Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ensured Thursday afternoon that Dallas County voters will have the final say on the fate of Dallas County Schools, the bureaucracy that doesn't operate any schools but only provides bus service.
The school district is a relic of a time when countywide districts, rather than city districts, ran the schools. During the just finished 85th session of the Texas Legislature, the district came under attack from lawmakers, led by Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines. Huffines said the district was "dangerous, unreliable and fiscally reckless," noting the 480 traffic tickets the agency has piled up since January 2014 and recent accusations that the district's board mismanaged $45 million. The board chalked the missing cash up to a budgeting error in March.
While Huffines' bill to shut down the district didn't pass, on Thursday Abbott signed Senate Bill 2065, which calls for Dallas County voters to decide the fate of Dallas County Schools in an election this November. Leatha Mullins, the interim superintendent of Dallas County Schools, said she was shocked by the news.
"At the moment, I have no words. It makes no sense to dismantle an agency that has been serving the county and students for 170 years," Mullins said in a statement. "This decision will have dire consequences for all of the school districts involved. We will discuss next steps with the DCS Board, possibly as soon as next Tuesday."
Huffines did an early dance in Dallas County Schools' end zone.
"DCS is bad for students, schools and taxpayers. I have long said it was not a matter of if DCS would be abolished, but when it would come to an end and how students and schools would be protected from its collapse," he said.
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Since the end of the regular legislative session Memorial Day, Dallas County Schools has received several pieces of bad news. On June 1, the district failed to make $10 million in debt service payments. As a result of that default, Moody's downgraded the agency's credit rating to junk bond status a week later, saying that "dissolution is now a high probability" for the district, thanks to its inability to service its debt.
Huffines said he believes the process Abbott signed off on Thursday will allow the district to wind down in a way that causes the least amount of harm to the kids — if the public chooses to abolish Dallas County Schools when given the choice.
"I am confident that voters will abolish this corrupt and dangerous government bus bureaucracy," he said. "It's outdated and redundant government run amok, and it's past time to close the door on this embarrassing chapter in our county's history."
If voters kill Dallas County Schools, each school district in the county will have until the 2018-19 school year to figure out how to provide bus service to its students.