Ah, Yes. But What About the Children?

The Dallas Independent School District board of trustees will meet twice today: at their 3 p.m. "financial workshop," then again for their regularly scheduled 5:30 p.m. meeting. It is the former, of course, that's of most concern today, as on the agenda is Item No. 3, which reads, "Consideration and possible approval of resolution directing the administration to implement a reduction in force for employees." To those teachers about to be laid off, board president Jack Lowe can only offer a pathetic, "I'm sorry. It's impacting you, and I'm sorry."

In recent days I've spoken with several teachers scattered throughout the district, and they have all said the exact same thing: The state of the district is grim. Not only are teachers afraid of losing their jobs, as even those with seniority are not safe, but there are reports of principals using the threat of imminent layoffs to intimidate teachers of whom they're not fond. Principals have already begin "releasing" teachers currently in classrooms but not yet under contract. There is suspicion, resentment, anger and a great deal of anguish amongst teachers threatened with losing their jobs, all because a stupendous, still-unexplained accounting error.

Word is, the meetings today will be packed with teachers, all dressed in red -- surely, a not-so-subtle reminder of the bloodletting to about to occur. They will demand answers the district has yet to provide as it wrestles with a $64 million 2007-'08 budget shortfall likely to grow into a $148 million screw-up, if this year's budget is not also dealt with quickly. They will want to know: How did this happen? Who's responsible? Who will go?

Schutze this week pins the blame solely on the man at the top: Michael Hinojosa, who refuses to resign and instead offered to return a not-even-symbolic 5 percent of his $371,000 salary. But there are others worthy of blame, chief among them human resources head Kimberly Olson, who joined the district last year without any school district experience. Indeed, she arrived here following her tenure in Iraq, where, as an Air Force colonel, she was accused of "profiting from the post-invasion chaos by using her position to benefit a private security firm that she helped operate." She eventually pleaded guilty to lesser charges and took an honorable discharge -- which landed her at the DISD, where she OK'd the hiring of teachers without consulting those in charge of the budget, as though that would have done any good anyway, as it turns out.

And so, good teachers are panicked, paralyzed and distracted. And who suffers? The children, of course -- children who do not care about the fact that grown-ups failed their math homework.

Yesterday, in this item, a DISD parent left a comment I've reprinted below about what to do next -- about what to do now. It's aimed mostly at district parents, and to it I will add only this: In the month my son's been in DISD. I've witnessed firsthand parents who tend crosswalks, who run carpool, who help in the cafeteria, who work as volunteer teachers' aids in classrooms at capacity long before the shortfall was announced. At a time of turmoil, they have served as an inspiration.

As I wrote in a comment a few days ago, I am still proud to send my son to the neighborhood school, where he's learned an astonishing amount these past few weeks thanks to a 30-plus-year DISD veteran who's as sharp and as no-nonsense as they come. And our school, as well as many other DISD campuses in the neighborhood and throughout the city, has very active parents' groups that are involved in myriad fund-raisers every year, the money from which goes to the most basic items needed for all the children. But now, even that additional money won't be enough, as field trips have been axed, and even the copier room's locked up three days out of the week. Yesterday in my son's school, all the hallway lights were shut off -- to save electricity. It has come to that.

Me, I'm just a newcomer to the school -- just another DISD grad hoping for the best. I know. How delusional. --Robert Wilonsky

From a DISD parent:

If everyone on this blog went by or called a school tomorrow and offered his or her help, as well as donated funds to keep alive school programs that are going to be impacted by a cut in schools' budgets, such as after school tutoring and Saturday School for children at risk of not passing the state assessment, the results would be monumental. It is a shame that "getting up in arms" and protesting, demanding for action this way or that, doesn't include making a personal decision to help our schools and, therefore, using all of that energy for something worthwhile.

Paying PTA dues is just the beginning. Your life will never be the same, and you could be helping a child who needs it the most. If you have time to rant and rave on this site, you have time to help. If you can afford a computer and the necessary services to keep it running, you can afford to contribute to the school. Will you put your money and your time and effort where you mouth is?

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky