"Everything's on the table," Dallas Independent School District superintendent Michael Hinojosa keeps saying following Wednesday's announcement that the district's got this teensy $64 million budget shortfall to cover right quick. Which means everything from staff cuts to school closings. But, as trustee Edwin Flores tells Unfair Park this morning, something much bigger is needed.
"I am only one trustee, but as far as I am concerned, on the financial end of things, we need a revolution," says Flores, whose district encompasses Northwest Dallas. "We need to clean slate this thing. We first need to ask ourselves one question: How do we educate our children with as many exceptional teachers as we can find? And then we need to rebuild it from the bottom up. We need to look at all the layers [of district personnel] and weed out the people we don't need. We've got an organizational chart that doesn't include the teachers and the principals, I think, and this thing is an inch thick." He chuckles, but not because he finds it amusing.
Flores and the other trustees only found out about the shortfall on Wednesday -- the same day as the media conference during which Hinojosa made the announcement. (School board president Jack Lowe found out a day earlier.) And Flores believes, yes, there will be problems found with this year's budget, once they tear open the books and start adding up the numbers that were built on a faulty 2007-'08 budget. But he cautions against panicking.
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"Job one is not to cut and run," he says. "It's to come up with a solid plan. Because, look, at some point you have to trust people. You hire people you assume have the expertise and credentials, and you think they're giving you good numbers, and they're not. Now, we have to get our hands on the right numbers."
One thing he won't do is call for the head of Hinojosa -- as Alliance AFT local president Aimee Bolender more or less did this morning on KERA-FM (90.1), when she said, "Something of this magnitude is pretty incredible. To me this is a career-breaker." Other trustees have also suggested they've lost faith in the superintendent as well.
"The teacher's union leadership never had faith in Hinojosa, because he's trying to bring some rigor to teaching they don't want," Flores says. "You have to separate the union fat cats from the rank and file. They only represent a small portion of the teachers. For her to sit there and say the teachers have lost faith, you have to take that with a grain of salt. Because the teachers, they believe in the plan."
For now, at least. But by Tuesday, the schools will have to give to DISD chief of staff Arnold Viramontes proposals that will trim their respective budgets by at least 10 percent. A revolution? That may be just the beginning. --Robert Wilonsky