Dallas City Council Approves Contentious South Dallas Charter School

The fault lines running through the charter school debate Wednesday afternoon at Dallas City Hall were striking. The City Council chambers were filled with kids from one of Uplift Education's schools, the one that's been left in a lurch by council rancor over approving a seemingly routine zoning change. Joyce Foreman, the Dallas ISD trustee who represents the area where Uplift plans to relocate its school in South Oak Cliff, was there, too, pushing against the proliferation of charter schools in southern Dallas she says is siphoning needed resources from Dallas ISD. 

"We can't stop you from building a charter school," she said Wednesday, but she just doesn't want it in her neighborhood.

After the council approved zoning for the school by a 7-6 vote, Foreman may not have anymore say in the matter.

Foreman, the cheerleader in chief of a movement among members of the neighborhood and district employees to deny Uplift appropriate zoning to move the school, ended up with three of the four council representatives from southern Dallas on her side. Casey Thomas, in whose District 3 the school will be built on Camp Wisdom Road, opposed allowing the zoning change, as did Tiffinni Young and the council's most outspoken critic of the school, Carolyn Arnold.

Arnold said that the community around the potential new Uplift campus was being ignored, something she called "tantamount to rape." If the city wants to give southern Dallas choice, she said, the choice would be to pick up the loose dogs that stalk the area's neighborhoods.

Uplift parents speaking at the meeting emphasized that something that started as a simple zoning matter was being turned against their kids. The bigger issue, one parent said, was that families were being forced to flee Dallas ISD to charters like Uplift.

Erik Wilson, the single southern Dallas representative to break with Foreman and Thomas and support the school, said that his District 8 neighborhood, which borders the school, was largely in support of the project. He'd knocked on doors as late as Tuesday, he said, to find out what his constituents wanted. He was joined by Mayor Mike Rawlings and council members Lee Kleinman, Rickey Callahan, Sandy Greyson, Monica Alonzo and Adam McGough in supporting the school. Scott Griggs and Jennifer Gates missed the meeting (Griggs had to attend to a personal matter, Gates was conflicted out).

“We are not here to bail out DISD because they don’t realize they need to offer a better product. This is a zoning case,” Wilson said. "Parents want to make a choice. Their children have only one youthful life to live.”

After the new zoning for the K-12 campus passed, kids and parents cheered. Rawlings recessed the council so they all could go home.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young