Hey DISD Trustees! Do the Math on Magnet Schools.

Magnets just aren’t the budget-busters trustees are pretending they are.

A concerted effort is under way to pit communities against each other—especially Hispanic against black—over public school resources in Dallas. It's sort of like going to a starving village somewhere and spreading rumors about secret midnight feasts. It is not an effort with virtue in its heart.

But, look, let's talk another day about why anybody would want to do that. Right now, it's more important for us to focus on what's true and what isn't.

The big lie is that the magnet schools in Dallas are the secret feast—fatter, richer and more luxurious than what everybody else is stuck with.

The school district is painting its own magnet school kids as spoiled, rich brats. We are reminded that some species eat their young.
Patrick Michels
The school district is painting its own magnet school kids as spoiled, rich brats. We are reminded that some species eat their young.

That isn't true.

Take the high schools. There are 35 Dallas Independent School District high schools with fully reported budgets available on the Texas Education Agency Web site. DISD has 10 magnet high schools, according to its own Web page.

I put together a cheapo Excel spreadsheet, taking the total expenditure on each campus and dividing it by the total enrollment to get a campus expenditure per student.

Of the 10 magnet high schools, eight are below the average per-student expenditure, some way below. Eight magnets are in the bottom quarter of the list.

You want to know where the big money is? If you want to get your kid into a really expensive Dallas high school, you need to encourage him or her to get arrested, get pregnant, drop out or, for some reason that I can't quite fathom, go to James Madison High School, a regular "comprehensive" or neighborhood school.

The really big money is in getting knocked up. The Maya Angelou School (for the pregnant) spends three times the district-wide per-student average, a whopping $19,212. Next comes Redirections, which I hear is a really good school for potential dropouts, at $12,945 a head.

Then Madison weighs in at $11,127 per-student per year. The fourth richest is Village Fair, which we always called "The Prison School" when we were in DISD. It spends $9,596 per inmate.

Finally when you get down to No. 5, you find the Booker T. Washington School for the Visual and Performing Arts magnet, which spends $8,542 per student. This is the first one we find on the list that seems to be rewarding positive behaviors, with the possible exception of Madison, which is just a mystery.

I asked school district spokesman Jon Dahlander to explain Madison and Angelou to me. Never heard back.

Certainly I'm not suggesting that either the Maya Angelou school or Redirections is a bad thing. More power to them. But let's get over this idea that the district spends more money on the kids in the magnets than on the kids in the regular high schools.

Think about it. The magnets give up all kinds of things in order to invest in instruction. Sports, for one. That's a tough one. When my son was in DISD, we knew several kids who could have gotten into magnets but decided not to attend because they wanted to play one or more team sports.

There are other savings. I don't want to make magnet kids out to be wimps or anything, but generally speaking a magnet high school can run with a lower ratio of armed guards per student than the regular schools. At Booker T. all they really need is someone in the hall with the authority to insult people's hairstyles.

The Talented and Gifted Magnet, for example, is No. 10 on my list of high schools in terms of per-student expenditure, at $6,981 per-kid per year. Four neighborhood schools—Thomas Jefferson, Hillcrest, Roosevelt and Madison—spend more. Hillcrest, where Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's son has been a student, spends almost a grand more per kid than TAG.

The two DISD high schools that have received the most national recognition are TAG and Science and Engineering. Science and Engineering is No. 29 on the list, at $4,489 per kid. That's less than half what Madison spends and less than a fourth of what the district will spend on you for getting yourself with child.

Precisely because the magnets know they have a spotlight on them, they're pretty careful about their ethnic ratios. TAG, for example, is 30.2 percent black, 30.2 percent Hispanic and 32.6 percent white. The city in the last census was 50.8 percent white, 35.6 percent Hispanic and 25.9 percent black.

The entire district is 51.7 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black and 8.7 percent white, according to numbers from the TEA.

Some magnets come closer to reflecting the district-wide ethnic ratios. The School of Health Professionals, for example, is 47 percent Hispanic, 38.3 percent black and 8.7 percent white.

I guess if you really want to, you can mount an argument that the TAG high school is whiter than the district. But then you have to answer the question: Which ratio are we going for anyway? TAG isn't as white as the city, nor presumably does it reflect the population of taxpayers. And, anyway, we are products of our own history, and therefore we do need to stop every once in a while and reflect on the history of the magnet program.

The magnets were created as a part of a federal court effort to keep white people in the district. It's called desegregation, and it's an important part of our national history, experience and character.

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