By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Crises management: The news breaks suddenly, spreading anger, fear and distrust. Massive miscalculations and shaky financial structures threaten imminent doom. Our leaders should have seen this coming but didn't. Now only massive, painful and unprecedented action will keep us from the abyss.
Wait...are we talking about the international banking crisis or the budget deficit and layoffs at Dallas Independent School District?
OK, so maybe comparing DISD's problems to the subprime mortgage collapse is a stretch. Nevertheless, as you read "Blackboard Jungle," this week's cover story by Jim Schutze and Robert Wilonsky about the background behind and fallout from the DISD mess, you can't help be struck by the odd similarities between how these messes were created: shoddy accounting, risky gambles, ignored warnings, lack of transparency and an inability to do basic subtraction. You know, as in: "If Johnny has five apples and he gives Susie three apples, how many apples does Johnny have left?"
(A hand shoots up at DISD headquarters: "Ooh, ooh, I know! Six!" And on Wall Street: "Well, if you slice the apples into between 10 and 30 pieces each and repackage them into a collateralized apple security and leverage that to acquire a position in the applesauce futures market, the answer is...is...Well, I don't know, but I get 6 percent of the apples regardless.")
Somehow, word this week that Dallas CEOs are riding into DISD headquarters to help clean up the books is not reassuring, particularly at a time when the job title "chief executive officer" rivals that of hooker, politician and newspaper reporter for the title of Least Respected Jobs in America—and we apologize to hookers for including them on that list. They do honest work.
Most experts are saying that we'll be feeling the effects of the credit meltdown for years. Don't think that the same isn't true at DISD. The competition among schools for the best science and math and language teachers is intense. After DISD takes the unusual step of laying off 550 teachers in mid-school year, how easy will it be in the future for the district to recruit the top instructors?
"There is a very significant communication network among teachers," says Aimee Bolender of Dallas Alliance AFT teachers organization. "Bottom line, for the next 10 years when we're talking about Dallas, people are going to remember that we laid off teachers."
On a positive note, some of the laid-off teachers might be able to find work come January, especially if they're willing to relocate, Bolender says. For instance, Las Vegas, the gambling capital of America, is looking for teachers.
Ah, sweet, sweet irony.