Breaching the stonewall

There's a saying newspeople like to toss out whenever we're feeling particularly macho: "Don't pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel." It's probably not a good idea to start battles with people who buy videotape by the mile, either, but apparently word hasn't reached the new administrators at the Dallas Independent School District.

Channel 8 WFAA's Brett Shipp, who has broken a number of stories in recent weeks about the free-spending habits of DISD Superintendent Bill Rojas, found himself on the receiving end of an attack by new district spokesman Tomas Roman. A source tells Buzz that Román sent WFAA's managers a letter suggesting that Shipp's reporting is reckless and inaccurate after Shipp reported that Edison Schools Inc.'s contract with the district to privately manage some district campuses could include more schools and more students than trustees originally were led to believe. (Román couldn't be reached for comment.)

WFAA sent back about 20 pages of documents backing up the story. The station's managers stood behind Shipp, who has covered DISD for nearly a decade.

Good for them -- and us.

Stonewalling. Counterpunching. Apparently Rojas' recommended reading for district employees, the management guidebook Only the Paranoid Survive, is being taken to heart at DISD headquarters. Too bad Texas' laws on open records weren't on the reading list as well.

That's the word, anyway, from Robert Johnston, DISD's former public records officer who resigned Monday, telling The Dallas Morning News that the district has been "dragging its feet" on fulfilling requests for public records. Johnston told Buzz that the high-dollar administrators brought in by Rojas from California simply aren't familiar with Texas law on what constitutes public information. Worse, Johnston says he has the impression that the new staff believes "that the people here are all hicks."

Yeah, well, take heart, Brett and Robert. We all may be just a bunch of hayseeds, but we're pretty sure of where we'll be celebrating next Christmas -- right here. Anyone want to place a bet on where DISD's new administrative staff will be?

Venable rides again

It may be lights-out for Edison Schools in Dallas if the Classroom Teachers of Dallas and a former school trustee have their way. They're readying a possible lawsuit to contest the company's contract with DISD to run six schools next year.

Don Venable, the former DISD board member, says this week he will seek to depose Edison officials and Superintendent Rojas, chief booster of the company in Dallas. His mission: to determine whether DISD's contract with Edison breaches Texas' Constitution. "If you are spending more on an Edison child than a non-Edison child, it's unconstitutional," Venable claims. "You can't distribute funds unequally. If we can show it's unconstitutional, it needs to be stopped."

He points to comments made by Rojas in last week's Dallas Observer as evidence the Edison contract won't pass muster. "I know it's going to cost more money [per student]," Rojas was quoted as saying in the cover story "No class."

Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams