How to Get Big Business Interested in DISD: Threaten Its Bond Money.

Jack Lowe, DISD school board president

For eight months, while the Dallas Independent School District was fiddling its way into financial conflagration, we heard radio silence from the business community. But now the Dallas Citizens Council and chambers of commerce are suddenly flapping around like somebody fired a shotgun underneath a tree full of vultures.

Worried about the schools? Nah. They’re worried about the bond money.

The Citizens Council. the Dallas Regional Chamber and the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce jumped into a lawsuit in Judge Martin Hoffman’s 68th State District Civil Court this morning in an effort get funds flowing from the district’s $1.35 billion 2008 bond program.

You're never going to run out of kids, but you will run out of money. More than one billion bucks in public works gravy in a down economy? Now, that’s an urgent matter.

Expenditure of the bond money is barred for now by a civil rights lawsuit in federal court. The Citizens Council and the chambers came into it as allies of the Dallas school system today, seeking a special ruling from Hoffman to get the money flowing in spite of the federal suit.

The Citizens Council, which meets in private, is dominated by owners or chief executives of companies that often have big juicy interests in public contracts, including Austin Industries, Global Building System, Texas Pacific Corporation and others. The chambers include everybody who has ever replaced a roof or built a loading dock for DISD. So, yeah, they want to get that bond money going.

It’s sort of like the president of the school board, Jack Lowe, whose company, TD Industries, has done $9 million worth of bond work with the district since 2002. When people questioned the ethics of his sitting as president of the board while doing business with the district, Lowe said he would never have run for the school board if he had known that might preclude him from profitable business with the school board.

Lori Stahl did a killer story on all this for The Dallas Morning News last April in which Lowe gave the amazing statement: “To ask the company to support me while I'm doing this rather time-consuming volunteer job [at DISD], and also to walk away from a significant chunk of business, was not something I was willing to do," Mr. Lowe said.

Sure, I mean, who’s going to waste time helping out the public school system if there isn’t at least a couple mil in it? What makes it an even more astonishing attitude, for me, is that Lowe openly told other board members when he first got elected that he saw the school board as an eight-hour-a-month commitment.

I don’t think you can be on the board of your golf club and get away with eight hours a months these days.

But now that district is in the ditch and the bond money may be affected, Lowe is up in the air flapping and squawking with rest of them. A News story today announced that Lowe has signed up a team of special “advisors” to help DISD straighten out its finances: Citizens Council czar John Scovell, ex-banker Ron Steinhart, ex-city manager and businessman John Ware and Phil Ritter, executive vice president of Texas Instruments.

You know, if I were sitting inside school district headquarters at 3700 Ross and I were a hen, I would feel like the National Convention of Foxes was descending upon me.

If there is an honest person left at 3700 Ross and if you can receive this message, is there any way you could take whatever money is left and go down in the basement and hide it somewhere until the worst of this blows over?

Dark times.

Hoffman won’t rule for a week or two. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky