Hope Chest

Before DISD goes marrying Wilmer-Hutchins, let's get a look at the dowry

All of this south I-45 corridor through Wilmer-Hutchins could be ours. Think of it: industrial tax base! A sweet little piglet ready for the spit.

Ah, love!

Now, wait. There are issues. You remember that the suburban Lancaster school board voted not to absorb Wilmer-Hutchins, citing all the same infrastructure problems I have already mentioned. They either didn't see what I'm showing you--all this vast new industrial tax base coming on line--or they couldn't make the math work between now and then. Just because there's a promise of fat profits way out over the horizon doesn't mean Dallas or anybody else can simply ignore the upfront costs.

Not a good sign: The Wilmer-Hutchins school district owns a football stadium so derelict, there are large trees growing through the bleachers.
Mark Graham
Not a good sign: The Wilmer-Hutchins school district owns a football stadium so derelict, there are large trees growing through the bleachers.

I may have good news, though. It turns out our little school district is a bit cagier than we tend to give it credit for. In a week of phone calls to board members and other people close to this process, I got the impression some school board trustees and probably most of the administration are hip to all of these questions. District 7 trustee Jerome Garza (north central Oak Cliff, West Dallas) told me the board at its most recent meeting made its views plain:

"At least what I walked away with were two clear directives from the board to the superintendent," Garza said. "Number one was that in order for this marriage to occur, the district has to be made financially whole today and in the future, on both ends.

"We are not going to rush into a deal if it doesn't make financial sense to us. The last thing we want to do with our limited financial resources to educate our children is to spread them even thinner.

"The second statement I clearly hear coming from the majority of board members is that this has to be a contract written so that it holds harmless the district from any current or future lawsuits as a result of this marriage."

I also had a long sit-down with District 8 trustee Joe May (East and Northwest Dallas), who has amassed a damning set of numbers to show how poorly Dallas prepares all of its students, including the more than 60 percent who are Latino.

The Dallas Morning News editorial page beat up on May recently for expressing misgivings about a W-H merger, basically painting him as ungenerous and not caring about the kids. But I didn't get that at all from May or Garza or from school board President Lois Parrott. What I heard them saying was that you show your concern for the kids by getting a really good prenup for them.

This is a delicate moment. We cross our fingers. We hope the board gets it right.

I also need to point out something else that is germane. DISD, thank goodness, is not the one that got Wilmer-Hutchins "in trouble" in the first place. The DNA tests will bear me out: The responsible party in this uncomfortable situation is the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA has known about and been involved in the mess at Wilmer-Hutchins for more than 20 years. The TEA's piddling attempts at resolving the mess are a big part of what brings everybody to the current ugly prospect. The TEA is not in a position morally or politically to wag its bony finger at Dallas if Dallas balks at the deal.

In fact, the TEA cannot legally make Dallas do anything this year. Next year presumably it could order Dallas to marry W-H. But the law does not allow the education commissioner to make Dallas do squat right now.

So guess what the education commissioner's worst nightmare must be: If Dallas says no, then the TEA will have to marry Wilmer-Hutchins. I don't know about you, but I'd throw rice at that one.

On the other hand, the trust fund. It'd be kind of nice to reel that one in, eh? Look, all I care about is the kids. And that they will be provided for. Well provided.

So, this is the moment in the romance when we do the hard-ball negotiations. What we need right now is for everybody to stay calm. Everybody hold his and her mouth just right. Assuming our school board does a good job and comes up with a sweet little lovable prenup, then we'll order the floral arrangements and the preacher and the accordion and so on.

If it's a bad one? What if we have to fix Wilmer's buildings, the trust fund's already been spent and now the FBI wants to talk to us, too? In that case, we go very quietly to our room. We pack. Then we change our names and slip off to Ohio at midnight.

It'll be our little post-nuptial agreement: the papoose vamoose.

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