DISD's Ghosts of Scandals Past

If history tells us anything, the recent security crackdown at DISD signals doom for its superintendent.

Worked like a charm.

Gwinn agrees with me. "I don't have 'government-issued credentials either," he told me, "and I have a big problem with government organizations arbitrarily deciding who is and isn't 'press.'"

The whole atmosphere at Ross Avenue smells of a certain end-times syndrome I believe we have seen before. Toward the end of the regimes of Rojas and Gonzalez, school headquarters went into different forms of security lockdown. You may or may not remember that Yvonne Gonzalez's people were sticking global tracking devices on each other's cars at the end to find out who among them was meeting with Miriam Rozen, the Dallas Observer reporter who was writing about them.

Former DISD superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez redecorated her office. Then she cracked down on security at headquarters. Then she went away. Parallels?
Mark Graham
Former DISD superintendent Yvonne Gonzalez redecorated her office. Then she cracked down on security at headquarters. Then she went away. Parallels?

I wish I could have seen the maps they printed out of her travels. They must have looked like my wife's cat's hairballs. I couldn't keep track of Rozen when she was just walking around the office.

My memory of both cases, Gonzalez and Rojas, is that the Dallas Observer news boxes were banished from the school headquarters building for periods of time. I need to remember to check that detail next time I'm at 3700 Ross. I figure whenever they order the Observer boxes out of the building, the end cannot be far off.

It's all about paranoia. And paranoia comes before the fall.

I have been talking to people day-in and day-out about what needs to happen in order to fix the school district, and I'm beginning to get a good idea of the landscape. On the one hand, you have a lot of people who say nothing should happen.

Nothing? Are you kidding? The school district is on the verge of bankruptcy; it's still under threat of being seized by the state; they've fired, re-hired, transferred and re-transferred so many teachers that nobody even knows what room to go to. Who thinks nothing should be done?

Lots of people. The argument is stability. According to this logic, the whole problem is too many superintendents in too little time. We should have just picked one and stuck to our guns no matter what. Maybe Gonzalez could have continued to do the job by phone from her cell in the federal pokey, where she went as a result of Rozen's reporting. At least that would have given us stability.

The stability-worshippers tend to be people who work for Hinojosa—surprise, surprise—but also a lot of people in the business community. Their kids are all in private schools or the Park Cities. They can afford to be patient.

You also have the off-with-their-heads vote. These tend to be teachers, parents whose kids' teachers have been fired, appalled DISD graduates and people who don't believe the district's story about where the money went. The guillotine movement began as a call for Hinojosa's head, but by the end of last week it was expanding to include the head of Jack Lowe, president of the school board, and maybe some more heads.

After the October 30 board meeting, every local news broadcast carried footage of the entire school board skulking out of the chamber for an unscheduled "recess" while members of the audience shouted "Jack Lowe must go!" This was on the heels of a board vote to adopt an "ethics policy" designed to allow Lowe's construction company to continue doing millions of dollars' worth of board-approved contracting with the district.

People are just disgusted. You can't blame them.

But then you have the third constituency—the pox-on-all-houses vote. These are people deeply involved in public schools in their own neighborhoods who have found ways to make schools work at strictly local levels and who regard 3700 Ross as a pirate ship from whence no good can come, no matter what. Their goal is to hunker down, sequester what they can and wait for the pirates to pass out.

I'm on their side. Everything good that happens within DISD happens because of parents and faculty at the local school level. You could even draw parallels with our national predicament. The grand top-down schemes always seem to run us into the ditch. The people who really make the trains run on time are middle- and working-class strivers battling to get their own garbage picked up and their own kids into college.

On October 16, I wrote a column called "Band of Brothers-in-Law," suggesting that what we need is a citywide political action committee that can back candidates for school board seats. Since then I have talked to many thoughtful souls, deeply involved in school issues in Dallas for a long time, not many of whom agree with my idea.

For them, the notion of a single parent PAC for the city smacks of one-size-fits-all—the same syndrome they blame for many of the school district's past woes. Some really smart folks, speaking not-for-attribution because they don't want to burn bridges with each other, have said versions of the same thing to me: "Schutze, one-size-fits-all winds up being stupid and ham-fisted when the business community does it. The same thing will happen if parents try to do it."

But people do see a need for a more diverse and complex involvement, reflecting the diversity and complexity of our city. In this vision, several groups would take the field, raise money and campaign for or against board members—some of them arrayed around particular schools or groupings of schools, some of them around district-wide issues such as advanced placement, sports, music, whatever.

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