Allen Vaught Wants to Plant Grassroots Movement That'll Save DISD's Teachers

Brother Bill Holston directed our attention yesterday to the Facebook page of former state Rep. and movie star Allen Vaught, who writes of "organizing a grassroots program focusing on the legislature and DISD to not gut our schools." I called Vaught at his office at Baron & Budd for more details, and he explained: Dallas Independent School District trustees Bruce Parrott and Bernadette Nutall showed up for Thursday night's meeting of the Woodrow Wilson Community Council to lay out the "train wreck headed toward our schools."

He's referring, of course, to Superintendent Michael Hinojosa's so-called "new reality" that could lead to 3,100 on-campus employees losing their jobs, most of whom will be teachers. And as far as Vaught's concerned, that's unconscionable -- especially since the district's only proposing to lay off a fraction of its off-campus administrators and dispose of a small percentage of its consultants' contracts.

"There has to be a top-down approach to the budgeting," says Vaught. "We know there have to be cuts, but why begin with teachers? The message we want to send to DISD is: We know you have to work with the mess the Legislature gives you, but don't cut teachers."

The "we" to whom Vaught refers is, for now, a group of Woodrow-area parents who intend to take their fight to Austin and 3700 Ross Avenue, joining the myriad protest planned in coming weeks -- especially Alliance/AFT's March 14 spring-break Lobby Day. But Vaught hopes to expand the effort district-wide via Facebook, because "if it can bring about democracy in Egypt, it can certainly do some good here too" by spreading to DISD heretofore ignored and overlooked details about how the district really spends -- and wastes -- its money.

"We don't need a mob of people with abstract ideas yelling, 'Don't cut our schools!'" he says. "Even if they do have to cut teachers -- and they will, we know that -- we'll insist parents show up to board meetings armed with information. They'll be able to point to the pie chart and ask the trustees, 'What's Red River Solutions? Why are we spending $7 million with them? Why can't you cut that instead of X amount of teachers?' We need to ask: 'Can you cut these outside vendors, these consultants, these administrators?' We need to ask those questions rather than resigning ourselves to, 'Well, we'll let Mike Hinojosa make the decision for us.'"

Vaught has no intention of becoming the face of this movement, if that's what it can become -- pending back surgery, he says, will make that impossible. Besides, he says, this is too big for any one person: The former state representative says for public education to survive this round of gutting, parents will have to take the fight to two fronts.

"We also have to focus on the source of the problem: the Legislature and the governor," he says. "I mean, the governor has his emergencies: voter ID, the sonogram bill, state sovereignty, whatever that means, but nothing about funding schools is seen as an emergency? That's because we don't have their attention. We need to get their attention. So through a PTA program there will be a respectful attempt to communicate with the Legislature, to tell them: Find the revenue. That's all they need to do. Instead of cutting $10 billion, go into the rainy day fund."

He says, for now, the Woodrow council will spearhead the movement, but that it will only be successful if it "taps into the PTA movement and educates them as well. Because we all understand things will be unpleasant, but we need to shape it. There needs to be shared suffering. So we need to get more parents involved.

"This is about the entire school district, all the children," he says. "We have a lot of parents who could step in and teach fine arts, but some neighborhoods don't have that resource. Those kids matter too. I don't understand: Why is fine arts 'off the table' while math and science are not untouchable? That's inconsistent with some of the legislation. We have to focus on the problem -- the political leadership in Austin. Tell them to find the money. And we have to focus on DISD. The pain needs to be shared equally by everyone. We need a balanced approach, and we don't have one in Austin or DISD."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky