DISD's Budget Shortfall: Hinojosa's One-Man Gaffe

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In fact, I kind of like it. I wish it could be true. But I don't think so. This is another broad assertion that the News has allowed the school district to make from behind the veil of soft attribution, without ever saying specifically who's making this charge. Therefore I was pleased at Friday's meeting to hear Hinojosa repeat it several times in his own words.

Another mystery solved.

It's an absolutely fantastic assertion. Somebody made Hinojosa hire too many teachers and staff? He hired 750 people that he couldn't pay, because somebody twisted his arm?

That Hinojosa would even try to float this story is bad news. Really bad news.

I spent a couple of hours last week with Marcia Page, a very bright, young former Texas Instruments hotshot who is now the president and CEO of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, founded by former Trammell Crow Co. chairman J. McDonald Williams.

Page's position at FCE makes her the de facto head of Dallas Achieves, sort of. Dallas Achieves started out as an informal body, with major backing from FCE, to act as an unpaid consultant to the school district on academic achievement. Sixty-four community leaders are member volunteers.

Dallas Achieves has been pushing the district to adopt a "best practices" approach to improving student performance. Its recommendations range from the very broad ("Create long-term roadmap for comprehensive school reform") to the specific ("Implement best practices in custodial management").

One of the themes emphasized by Dallas Achieves has been reducing class size. That does mean hiring more teachers. But Dallas Achieves never said, "Hire more teachers, and who gives a damn if you can pay them?"

Page's central point in talking to me was that Dallas Achieves has never had either the ability or the inclination to tell Dallas school superintendent Michael Hinojosa what to do.

"The Dallas Achieves Commission," she said, "is just a group of people. It is not a 501(c)(3). It is not a thing. It is just a group of community people who are holding them [the district] accountable for a plan."

Page showed me an organization chart depicting the whole process by which the original 109 recommendations brought to the district by Dallas Achieves are to be achieved. The chart clearly shows the Dallas Achieves Commission off on the left side of the page acting in the role of consultant.

At the top of the org chart is Hinojosa. "The hierarchy goes up that way," she said, pointing to his name at the top. "It doesn't go off to the left."

Well, yeah. Why do we even have to have this conversation? Think what a story I would have had if the org chart had shown Dallas Achieves at the very top!

Page did not say she thought Hinojosa was scapegoating her organization. In fact, she offered an excuse for him. She pointed out that Hinojosa has more or less adopted the name "Dallas Achieves" for his own reform efforts within the district. So maybe he was, you know, sort of scapegoating himself.

Yeah, right. Marcia Page is a very gracious person. I'm not. Hinojosa is trying to blame the whole thing on the business community.

You know what: The difference here between scapegoating Sherri Brokaw and scapegoating the business community is only a matter of scale. The basic instinct is the same. Anybody but me.

During the debate at last week's board meeting, Carla Ranger questioned Hinojosa closely and got him to admit that most of the broad policies and accounting issues he was citing for part of the blame had been in place for years. But she also went after another key point: that at least some of the hiring binge was the result of decisions Hinojosa had made on his own, without approval or direction from the school board.

"Did I also hear correctly that decisions and actions were taken and were made that did not have board approval?" she asked Hinojosa.

His response was mumbled, away from the microphone. I couldn't hear it.

"So the answer is yes," Ranger said. "There were decisions made that did not have board approval."

Speaking louder and a bit archly, Hinojosa said, "I would describe this as a multifaceted process involving many principles."

At least I think that was how he was spelling "principles."

The absolute worst part of the meeting—the very bitterest pill, I thought—came early on when Hinojosa announced he was taking a 5 percent reduction in pay as his own self-imposed penalty for having run the district into the financial ditch. That was when I remembered that this whole matter, after all, was only a gaffe.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze