Is Home-Rule Move at DISD Just a Diversion, or a Move to Put Pete Delkus in Charge?

The timing sure seems dicey on this "home rule" deal -- the plan to get rid of the school board and turn the whole thing over to Pete Delkus.*

Right now it looks like the plan will get tossed into the laps of the school board in May, right when they're being asked to decide on merit pay for teachers, the single biggest and most contentious issue in the whole school reform effort.

Maybe it's a diversion, like setting a warehouse on fire so you can go rob the bank. Or maybe like so many things related to our efforts to educate the youth, it's just totally crazy.

But we do have a very delicate moment coming up on the school board in May when they will be asked to vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the "Teacher Excellence Initiative," a radical new pay structure that would do away with the time-honored seniority pay system we now have. The teachers associations (unions) can be expected to fight hard to defeat TEI, as they have elsewhere in the nation.

Reformers, including Dallas school Superintendent Mike Miles, have made it plain that the vote on TEI is a do-or-die moment for them. If TEI dies at the board, we can expect a good many of the top soldiers in the reform movement to pack it in and maybe go try their luck in some other town.

So far, some of Miles' most staunch allies in favor of reform have been local Latino leaders. In general they're tired of looking at a public school system in which their kids make up 69 percent of the student body but the board is still fighting Brown versus the Board of Education. The reform effort clearly has been counting on a strong push from Latino leaders to support TEI in May.

But I've been talking to Latino leaders this week who are really scratching their heads. They have made it plain, they say, to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings that they did not appreciate finding out about the whole home-rule deal in the media before anybody picked up a phone and told them about it.

And don't start telling them about the Latinos whose names appear in the handpicked group supporting home rule. Some people I talked to said many on that list are what they call "Ted Cruz Hispanics," as in, yeah, maybe he's Latino, but so what?

Rene Martinez, a key player in a series of citywide multi-ethnic political and community initiatives in the past, has even written what he's calling a "position paper," which is really a hey-you-guys memo (see below) telling the home rule people how much advance community and grassroots work they needed to do to roll this deal out properly.

I spoke with Martinez yesterday. He said the way to do it is not a sneak-attack petition drive using hired signature gatherers on a major voting day and then acting all bent out of shape when the daily newspaper finds out about it. Of course they found about it. That's why you prepare people ahead of time.

Rawlings will host a special meeting with Latino leaders Thursday at an East Dallas church. The mayor's spokesman, Sam Merten, tells me the meeting will not be open, "but there will be town halls soon," so I guess I must wait for that check in the mail. Wish I could be there Thursday. Some of the questions will be: "Why are you explaining this to us now? Why didn't you explain it to us at the beginning? In fact, why didn't we explain it to you?"

The same people are telling me this is not a disaster. It's a bump in the road. It can all get worked out. Or not. The risk, if this festers, will be the effect it may have on school reform, specifically the merit pay issue.

A well-known Latina activist and former officeholder told me the timing for the home rule roll-out is "terrible." But who knows? Life is terrible, but sometimes it works out.

*OK, footnote: No, you're right, they're not going to turn the schools over to Pete Delkus. He's a Channel 8 weatherman. I just said that to sensationalize the news. Home rule is an effort to devise a whole new government for the school system, and supposedly the final outcome has not been decided. It could be anything, so I felt justified in saying it could be Pete Delkus, but probably not. To be determined.

Position Paper on Home Rule Charter (1) by Schutze

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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