Yvonne redux

It may be dj vu all over again as DISD picks a superintendent

It would be unfair, at this point in time, to paint a portrait of Dallas Independent School District Superintendent-designate Bill Rojas as a man wearing a several-sizes-too-small miniskirt, reclining on a cheap Chinese love seat with a come-hither look while he waits for history to come through the door and repeat itself with him.

But for anyone who bothers even to skim the man's press clippings, it's not easy shutting out disturbing images of Yvonne Gonzalez all over again.

Gonzalez, of course, was our recent superintendent who was hired at the urging of the private Dallas Citizens Council, and who turned out to be a bombastic phony and a crook.

Rojas, the San Francisco schools chief who met the Dallas school board one time and wowed them, is maybe not Gonzalez. But he certainly seems to be departing the Bay Area at an opportune moment, not to say two ditches ahead of the posse.

The closer one looks at Rojas' reviews in San Francisco, as compared with the extremely superficial and favorable kid-gloves treatment he has received so far from The Dallas Morning News, the more it seems his real plan may be to come to a city with a really bad newspaper so he can relax.

Consider these offerings from recent editions of the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco board member Jill Wynns:
* "He may have destroyed the greatest gift left from his predecessor, and that was a school community with a common purpose based on trust. What's happened recently has hurt our fiscal credibility, in that people, including the state's lawmakers, think we don't know how to manage money. That's not the kind of reputation a school district needs."

Chronicle columnist Ken Garcia:
* "It's hard to come up with the appropriate words to describe the reaction to Bill Rojas' apparent decision to leave for Dallas, shortly after creating one of the biggest budget crises in the history of the San Francisco school district.

But since he's going to Texas, that state's time-honored salute seems fitting.

Yee-haw."
Especially unnerving for anyone who still has a good mental picture of Gonzalez is Rojas' flair for getting into trouble over plans to create grander headquarters facilities for himself. Two years ago, according to the Chronicle, he wangled $15 million in federal earthquake money to fix up an old building that he said he was going to use as an arts magnet high school.

But after he had the money in hand, he announced he had changed his mind and would use the building for himself, as new headquarters, instead.

At the moment, he seems to be attracting huge negative attention over a more recent real estate transaction. After announcing the district would have to stop hiring substitutes and ditch its summer school program, Rojas mysteriously came up with $7.8 million to buy an office building that is still vacant five months after purchase.

First, Rojas said money for the building had not come out of the district's general fund. The Chronicle determined that all of the money came out of the general fund.

Then Rojas said the district would be fully compensated for the building by the state of California. The Chronicle asked state officials. They said the district would not be compensated at all, as in zero.

In fact, key members of the California Legislature have been saying Rojas himself is the main reason they have been reluctant to come to the district's aid in its current severe fiscal crisis. Rojas came up $17 million short in his budget this year and asked the state to bail him out.

Rojas' defenders--they are legion and passionate--argue that all of these findings of fault are about bureaucratic issues--mere money--and ignore his real contribution: that under his captaincy, San Francisco has been the only urban district in California to post six straight years of test-score improvements for minority students.

But the San Francisco Examiner also has published reports that Rojas and his regime may have been cooking the test data. Barely two weeks ago, under the headline "Rojas's Phantom Math," the Examiner said:

"It's nearly a tautology that if students with the worst scores are eliminated as test takers, test scores overall will go up. (For anyone daydreaming that afternoon in high school English, a tautology is 'a needless repetition of the same meaning in different words.')

"But this simple deduction...apparently didn't occur to Bill Rojas or his minions as they ballyhooed the steady 'improvement' of local test scores...Either that or they were just plain cheating."

It is in terms of his personal deportment with people that he comes closest to resembling Gonzalez--bombastic, isolated, sometimes paranoid, with terrible political skills. He runs a slam-dunk majority on the board and uses it to prevent the board from even meeting when he thinks his critics are up to something.

Rojas told the Dallas Observer that the San Francisco newspapers have slanted their stories to make him look bad. He said the real facts are much less bleak. The school district has several choices with what to do with his latest building purchase, he said, including peddling it to someone else "at several million dollars above our purchase price." He said the test-score thing was an unfair misinterpretation of the data brought about by "someone with a B.A. in journalism looking at the numbers."

Possible. Certainly possible. But it does seem that he has rubbed so many people so much the wrong way in the last two years that many community leaders seem to be hoping nothing will go wrong with the Dallas offer during the legally imposed 21-day waiting period before he can be officially hired.

If he shows up and demonstrates that all of the criticisms of him in San Francisco were untrue and unfair, then perhaps he will have demonstrated that Dallas is a much brighter and more virtuous city.

If he shows up and makes Yvonne Gonzalez look like a Sunday-school picnic, then he will have demonstrated an even deeper and more terrible truth: that we are, indeed, the authors of our own destiny.

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