By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Later at the meeting, Temo Munoz blasted the "32-32-32-4" magnet-school race quota. His fear: Since Hispanics are 55 percent of the school population, some Latinos are rejected to meet the 32 percent quota, while blacks and whites are more likely to gain a spot at a magnet. The previous month, panel members interrogated a magnet school official over the rejection of about a dozen Hispanic magnet applicants. After a second inspection of the applications, all but one was admitted.
In fact, Hispanics exceed the 32 percent quota in several magnets, but statistics bear out that Hispanics are underrepresented at the magnets overall. About 6 percent of DISD's black enrollment and 10 percent of DISD's white enrollment attend magnets, but the same is true for only 4 percent of Hispanics. "Some schools seem unable to attract students from the underrepresented ethnic group," wrote Sandra Malone, external schools auditor for the federal court. She urged the district to study whether reluctance, lack of knowledge or selection barriers caused persistently low Hispanic participation.
Despite DISD's large Hispanic enrollment (which has yet to catch up with voting strength), complaints about the desegregation decree fall on deaf ears among several trustees, who admit the topic rarely comes up. School board member Hollis Brashear says DISD isn't close to fulfilling the desegregation order because of long-standing achievement gaps between minority and nonminority, urban and suburban. "Anyone who says the vestiges of segregation don't exist in Dallas has their head in the sand," Brashear says.
Former trustee Kathlyn Gilliam, who served on the school board from 1974 to 1997, called criticism of the court order "idiotic, absurd and a non-issue." But black leaders such as her aren't the only ones defending the status quo. White trustees are in no hurry to do much either. "We're going after some other priorities first," such as teacher satisfaction, financial accountability and facilities needs, says board President Roxan Staff. "The board and superintendent have to be comfortable with those four areas before we ever went to the judge and asked him to release us from the court order."
At a recent board meeting, Superintendent Moses released a spreadsheet listing per-student spending in DISD's more than 180 schools. The differences in spending are stark. At the top of the list was per-student spending after administrative costs at an evening instruction program ($20,037) and a soon-to-be-disbanded special education facility ($13,632). At the bottom was Truett Elementary in Lake Highlands, which received only $2,657 per student. But comparisons among magnet schools and regular high schools, as well as elementary schools and the additionally funded learning centers, are most instructive when assessing where the money goes in DISD.
Learning centers, instituted in 1984 to make up for the de facto resegregation of students following the demise of busing, are required by the federal court to receive above-average funding. The extra money is used to lower class sizes, provide after-school tutoring and administer other programs intended to boost achievement. While the centers were set up for black children in Dallas' poorest neighborhoods, a handful of learning centers in mostly Hispanic neighborhoods were established in 1994, including East Dallas' Cesar Chavez Learning Center, to satisfy Latino demands.
The Latino population's continued growth citywide, however, means that many Hispanic children see no benefit from this cash infusion (although many black schools don't benefit either). Hence, dissatisfaction over inequitable funding. For example, Dade Learning Center in predominantly black Fair Park receives $7,473 per student; meanwhile, elementaries in Hispanic areas receive far less, such as Bethune Elementary in Oak Cliff, which collected only $2,660. Other elementaries scraping the bottom of the funding barrel include Cuellar, Knight, Hooe and Saldivar, all schools with sizable Hispanic populations.
Bigger budgets at learning centers are mostly used to hire more teachers and reduce class sizes--in many cases, by half compared to other schools. Ray Learning Center in the mostly black Roseland Homes area, which receives $7,129 per student, has a student-teacher ratio of 9.4. Across town, predominantly Hispanic Urban Park Elementary in Pleasant Grove, which received $2,725 per student, has a student-teacher ratio of 19.7. Despite extra funding, learning centers haven't enjoyed terrific success boosting the academic achievement of students compared to schools without additional cash flow.
In a conference room next to his office, Moses broaches the money subject by flatly stating he will not immediately demand an end to federal supervision of DISD. "I hope the day will come when we can approach the court and talk about our independence," he says. "But I'm not suggesting we're here today. If we can improve student achievement and improve the levels of performance of economically disadvantaged children and our minority children to comparable levels of our nonminority children, then I think we will probably have a basis someday to talk about independence."
But Moses agrees that gaping "variances" in funding among schools is troubling. He blames decades of incremental, disjointed steps by the district to comply with the court order, plus unfinished efforts at reform made by his many predecessors, that have left a fractured system of magnets, vanguards (elementary magnet schools), academies (middle-school magnets), Edison schools, year-round schools and learning centers. Not to mention, he adds, a confusing gamut of school shapes and sizes, such as schools that serve pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, while others serve pre-K through sixth grade and still more serve fourth through sixth grade.