Dallas ISD's Board of Trustees argued into the early morning hours before approving a $1.2 billion budget for the coming year. It includes a 2-percent raise for almost all employees, as well as funding for Superintendent Mike Miles' year-old principal training academy, which some trustees wanted to defund.
It was a tense meeting all around, but the biggest fireworks of the night came when the board took up Imagine 2020, DISD's Harlem Children's Zone-inspired effort to drastically improve student achievement in the Lincoln, Pinkston and Madison High School feeder patterns.
On paper, the plan seems like it should be relatively noncontroversial. It pours lots of resources -- $20 million from SMU and nonprofits -- into the schools and surrounding community in a cradle-to-college approach to get kids ready for higher education and careers. It means more teachers, more resources devoted to things like healthcare and nutrition in the community and better preschool programs.
But controversial it's turned out to be. Here's an irate Bernadette Nutall tearing apart Imagine 2020 at last night's meeting.
It's easy to experiment. It took [Harlem Children's Zone founder] Geoffery Canada a couple of years ... He included the community. He had conversations. He didn't go into Harlem overnight and just dump something on the community. What this board is doing is dumping something on South Dallas. You continue to disrespect and be dismissive of the southern sector of Dallas ...
What I'm asking you to do is not to come into South Dallas into the feeder pattern and just experiment with our children. Our children in the southern sector cannot afford any more experiments from this board. Take it to Conrad. Experiment on them and then bring it to sunny South Dallas.
This was a bit puzzling to Trustee Dan Micciche who acknowledged that, while Imagine 2020 is an experiment, "it's an experiment that makes a whole lot of sense. We're experimenting by bringing extra resources to the table. We're not experimenting by doing something bad to somebody. We're trying to address the needs that have long gone unaddressed."
It's hard to tell how much of Nutall's opposition comes from the ham-fisted way Miles has communicated Imagine 2020 and how much stems from her evident dislike of Miles. She insists it's the former, citing comments reportedly made by DISD staffer Kerri Holt suggesting that Miles didn't need to court Nutall or the southern Dallas community on Imagine 2020 because he had a majority of the board in his pocket.
But should communication missteps obviate what is otherwise a unique opportunity to help struggling schools in southern and West Dallas? It doesn't seem like it should. It's clear that something needs to change at the schools in question.
Instead, it seems like Nutall's bent on protecting her turf against encroachment by Miles. That's how the other trustees took it, at least. They voted to keep the $8.8 million allotted to Imagine 2020 in the budget.