Hey, Dallas City Council, Instead of Lecturing DISD, Why Don't You Fund Your Libraries?

Last week Dallas school board member Dan Micciche had an op-ed essay in The Dallas Morning News urging people to push their City Council members and the mayor about the chronic under-funding of public libraries in the city. The numbers he cited for the city's support of libraries were abysmal -- the worst in America for cities our size. But Micciche was too much of a gentleman to say out loud what the real political scandal is here.

Wait? Did I just say someone else was being TOO MUCH OF A GENTLEMAN? Isn't that my call to action -- the big letter S projected onto the skyline by searchlight? Yes, I think so. So please allow me to say out loud what Micciche is too much of a gentleman to say out loud.

Hey. Did the Dallas City Council not summon the school board to a public scolding last April so the mayor and council could take them to the woodshed for not teaching the kids good enough? Was this not the self-same solemn magisterial occasion when one City Council member asked school board members if the public school district intended to continue having public schools in it? As opposed to ... all pizza parlors? Switching from public schools to Ford dealerships? Yeah. This is that same City Council.

This council had the nerve, the gall, the arrogance, the cheek, the brass, the sheer unadulterated un-self-aware galloping impudence to call the school board on the carpet for not doing enough to teach the kids, and now they are about to sign off on the worst, cheapest, scummiest, most under-funded public library budget in the country. And they see not one whit of contradiction, hypocrisy or even irony in that?

No, of course they don't. If this City Council and mayor were capable of seeing irony in anything at all ever, they wouldn't ask if the public school system plans on continuing to offer public education. The capacity for irony is way way beyond them.

Last week we talked here about two members of the City Council, Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston, who did what council members never do -- actually delved into the city manager's proposed budget on their own and came up with a way to restore some of the funding the manager has filched from libraries over the years. The city's library budget is down $10 million or 33 percent in the last seven years even though the city anticipates record-high tax revenues next year.

See also: Somebody Wake Up Dallas City Council and Tell Them to Get to Work

Griggs even presented a spreadsheet offering specific cuts to the city manager's proposed budget, mainly from back-office operations slated for dubious staff increases, to cover $3.8 million additional money for libraries and animal control. The city manager came back a few days later with an insanely convoluted hyperventilated rebuttal arguing that allowing council members to suggest specific changes in his budget would crash the entire city on a scale with, I don't know, no more public schools in the public school system or something wildly unruly like that.

That's to be expected. The entire council/manager system at City Hall is premised on an assumption that only total idiots will ever get elected to the City Council. People like Griggs or Kingston, Adam Medrano or Lee Kleinman who are capable of actually challenging the city manager on things, according to this model, need to get the hell off the council and report for work somewhere.

For the city manager, a council person even looking at his budget is a form of indecency, and I don't think we can argue that his view is utterly without merit -- partially without merit, perhaps, but not utterly.

But put yourself in the shoes of Micciche or the rest of the school board or school district Superintendent Mike Miles -- summoned to City Hall for a day last spring, forced to sit for hours in the dock at Doofus Court fielding nitwit questions, battling to keep serious expressions on their faces when the council demanded to know why they don't teach the kids more good.

The entire "home rule" effort to create a new system of governance for the public schools was the brainchild of our mayor, based on an assumption that the current school board can't get the job done. Now along comes a chance for the City Council to actually do something for education on its own watch, in its own wheelhouse, with its own checkbook, to improve education among poor kids, and what do we get?

A majority of the council are angry with Griggs and Kingston for putting them in the position of having to study a specific issue. And most of them sound anyway like they think the library is the room with the big flat-screen and the pool table.

So Micciche gave the very gentlemanly version of this essay, barely nodding toward the irony. Now you also have the not-a-gentleman version, kicking the irony between the legs. Glad to be of service.

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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