Residence Evil: DISD Trustees Can't Decide Which Employees Should Actually Live in Dallas

Container Store co-founder Garrett Boone and the Star Employee Commission told the Dallas ISD trustees last month that the HR department was ... how did they put it ... well, let's just go with completely, totally and utterly effed. (Look, my kid reads Unfair Park, all right?) And they offered page after page after page of suggestions on how to fix the effing thing. Which got interim superintendent Alan King all hot and bothered. Said he: "[I want to] implement everything I can that doesn't cost anything or require board approval."

One of the commission's recommendations said that only the superintendent of the district should be required to live in the district; everyone else would be free to live wherever they want. The reason: "Residency requirements for top leadership restricts the district from hiring quality candidates," said the commission.

But -- shocking -- the board actually can't agree on who should live where. The proposed policy rewrite involving residency requirements is below, but God knows what it'll look like after the trustees make their myriad amendments to the single sheet of paper. Long story short? This proposal ...

The Superintendent of Schools shall be a bona fide resident of the District, unless otherwise stated in the original contract or subsequent renewal contracts of the Superintendent.

... will now read like this:

The Superintendent of Schools shall be a bona fide resident of the District.

And somewhere in there, it might say that the chiefs who report directly to the super also have to live in the city limits. Then again, maybe it won't. Because as far as some trustees, such as Eric Cowan and Nancy Bingham, are concerned, forcing top-level DISD employees to live within the Dallas city limits could keep some top-notch people outta 3700 Ross.

"We're trying to get top talent," Bingham said. "We often say, 'These have to live here, these don't.' One of the mantras we hear is, 'Who's most important? The teacher and principals.' And there's no requirement for them to live in DISD. ... [So] if it means going 10 minutes outside the city limits and robbing the suburbs, let's steal 'em blind. They've been doing it to us for years. ... I don't care where anybody lives except the trustees, because this is an elected position." To limit where someone lives, she said, means sacrificing a "huge talent pool." And why, she asked, "Because we've always done it this way?"

Cowan put it another way: Far as he's concerned, this is "about attracting the top talent regardless of zip code, regardless of race, regardless of gender." At which point he offered a hypothetical, which is always a fun exercise.

"Let's say we get a HR executive from JCPenny in Plano who wants to come to DISD and help us figure out our HR department. Let's say their spouse live in Richardson and has three kids -- 8, 12 and 16 ...." Anyway. You get the picture.

"Are we really going to say, 'We think you're the best person for the job but we require you and your family to move 30 minutes south?'" Cowan said. He said most folks are either motivated by one of two things: pay or pride. (Or, one would hope, both.) "That's it. If I was a chief looking at a high-paying executive job I would question the district's motivation in hiring me if they required me to live in Dallas."

Carla Ranger, but of course, wants the super to live in Dallas: "The superintendent has to be accessible, has to be visible, and staying in the district gives credibility among parents and stakeholders." Bernadette Nutall would prefer everyone in the district live in Dallas -- even the teachers." Teachers, back in the day, when they lived in the community and worked in the community, you had a sense of community."

But in the end, it was the normally moribund Bruce Parrott was most vocal on the subject.

"I'm vested in Dallas," he said, his voice rising to the level of the living. "All of us are vested.
Anybody who's top staff -- superintendent and anyone underneath him -- I would like them to live in Dallas. They have to have skin in the game when it comes to the issues. Teachers, I don't think so. The story I hear, and I understand, is in some cases they can't afford to live in certain areas of Dallas. So that doesn't bother me. We're just talking about the very top. ... [But] I want to live here. This is my town. This is my school district, and I want to live here for a reason."

Back and forth and back and forth they went, agreeing on everything and nothing. The board will vote on this policy in two weeks. What'll it look like? Who knows.DISD Residency Policy Rewrite

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