straightforward that they are coming after the trustees.”

But the former city official said the mayor’s spokesman, Sam Merten, called several weeks ago and spoke bluntly about the effort.

“He said that the mayor would run DISD or oversee it. You wouldn’t have trustees. If you did, they wouldn’t be making decisions,” the former official said.”

Sam Merten told Haag he didn’t recall telling anyone the mayor would run the schools and only mentioned it as a possibility.

Further in the article, in a discussion of the process needed to write a charter, including appointment of the members by DISD trustees, Haag writes:

Because district trustees would appoint the commissioners, the process suggests that outside forces couldn’t control the outcome. However, according to the former city official, Merten said the group’s backers had recruited people to be on the commission and believed a majority of DISD trustees would vote them in.

“He said he would propose a slate of people for the charter that they knew would put in place the charter they would want. They would have enough votes on the DISD board to get that passed,” the person said. “You’d have the folks in place already who are committed no matter the public outpouring or opposition.”

Merten also denied saying that and made this statement:

“That’s completely inaccurate. There has not been one conversation about who would serve on this potential commission,” he said.

SOPS backed off the mayoral control proposal pretty quickly, as apparently the specter of Mayor Mike running the schools scared off as many folks as it attracted. But more importantly, any governance change might involve litigation and the Department of Justice and lots of men in suits, thus slowing the process down such that the charter would miss placement on the November ballot, a goal SOPS seems determined to achieve.

What about the statement that the group had recruited commission members and had the trustees who were willing to vote them in?

Obviously there are a few plants in the group, certainly Mike Morath’s appointee Edwin Flores. And yes, this is the “we pay for 8 hours we are getting 8 hours” ex-trustee whose idea of wielding the power of his elected position means forwarding to DISD administration emails from teachers who happen to disagree with him.

But I wouldn’t expect Morath to appoint someone who disagreed with the mission.

Who knows about the rest of them? Most of them have had personal acquaintance with their appointees, some more personal than others, but I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Just curious.

At least one or two appointees seem to be the real thing, but maybe I’m naïve.

The teachers were appointed by a District Advisory Committee that has been ruled illegally constituted, and were part of a larger body that, in retrospect, actually appears to have been formed for the express purpose of signing off on the Teacher Excellence Initiative.

A District Advisory Committee that includes Stand for Children’s Stacey Hodge, Teaching Trust’s Ellen Wood, and Ken Barth’s right hand woman Melissa Higginbotham was obviously formed with some intent in mind, so one would also expect a sprinkling of Stand for Children’s Texas Educator Network members to be included. Isaac Freeman is at least one that appears to be involved in the organization that is referred to in some circles as Stand On Children. He has also testified in Austin as a Teaching Trust Ed-Policy Fellow in support of performance based teacher evaluations.

To be clear, and nothing’s been clear so far with home rule, the aforementioned members did not participate in commission member selection, with the exception of Isaac Freeman.

The makeup of the DAC, coupled with the fact the DAC selected two of their own members as commission members, plants a seed of doubt in my mind as to the true nature of the teacher appointees. Ron Oliver, both a DAC member and a teacher appointee, testified at the AFT vs DISD hearing that the second round of the selection process included a question asking applicants their views on home rule. That makes me wonder even more. What was the answer this group was looking for?

At their first meeting, the commission, as one of their first agenda items, will vote yea or nay to adopt a resolution that includes the following statement:

WHEREAS, the Commission has the sole discretion and authority to determine that no Home-Rule School District Charter need be adopted.

Maybe this is the vote that will tell us where the commission members stand. Are they principled individuals who will ignore efforts to influence them with threats, cajoling or lobbying and instead find a way to give Dallas students, parents, and taxpayers the local control and input SOPS has promised them but has yet to deliver?

Will they hold public meetings and ask for teacher and student input? Will they understand and take seriously their duty to the students and taxpayers?

Or will they do as they are told?

Or go along to get along, which is just as bad.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Posted in Chicken on a Soapbox, SOPS

Miles Asks for a Raise While DISD Taxpayers and Teachers Prepare for 2,000 Needy Children

raise-v-poor-kidsOn Monday, DISD teachers learned that the district has offered to absorb and educate 2,000 students from Central America.

DISD Superintendent Mike Miles, in response to Clay Jenkins’ announcement that he intends to bring the children to Dallas, stated, “If they are in our district come August, we will want to help educate them. I don’t know if that’s a role we will be asked to play, but that is my commitment.”

Let’s be clear: by “we” Miles actually means “the teachers.” Most teachers would agree that Miles does very little—if anything—to “help educate” any children and that his “commitment” seems to be largely to himself. In fact, we generally have to work around him and his minions’ ineffective (per the data) ideas.

DISD teachers, of course, will rise to the challenge if asked, just as we did when the Katrina students arrived. Many of us added extra tutoring times to our afterschool schedules solely for the Katrina refugees; we did it because we wanted to help them catch up academically.

In this instance, DISD teachers would again add chairs and tutoring times; we would figure out how to make a broken-down set of textbooks without covers stretch for an additional 2,000 children. We would do all of this knowing that, even as additional federal and state money is given to the district, none of the money will go to teachers for extra classroom supplies.

We also realize that the addition of 2,000 students who don’t speak English and who probably have very low academic skills will stretch the resources of everyone in the district (and in the city), which will in turn affect our abilities to keep our jobs under the new Pay for Performance plan Miles insisted upon.

And yet, we will do our best to do right by these kids regardless of the personal cost.

Meanwhile, Mike Miles wants a contract extension and a raise. His board president (a man who is not married to anyone with ties to our community, who has no children in DISD, and who only lived in Dallas long enough to complete his TFA commitment before he left for the Harvard program that seems to accept a huge number of former TFA’ers), supports this extra obligation for the taxpayers!

Surely being brought back to Dallas after his 1 year in the Harvard post-TFA program to work for Mike Miles has nothing whatsoever to do with his support for Miles’ extra cash and perks.

That would be sickening, especially now in light of the tremendous food, housing, supervision, medical, dental and educational needs the taxpayers will want to provide for 2,000 innocent minors.

These 2,000 need and deserve safe housing and education and, if asked, Dallas teachers will welcome them with open arms and open hearts.  We will fit them in even as we continue to be harassed by ineffective and failing (per the data) mandates and bureaucrats.

I’d like to see Mike Miles put his money where his mouth is; I’d like to see Miles withdraw his request for more money and more perks at this time to show his true commitment to the Central American children so that more can be spent on them instead of him.  I’d like Miles to withdraw his request as a show of commitment to the taxpayers of Dallas who already bear such heavy financial burdens.

The teachers are willing to do more without extra; is Miles?

Posted in Teachers Rule

Dallas ISD and the Border Children Crisis

border-kidsDallas County Judge Clay Jenkins recently announced that Dallas County will “house and care for as many as 2,000 children who crossed the Mexico-U.S. border alone.” Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Miles has offered three of the district’s vacant schools for the county to use to care for the children. Miles also stated that “the district would be ready to educate the children if they are within DISD boundaries when school starts in August.”

While the political storm rages over the issue of these children being in the United States in the first place, we have a reality to deal with: there are children here without parents who are in desperate need of immediate care. Dallas County has offered to help, and we need to figure out how best to accomplish this without jeopardizing the needs of the current DISD students.

