Dallas ISD Trustees Are Skeptical of Shadowy Home-Rule District Push

There are plenty of very good reasons to blow up Dallas ISD's board of trustees. Its meetings are long, petty and often unproductive. In a district that's more than two-thirds Hispanic, just one of its nine members is the same. Choosing trustees by geographic district discourages district-wide thinking and encourages patronage. Plus, maybe democracy just isn't the best way to run a large urban school district. Bernadette Nutall wondered what the goal behind the push is.

Whether it's wise to actually light the fuse depends entirely on what will replace it. So far the backers of the new push to turn Dallas ISD into a so-called "home-rule district," which would abolish the current board, aren't saying what they have in mind.

The Dallas Morning News had the scoop over the weekend. A new group called Support Our Public Schools, funded by Houston billionaire (and HIllcrest High alum) John Arnold and a half dozen or so other, secret donors, wants to free DISD from a good chunk of the state laws governing school districts utilizing a never-used 1995 provision allowing home-rule districts, which, much like cities, operate under a charter granted by the state. Trustee Mike Morath is also involved, though he's not saying how deeply.

SOPS operatives will be at polling places today collecting the 24,459 signatures (five percent of registered voters) needed to force trustees to appoint the 15-member charter commission that will draft the rules that will govern the new DISD, provided the charter is approved in an election with at least 25-percent turnout.

The battle lines are already hardening. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is for it; other school-reform advocates presumably are too. Teachers are skeptical. Alliance-AFT president Rena Honea declared it "part of a plan to underfund our schools, declare them a failure, and contract out to private operators the control of our neighborhood schools, disenfranchising parents and community stakeholders and de-professionalizing teaching."

And the board? The board met last night to try and figure out why this is happening, and why it's happening now.

"Why are we going to home rule charter?" trustee Bernadette Nutall wondered. "Why did you go this route? What did you want to accomplish? Is it White Rock ISD, is it South Dallas ISD? What is our end goal here?"

Good questions, and ones that deserve answers. It would be nice if SOPS would have given some before they started circulating their petition, but it doesn't really matter. The home-rule idea worth exploring, and any exploration of the subject will be nebulous and unspecific unless there's some concrete proposal, of the type a charter commission would draft.

Then, if that sucks, voters can reject it.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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