DISD Board President Offers Us a Way Out of the Home-Rule Thicket the Mayor Got Us Into

This old house: is there any kind of do-over than can fix the Dallas school board, or do we just wait for funerals?
This old house: is there any kind of do-over than can fix the Dallas school board, or do we just wait for funerals?

Thank goodness, maybe Dallas school board President Miguel Solis has found an honorable, face-saving way out of the school board reform thicket that the mayor led us into last spring. Not a moment too soon.

Some members of the so-called Home Rule Commission, charged with inventing a whole new way to govern the city's public school system, have been looking as happy as kids on a runaway school bus lately; they're pressed against the windows mouthing, "Heelp meeee!"

The commission started with a good idea, but it was constrained by some really bad law and implemented in the worst possible way. It was based on a perception that certain kinds of dysfunction are baked into the system at school headquarters, especially the desire of elected school board members to micromanage the district's operations.

On the administrative side, board-member meddling is a longstanding illness with symptoms that range on the scale from bad business practices to corruption. On the academic side and at particular schools, the symptoms can be anything from cronyism to total academic failure.

The 15-member commission is supposed to vote January 20 on whether to write a new charter for the school system or pull the plug on the whole thing ... the commission, that is, not the school district, although some commission members have been accused of promoting the latter.

The problem has always been that state law -- or, as some legal authorities in this area might call it, stupid state law -- called for the commission to be made up equally of people who love the idea of charter reform and people who hate it. Guess what. The only thing that could resolve that impasse is a funeral. (Not ... repeat NOT a suggestion.)

The commission is headed by Bob Weiss, retired vice president for administration at the Meadows Foundation, a former chairman of the Dallas Plan Commission and a person generally credited as a smart, fair political arbitrator. But the commission itself was saddled with an even worse structure than the school board it was supposed to fix. Wrong direction.

To make it worse, Mayor Mike Rawlings, the unofficial leader of the charter reform effort, was incredibly politically inept in bringing it about and introducing it. He started by crafting the thing in the closed-door country club mode typical of the old establishment, so that everybody else was paranoid as hell before it ever even got out the door. Then in trying to sell it, he got testy and walked out on grassroots community leaders who asked respectful but pointed questions. Then he turns the reins over to Weiss, like, "This horse is all wet and lame. You ride it."

Yeah, thanks, Mayor.

See also: What Made Mayor Mike Rawlings Blow His Top?

We've sort of known since last May that the home rule effort was unlikely to carry to term: That's when lawyer and education activist Mark Melton failed to win the support of commission members for a face-saving compromise that could have been called, "No new charter but a lot of swell ideas."

See also: Last Window Closes

Since then, the charter commission, hopelessly divided between those who wanted to shoot the other members and those who wanted to shoot themselves, has not been able to agree on anything, face-saving or otherwise. But in an op-ed essay in The Dallas Morning News yesterday, Solis announced he's setting up his own ad hoc committee on governance and will charge his new committee with "continuing this conversation by analyzing any suggested changes presented by the Home Rule Commission in order to identify more ways in which we can increase our effectiveness as a district."

Get it? On the 20th, the Home Rule Commission does itself and everybody else in town a favor by walking out back and shooting itself in the head. But it's OK: not to worry that the effort was wasted or the legacy will not be honored. The Solis ad hoc committee will carry on where the commission fell overboard.

The unpleasant newspaper columnist side of me -- oh, wait, is there another side? -- wants to suggest that Solis' committee will wind up with weighty proposals from the commission like: "Treat each other with respect. No, you treat each other with respect, butt-head. No, YOU treat each other with respect, ass-hole!"

But I do have a lot of respect for Weiss and many of the members of the commission, and I have to believe there is some really good work buried in there somewhere. If Solis can tease some of it out this way, more power to him. In the meantime, when are we going to stop looking for political leaders in country clubs? That's where you look for good golfers and tipsy pretty ladies. Not leaders. When do we learn?


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