By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Blackburn asked, "How can I explain that to Zoe? Right now I can only say, 'Zoe, you didn't get in because they have some kind of affirmative action policy."
And here is what I want you to watch. Guess who comes to the defense of the students-of-promise thing, in a very weird and inappropriate way? It's Jack Lowe, the Park Cities guy who moved into the city to run for the school board, whose kids never darkened the door of a single Dallas public school.
Lowe said, "I'd like to comment. I explained to my son that he didn't get into med school because of the affirmative action plan."
My ears perked up. I thought, "Really, Mr. Lowe? Did the med school write and tell you that? Sounds kind of like one of those Park Cities excuses to me."
Blackburn wasn't buying it. At all. He said, "Zoe's not going to put up with that."
So I'm out in the peanut gallery really scratching my head. Who's on first, who's on second? I see a coalition of people on the board, black, white and Hispanic, whom we could almost call the meritocracy caucus. They do like the magnet program. They do not like this attack on it.
Then I see the Park Cities guy and his principal ally, Edwin Flores, on the other side. When Flores talks about the magnet program, he fairly drips venom.
So what's going on?
Let me point out another way of looking at this paradigm. Before the board meeting, I ran a few traps, checking with sources close to the board. My sources, who wish to remain anonymous because they do business with the board, told me to view this same split on the board in a way that has nothing to do with magnets.
Lowe, whose own construction company does millions of dollars of business with the district, is closely allied with contractors, architects, lawyers and financial people in Dallas who feed at the trough of school construction programs. Flores is bonded at the hip to Lowe. The superintendent of schools is deep, deep in Lowe's pocket.
The people on the other side of all that represent a new coalition on the school board—the first we have seen in decades—who may be able to stand up to the construction lobby. Especially with the recent additions of Bruce Parrott and Bernadette Nuttall, this very diverse coalition has been able to show some real independence.
So now, let me ask again. Why in the world, out of the blue, would the staff come up with a proposal perfectly designed to pit ethnic interests against each other and blow up the board?
Maybe somebody doesn't want to blow up the whole board. Just the coalition.
I called and e-mailed Micheaux. She wouldn't talk. Jon Dahlander, spokesman for the district, e-mailed me in her stead and said: "There is no guarantee that any of the admission criteria for the magnets, academies or vanguards will be changed by the board."
Dahlander said the staff was merely bringing the board some possible tweaks to the system in response to an earlier expression of interest from the board.
But here is the thing. Sitting back there listening to it, I heard a whole lot more unity and enthusiasm for the magnet program coming from most of the trustees than I heard hostility or dissatisfaction.
There was venom from Flores, who always paints the magnets as a super-expensive burden on the district. They're not. The district spends considerably less per pupil at most magnets than at the regular high schools. But Flores chooses to stir the pot of envy nonetheless.
And then this curious sort of indifference from Lowe, as if the idea of excellence in Dallas schools were sort of silly, anyway.
I say it's worth looking closely at two things: 1) The new coalition on the board, representing the most serious challenge in years to the power of the construction cabal, is ethnically diverse. 2) The cabal, represented on the board by Lowe and Flores and in the administration by superintendent Michael Hinojosa, is tossing an ethnic landmine at the feet of the coalition.
The coalition needs to tippy-toe around that landmine very carefully. If it goes kaboom, guess who loses their tootsies.