Hitting Where It Hurts

Hitting where it hurts: Not that black people ever were thrilled with the Dallas public school system, but in the last year unhappy has become unhappier. Two main reasons.

First, a sense that white people and Latinos are ganging up. Second, a suspicion that somebody wants to pull the rug out from under the school board.

"We see it as a continuation of this effort across the country for private interests to control urban school districts," says the Reverend Holsey O. Hickman, a member of the Coalition to Maximize Education.

Hickman is one of an ad hoc group of parents and community leaders who filed suit in federal district court July 14 seeking to halt the 2008 school bond building program. The suit cites instances of older black schools left to rot while new schools are built elsewhere.

The Dallas Independent School District student body is 64 percent Latino, 30 percent black and 5 percent white, according to the Texas Education Agency Academic Excellence report for 2006-2007, the most recent available.

The plaintiffs think shutting off the bond money is a good way to get the district's attention, but they are after bigger things. In particular they see a private group called "Dallas Achieves" as trouble.

Dallas Achieves, devoted to "reducing achievement gaps across income and ethnic groups" according to its Web site, has been given offices in district headquarters but holds its meetings behind closed doors at the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce.

Downtown business-owner Joyce Foreman objects that some Dallas Achieves members don't even live in Dallas, let alone have kids in the district. "Dallas Achieves appears to have literally taken over the whole education process and the board of trustees are just there to rubber stamp."

Marcia Page, the only staff person for Dallas Achieves, described it as a private group that only offers recommendations. "Dallas Achieves doesn't tell the district how to do its work," she said.

DISD board president Jack Lowe said, "It's sort of stunning to me. The lion's share of the bond program is going to be south of the Trinity. But you don't need a good reason to sue somebody. All you need is a lawyer and a piece of paper."

Lowe has been the subject of controversy since it was learned that his company, TD Industries, has done more than $9 million in work for the school district since 2002.

Dallas Achieves will meet later this week at the Chamber of Commerce offices to decide whether that's ethical. Buzz asked to attend the meeting but was told it will be closed.

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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