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DISD's Attempt to Gut Magnets, Learning Centers Gets Uglier With Every Misstep

Last night's decision by the Dallas Independent School District's board of trustees to delay voting on budget cuts for the district's enhanced schools was more than just a stall. The debate leading up to that decision shed a little more light on the question most people watching all this have been asking for the last several weeks:

What the hell?

Why in the world would the Dallas Independent School District want to screw up its magnet schools?

Probable answer: It doesn't. It wants to screw up its learning centers. But it's willing to screw up its magnets in order to screw up its learning centers.

It's all just so ... inspiring!

The board heard an opinion from Fort Worth lawyer Ben Barlow and a communique from some unexplained guy in the U.S. Department of Education making it sound as if there just wasn't any choice in the matter: DISD must screw up its magnets and learning centers by gutting staffs to meet requirements for federal subsidies. Board president Jack Lowe and DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa and the lawyers all failed to mention that the Texas Education Agency had just ruled that gutting the magnets was, in most cases, not necessary.

They failed to mention that U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Democrat of the 30th District, had just asked them not to vote to gut anything while she was seeking a fuller explanation of the issues from the Department of Education.

Just had to do it. Got to gut them. Now.

But trustees Lew Blackburn and Carla Ranger said, Not so fast. Citing his own legal research, Blackburn started asking pointed questions. All of a sudden, Lowe and DISD's top lawyer, Jack Elrod, both had to go out in the hall at the same time.

It could have been innocent. They're both about the same age. But when Lowe came back he was ready to delay.

Blackburn's questions unearthed two things. The first is that an entire area of the law that may make the proposed cuts unnecessary somehow isn't even being discussed by the people pushing for the cuts. The second was even more telling, I thought.

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Blackburn got Larry Throm, the district's top bean-counter, to utter a kind of blanket denigration of the learning centers as a boondoggle. The learning centers were created under the 32-year Tasby desegregation lawsuit as a sop to the black community in place of integration.

Ancient sins beckon from the grave in all this. It may be yet another chapter in which black Dallas learns the mistake it made in accepting racial separatism as a viable way of life.

But let's get real. Blackburn and Ranger have got them stopped for now. It may not be easy for the Hispanics and the whites on the board to dodge around this one. They may have to come out from under wraps at some point and just say, "O.K., we admit it. This is a campaign against black people."

And there Dallas will be again and forever, apparently, chasing itself around the bottom of the barrel.

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