Last night at Thomas C. Marsh Middle School, Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and school board trustee Edwin Flores took their show back on the road and hosted yet another town hall meeting, following last month's what-up-y'all at W.T. White High School. And, yet again, Hinojosa was affable and relatively open, joking about eating way too much pan dulce at breakfasts with concerned parents and explaining that that one reason he doesnn't like single-sex schools is that "at some point, [the students] want to see somebody else," meaning members of the opposite sex. He got big laughs from a crowd consisting mostly of PTA parents who had small, serious concerns on their minds, including the fact parents' groups have to pay schools in order to raise money for their schools.
Since January, said the super, he's held 22 so-called "community conversations" like last night's at Marsh. The reason? "You can't run from problems." And, at these meetings, the focus is on issues enormous and minute -- from educational gains to dropout rates to districtwide morale, the latter of which is on the rise, he insists. (Not long ago the district sat at the 17 percentile on the Organizational Health Index; Hinojosa now insists that as of January, the district's morale now scores among the 48 percentile on the OHI.)
He discussed the obvious too -- everything from the district's low-rated schools to, once more with feeling, the infamous budget shortfall that came about because "we under-projected the cost of teachers and over-staffed," he said for what must have been the 1,942nd time. He also said the $104-plus million over two years in stimulus money promised the district has been "flown" from Washington to Austin before touching down in Dallas within the next 40 days.
But there were other pressing issues to deal with too -- ones that might seem insignificant to all save for district parents.
Chief among them: the fact that PTAs and dads' clubs have to pay schools for use of facilities, even when holding fundraisers for those very schools. Said one father, "You're robbing Peter to pay Paul. ... We do more than supplement. We overcome." Hinojosa said nothing, leaving Flores to field the question -- and his response did little to assuage the unhappy souls, insisting that, hey, policy's policy.
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Then it was time to get into "the nitty-gritty," said one woman before complaining about the heating and cooling systems at various schools. In one hallway, she said, teachers were forced to wear winter coats; in another, everybody was sweating through their shirts. (And if there's a common complaint amongst district parents in recent months, it is the erratic weather patterns in schools.)
Hinojosa blurted out: "We are looking at outsourcing HVAC."
The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Really? He had not planned to share this information yet, but he was serious.
He said that the temperature control of the schools had been a problem for 30 years, and that it was time to replace those in charge with those who could actually fix the problem. And for this, parents cheered. The superintendent, not long ago the recipient of boos and calls for his resignation, had clearly taken won over his audience. At least on this one issue. At least on this one night.