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Dallas ISD Trustees Closed 11 Schools Last Night, and It Got Ugly Before It Got Done

Before all the trustees finally moved to the small boardroom, away from protestors, only a handful were around to listen to their pleas.
Before all the trustees finally moved to the small boardroom, away from protestors, only a handful were around to listen to their pleas.
Photos by Greg Howard

They argued, they reasoned, they pleaded, they threatened, they chanted, they cried. But in the end, it just didn't matter. It never really did.

It's over, and it was never in doubt. Under budget pressure, and after a final, five-hour session, the Dallas Independent School District's board of trustees voted late last night to approve that proposal to close 11 elementary and middle schools, saving $11.5 million and leaving hundreds of onlookers heartbroken. The board also extended teachers' school days by 45 minutes. That wasn't popular either.

By 4:30 p.m., every seat in the main chamber at 3700 Ross was occupied, and by the 6 p.m. start time, the building was so packed that DISD police were turning parents, teachers and students away at the door.

Things got unruly when Lew Blackburn ordered officers to remove Joyce Foreman.
Things got unruly when Lew Blackburn ordered officers to remove Joyce Foreman.

Scores of English- and Spanish-speaking educators, parents and students stepped forward to dispute the consolidation of district schools. Hopeful spectators in the crowd egged the speakers on, cheering at every poignant statement, laughing fondly while third-, fifth- and eight-graders testified, clapping and cheering after every speaker.

Despite the result, you got the sense that the constituents' statements, often pre-drafted, didn't fall on deaf ears; the trustees, during the voting process, seemed genuinely hurt by what they would eventually do. But worse than deaf ears early on were those empty seats: Of the nine DISD trustees, no more than four or five were in the chamber at any given time to listen to their voters' testimonials, electing to exit out of a door behind their chairs. (Trustee Mike Morath said later that wherever they were -- he said he was using the rest room and taking a call about an important personal matter -- they could hear the testimony.)

Board president Lew Blackburn himself was absent from the chamber for more than an hour. It felt a bit dismissive, and citizens started to take notice. There was grumbling, tension grew, and emotions hit a boiling point when Former Dallas Area Rapid Transit board member Joyce Foreman approached the microphone in front of a mostly vacant panel.

"Where are the trustees? We didn't come here to waste our time!" she cried. "We want their seats!"

As concerned policemen streamed in the room, pooling near the trustees, the constituents began chanting "No justice, no peace!" When Blackburn returned to order Foreman be escorted out, the chanting only got louder and more unruly.

Blackburn moved the entire board to the smaller boardroom, where the trustees would be separated from emotional onlookers. Their discussion and vote, which came later, would be live-streamed while they voted. The dust-up lasted almost 45 minutes, and only trustees Adam Medrano and Carla Ranger remained in the chamber for a time. Then Medrano left, leaving Ranger, a friend of Foreman's, alone with the desperate public.

"They walked out on their community," Ranger later said about the trustees' choice to move to the boardroom, and her decision to stay in the chamber. She didn't participate in any voting.

That's not to say she would've made a difference. The vote to close schools felt predetermined. Once the human element was removed, it was the most rational thing to do. Of the eight voting trustees, the first five voted to pass the proposal. Upon hearing the fifth, there was an audible groan in the main chamber. Fighting back tears, parents began to pick up their weeping children and exit the room.

Blackburn staged an 11th-hour appeal to look at options, to postpone final voting, and the move garnered cheers in the chamber. But the audience was emotionally spent. When, after minutes of fierce debate among the eight trustees, the motion to postpone was finally voted down -- and the motion to consolidate was quickly and unceremoniously passed 6-2, with Blackburn and Medrano voting no and Ranger absent -- parents, teachers and children left 3700 Ross either in silence, deflated or in the same tears they'd been shedding for months.


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