There are many things which need to be considered very quickly in order to be ready to receive as many as 2,000 children by late July. The first and most important is where to house them. Mike Miles has offered three vacant school buildings: Harllee Elementary, Billy Earle Dade Annex, and Hulcy Middle School. Unfortunately, these buildings have fallen into significant disrepair since being vacated by the district. Trustee Lew Blackburn was quoted as estimating the cost to repair Harllee at $800,000. However, the recent Parsons Facility Report listed the 2013 deficiencies of each school as:

  • Billy Earle Dade: $10 million
  • Harllee Elementary: $4.5 million
  • Hulcy Middle School: $20 million

How quickly can these schools be refurbished in order to safely house children? Where will the money come from: the county, the state, the federal government, the school district? Remember, we are not just refurbishing schools, we are creating living quarters for children and the staff that will care for them. Will the facilities need additional work after this crisis to return them to their original purpose?

Whether or not Dallas ISD provides buildings to house these children, they will certainly be involved in providing educational services. Where will DISD find the teachers to staff these newly opened schools, whether at district facilities or elsewhere? We already have a shortage of bilingual and ESL certified teachers. Will teachers be pulled from existing schools to meet this new need? Will DISD be able to supply the vitally important psychological and social services required by the refugee children, who have no parents with them to help ease the transition to a new country, a new language, and doubtless, very strange living accommodations?

Unfortunately, due to the massive teacher and staff turnover in the last two years, there are few left who remember how the district accommodated the Katrina refugees. The Katrina situation differed in that most of the children spoke English, had been in American schools prior to the evacuation, and many had parents with them. DISD will be starting from scratch, with little institutional memory of what worked or didn’t work with the Katrina refugees. Miles’ methods have left DISD in a very poor position to respond to this crisis.

An idea which should be explored, and quickly, is that of establishing a “Special Purpose School District” (SPSD) as provided for under the Texas Education Code, Sect. 11.352:

Sec. 11.351. AUTHORITY TO ESTABLISH SPECIAL-PURPOSE SCHOOL DISTRICT. (a) On the recommendation of the commissioner and after consulting with the school districts involved and obtaining the approval of a majority of those districts in each affected county in which a proposed school district is located, the State Board of Education may establish a special-purpose school district for the education of students in special situations whose educational needs are not adequately met by regular school districts. The board may impose duties or limitations on the school district as necessary for the special purpose of the district. The board shall exercise the powers as provided by this section relating to the districts established under this section.
(b) The State Board of Education shall grant to the districts the right to share in the available school fund apportionment and other privileges as are granted to independent and common school districts.
Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 260, Sec. 1, eff. May 30, 1995.

There are currently only six SPSDs in Texas: Lackland ISD, Randolph Field ISD, Fort Sam Houston ISD, Boys Ranch ISD, The University of Texas High School Program, and the Texas Tech University High School Program. The funding for these schools falls under three different categories:

  1.  The military base ISDs receive state aid, based on a student attendance formula and federal impact aid in lieu of tax funding because none of the land within the district is taxable.
  2. The university programs receive funding through tuition and fees charged.
  3. The Boys Ranch ISDs are funded through contributions made to Cal Farley’s organization, and state and federal funds as provided to any ISD in Texas.

A new SPSD created in order to house and educate these refugee students would best receive funding according to the military base model. Whether or not this would include money to refurbish the vacant schools in disrepair is questionable. However, this is the only plan which would provide the finances for the vast array of social services and educational specialties required for this situation, without siphoning off money needed to educate the 160,000 students already in Dallas ISD.

A clear division between the two sets of students is needed ensure the best outcomes for both the border children, current DISD children, and the teachers who will serve them both.

Let’s be an example to the rest of the nation, as some communities have already shut their doors. But let’s make sure we do it the best way possible.

We hope that Dallas County, Dallas ISD, and state officials will take this proposal seriously, and establish an SPSD quickly so that Dallas County will indeed be well prepared to hit the ground running as soon as these children arrive, which could be as early as the end July. That doesn’t give us much time.

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Posted in Administrative Policies

Dallas ISD Board: Time to Take a Stand on Home Rule

hrd-for-the-childrenLast night, Joyce Foreman was sworn in as the newest member of the Dallas ISD board. Speaking to a full house of supporters, she gave a moving speech promising to be an independent thinker who will “only act on what I think is best for the children.”

Trustee Foreman voiced as goals the retention of experienced teachers, full day Pre-K for all children, and revisiting the district discipline policy.

Foreman also affirmed her opposition to home rule charter in Dallas, saying:

“I promised you that you would have a voice on this board about a hostile takeover of our school district. I do not support a home rule charter for Dallas Independent School District.”

It is time for the rest of DISD board members to state, clearly and publicly, their position on the home rule charter experiment that Mayor Rawlings and the Support Our Public Schools group initiated, an experiment that threatens to dissolve the Dallas Independent School District and put in its place a charter school district.

The policies and governing structure of a home rule district are not subject to state law and are being determined by a 15 member committee that, while appointed by elected trustees, has little resemblance to the population it is charged to represent. This committee which will determine the future of Dallas ISD has no obligation to either seek the input of or heed the advice of those citizens it represents.

The local control SOPS promised is now held by the commission, a group whose agendas and ideologies may or may not be in the best interests of either the Dallas school system or the children themselves. The local control promised by SOPS is exercised at only two times in this home rule process. The first was the petition process, a process tainted by reports from signers who were told they were supporting Dallas public schools and not that they were instead initiating a process to destroy those schools.

The next opportunity the public will have to exercise local control in Dallas public schools is when the home rule proposition is on the ballot. After that there is no control. The ship has sailed, the train has left the station, pick your favorite metaphor for “That’s all, folks!”

To his credit, trustee Mike Morath has made it clear which side of the fence he is on. Trustee Foreman has done the same.

It is not enough for trustees to show up at forums, mention the burdens home rule has placed on their time and energy, or even defend the board with statements such as Board president Miguel Solis made last night when he said “We ultimately are an effective board.”

If this current board claims to be guided by the best interests of the children and the taxpayers, it is time they publicly declare, and visibly support, one side or the other in this debate.

Sidestepping the issue with vague claims that we should wait until we see the charter is not good enough. The one pressing question that demands a response is:

“Do you support doing away with the Dallas Independent School District and replacing it with a charter school experiment?”

That’s the question, trustees. What is your answer?

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Posted in SOPS, Teachers Rule, Trustee Elections

Removal of Trustees: Sometimes SOPS Gets it Right

junk-removalWith the unanimous approval of the Charter Commission by Dallas ISD trustees last week, it’s time to start looking at proposals to include in the new charter that will govern DISD.

One idea, a process to remove trustees, has been one of Mike Morath’s main arguments for home rule, and was included in the Compromise Charter Educate Dallas chair Mark Melton proposed.

Right now, there is a method outlined in state law that allows for removal of a trustee, but it is a cumbersome, difficult process that includes posting bonds and a jury trial. It is doubtful such a process would be successful barring extremely egregious behavior on the part of the trustee.

In May of this year, a citizen watchdog in Waco Texas was outraged to discover a recently elected trustee was apparently less than the model citizen he portrayed himself as during his campaign. After a study of the remedies available led him to the conclusion that the taxpayers were stuck with their questionable selection, he launched a home rule charter petition drive modeled after the Support Our Public Schools effort.

Removal of public officials who have misrepresented themselves or failed in their duties should not be so difficult.

A public officer who has betrayed the public’s trust or failed to perform in a responsible manner should not have the protection of law. The public has a right to be represented by ethical, honorable elected officials. This right to representation should not be denied by unreasonable standards which effectively deny them an opportunity to remove officials who fail to fulfill their responsibilities.

We have an opportunity to define this procedure with home rule. What are your thoughts? What should the process look like? What are the criteria you would like to use for removing a trustee?

I would support a trustee trigger law. That seems reasonable. Break the rules and you are out.

Maybe we give warning? Two strikes? Three?

Under that scenario, how many of the current trustees would we have left?

Maybe this home rule thing might be just what we need.

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Giving Grades, Teachers Rule
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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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