By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Talk about a showdown. Next January 19 in this city of just over a million souls, something in the neighborhood of 50,000 voters will show up at the polls--a pitiful showing predicted because of the timing of the election--and they will make fundamental decisions about the future of the city.
Latino voters may or may not make a huge difference. And it's all about aginners. Especially about aginners.
For decades in Dallas, aginner was what they called anybody who questioned anything the local real estate moguls wanted to do. Just for political accounting purposes and not because I'm biased or anything, I call those the "good aginners."
Then there are what I refer to, objectively and without judgment, as "evildoer aginners." Those are people who have set their jaws against the community itself. They live in the city, but they don't like the city. They're against every single community enterprise, no matter what.
The litmus test to tell the difference is schools. If you really don't care about the public school system, then you really don't care what happens to the children of the city, and that means you have closed your heart to the future.
What makes the upcoming election an especially white-knuckles deal for Dallas is that the fate of the school district is being put before voters on the very same day as a major electoral show-down over aginnism.
Dallas schools Superintendent Mike Moses has taken a brave, principled and very risky position by asking the school board to schedule its bond election that day--the same day the city will call voters to the polls for a special city council and mayoral election. In the past, the school board has been too clever by half about elections, picking cute, off-the-wall times for elections to cut down on voter participation. Of course, in the past, school board members had to assume realistically that most voters wanted to punish them for being idiots.
This time Moses is putting the board's proposed $1.4 billion bond issue to build and renovate schools right out on the table with the city council/mayoral election, no matter the consequences. He pulls no punches and tries no tricks with the public, but, man, does he take a chance.
The special mayoral election to replace departed Mayor Ron Kirk is shaping up as a definitive showdown over aginnism. City council member Laura Miller, the leading mayoral candidate, has made her name in Dallas politics by taking tough aginner stands in defense of neighborhoods and in the name of simple fiscal honesty at City Hall.
But the question, the unknown and the risk are in her voter base. The Laura Miller voters will have a major say in what happens January 19. But are they the good aginners? Will they vote for her and also for the school bond? Or are they evildoers? Will they vote her up and the schools down?
And which is she?
I'm in a crowded pew toward the back of Cathedral Guadalupe downtown, at a rally hosted by Dallas Area Interfaith, the grassroots community organizing group. This enormous sanctuary is standing room only; at least 1,000 people are here on a balmy Sunday evening; vast waves of emotion and sincerity surge through the air on the wings of mariachi music as speaker after speaker implores us to support the school bond issue; and, petty dog that I am, all I can think about is my property tax bill.
On a table outside, almost lost among other leaflets and handouts from DAI, was a five-page handout from the school district called "Financial Information." So, of course, while everyone else is praying and singing, I am trying discreetly to leaf through here and not rattle the paper too much and see if I can find out what the bite is.
OK, we're standing up now with our heads bowed, and I am doing a little mental math, and the answer is...$467. That's how much new annual school tax I pay if this thing passes.
Ouch and amen! And which am I, Mr. Finger-Pointer? Am I up for almost five bills in new taxes?
But it's the rest of the data that's really shocking. Of the 15 largest school districts in Texas, guess where Dallas ranks in terms of its tax rate for school buildings?
We are No. 14. We beat Ysleta.
Ysleta? That's El Paso.
Of all of the 34 school districts in Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties, the Dallas Independent School District ranks No. 32 in the amount we tax ourselves for school buildings. We beat out Wilmer-Hutchins and Sunnyvale for last place. If you look at school debt per student--the burden each district is willing to shoulder on a per-student basis--of the 15 largest districts in the state we barely beat Ysleta. Again.
That stinks. If the bond issue passes, and my personal tax bill does go up by $467, that still only puts us at No. 6 among the biggest 15 districts in the state in terms of taxes for school buildings, right behind San Antonio.
We just haven't been paying for schools in this city. And you and I certainly know the recent history and all of the reasons people have for being skeptical of the school board. But finally you get down to a certain bottom line here, and the basic fact is that we're not paying for decent schools in this city.