Gutless coup

Everybody's talking about a takeover at DISD, but nobody wants to do anything about it

"The business community has been sending people to talk to me about this for a year, and I've never been for it," Price says. "For one thing, we know how they've been about the distribution and allocation of resources when it's all one district, so we have to assume that problem would get even worse if they divided it up."

One rumored reason for the urgency of a state takeover has been the alleged possibility of a U.S. Department of Education takeover when the bad news gets out about the computers and the money.

But Sally Cain, who is the regional representative for the U.S. secretary of education, says the federal government doesn't want it.

"First of all, federal funds typically represent only about 7 percent of a district's income," she says. "There might conceivably be a recision of funds under certain circumstances, but I can't imagine there would be any interest at all in taking it over."

As for the other ideas being floated, Cain says she thought there might be problems with some of them. "There is this thing called the Voting Rights Act," she says, "and I believe there might be a problem with that if you tried to just take over the district."

One idea Garcia is especially enamored of is giving the district to Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, because he doesn't want it. Garcia, who ran unsuccessfully against Kirk for mayor in 1995, says he thinks putting the schools under the mayor would force the mayor and the business community to devote energy and resources to them, whether they like it or not.

"There is no greater issue facing Dallas than the crisis at DISD," Garcia says. "The true drop-out or attrition rate is 57 percent. That means 57 percent of all the ninth-graders who started four years ago will not graduate this May. In my district, 72 percent will not graduate, and half of those who do will not be able to read at grade-level.

"What we are looking at in our children," he says, "is a silent implosion."
The view from inside Ross Avenue may be different. Computer problems or no, board member Kathleen Leos says things now are nowhere near as terrible as they have been. Leos recites a quick list of shorthand nightmares: "We've gone through insurance, [Dan] Peavy, Townview, Panthers in the board room, [Yvonne] Gonzalez, internal audit, FBI probe. At least we have passed the stage of living in denial, and now we know that we have problems."

State Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, herself a former DISD board member, says she thinks the takeover talk is wrongheaded and comes from people who are mad because they didn't get their way in the recently aborted superintendent search. The board, she says, performed its duty wisely and well by refusing to get stampeded into a choice it would have been unable to support later.

"The DISD board did exactly the right thing by not selecting a superintendent by a one- or two-vote margin," Ehrhardt says. "In the meantime, we have a very competent superintendent who is running the schools appropriately."

Ehrhardt says she believes the business community and the Legislature should bow out of school district politics. "It is the school board that has to make these decisions, and it is their responsibility," she says. "The fact that they are not pleasing the Dallas business community or the legislators is just tough, because that's not their job."

That does leave the school board members with the challenge of recruiting a superintendent after having admitted publicly that they were unable to agree on any of their original candidates. Some education experts had predicted the board would have trouble filling the post originally because no one wanted the job, but now they are saying people will really not want it.

But Leos predicts there will be plenty of new candidates to choose from. "It's spring," she says, "and in spring things change.

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