DISD Trustees May Make Cutbacks in Democratic Process

DISD trustees may try to cancel next year's school board election to preserve the status quo and the superintendent

Pretty slick.

In his answer to the school district's top lawyer, Rios, the outside lawyer, quoted a 2006 amendment to the Texas Education Code allowing school boards to switch from three-year to four-year terms. Rios said the language in the law could be interpreted to allow extending the terms of sitting board members.

Rios' memo ignores a provision of that same section, however, that sets a clear deadline: "Not later than December 31, 2007, the board of trustees may adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees."

The tradition of free public elections in America, however messy, runs pretty deep.You'd think before the Dallas school system canceled theirs, they might at least allow public debate.
Harper's Weekly, 1857
The tradition of free public elections in America, however messy, runs pretty deep.You'd think before the Dallas school system canceled theirs, they might at least allow public debate.

They didn't do that. That deadline has passed for Dallas.

I asked the district about it. They gave me a copy of a November 12 memo from Elrod to Hinojosa with what I would call a pretty abstruse legal argument in which Elrod says the deadline doesn't apply to Dallas. Of course, what I think is abstruse and a good lawyer thinks is abstruse—two different things. Basically they're telling Hinojosa: If somebody doesn't like it, let 'em sue. They got laws, we got lawyers.

Law or no law, if you're an elected official in America, and you know that you're in the middle of a big jam with the voters, isn't that moment exactly when you ought to hike up your drawers and get out on the hustings and defend yourself to the voters? Where did we get this idea that elections are voluntary?

I tried to reach Ellis but was not successful. I spoke twice to Ron Price, who was likeable as always and reminded me that school board members serve without pay. I believe the point he was making is that if people want to make him run for re-election all the time, they can start forking over. I understand what he was saying.

Edwin Flores, an attorney, was quite thoughtful about the canceling of elections and why he thinks it can be a good thing. Flores, like most of our board members, has been through corporate-sponsored board-member training provided by outfits like the Foundation for Community Empowerment and the Meadows Foundation. That training has taught him, he says, that stability is the key to school district success.

National studies show, he says, that sudden crises too often stop positive trends in their tracks. "In school districts where there were reforms to drive student achievement, two and a half years into those improvements when they are just starting to see some turnaround data, something always happens that causes the superintendent to leave."

Those districts fail, he says. On the other hand, "When you look at school districts and best practices where you have had long-term improvement in student achievement, you have had stability at the superintendent level."

I'm still back on the no-election deal.

I can see that it would be a good thing to have stability in the superintendent's job, if you have a superintendent who hasn't presided over the worst fiscal crisis in the history of the school district. I can also see—check me on this—how the opposite situation, where the superintendent did preside over the worst crisis in history, could actually be improved by some instability. I'm talking about one big swift instability, right in the butt.

But what does any of this have to do with school board elections? Do the board members believe we need board member stability? Has someone actually convinced these people that they are indispensable to the future success of the district, so much so in fact that the community can't risk having them stand for re-election?

In fact, everything going on at 3700 Ross Ave. lately has been an expression of this same mentality—a typically Dallas, Republican, corporate view of the world in which community and politics and democracy are bad and dictatorship is good.

Look at the approach the district is taking in its fiscal crisis. Jack Lowe has convened a secret committee of old business guys, most of whom have done business with the school district in its bond program building campaigns, and he's got them meeting in secret to come up with a way to fix things.

The problem is this: These are the same old rich geezers who have dominated school district politics in Dallas for decades. They bear serious responsibility for the problems of the district. If they were so smart, we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.

The creativity and intensity and invention that the district needs in order to thrive again will come from exactly the arena that these people eschew—the big, messy, rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred world of community, politics and, dare I mention...

Elections.

We need more elections. Not fewer. We need more people involved. Not fewer. That's the genius of our system. That's why we're the greatest country in the world.

If all of these elite committees of wise men were right—if "best practices" and solutions truly came from on high, instead of from the hurly-burly of politics—then the Soviet Union would be on top of the global heap and the United States would be in the Third World by now.

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