Last Sunday The Dallas Morning News broke the story that Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert has been in talks with state Sen. Royce West about a mayoral take-over of the Dallas public school system. Leppert didn't deny the story. But ever since the story broke, he has steadfastly refused to answer any questions about why or how he would effect such a takeover.
Lots of people, understandably, are curious about the legal theory, since a mayoral takeover of a school district would pretty much fly in the face of law and tradition in Texas. Not that it couldn't be done. All you have to do with the law is change the law.
More to the point, I have spoken with people involved in the schools who want to know what it is specifically that Leppert wants to change in the instruction of students. Not that instruction couldn't or shouldn't be changed. Everybody admits the system we have is far from perfect.
But with the Dallas public school system posting significant gains in student achievement and apparently on the road to a financial house-cleaning, what would Leppert do differently? What is his legal theory? What is his educational idea?
He adamantly will not say. So here 'tis.Last night Leppert appeared at a community meeting at Harold Wendell Lang Middle School at Buckner Boulevard and I-30, and we finally had a chance to hear his thoughts and ask him some questions.
He told an audience of a few hundred parents the following:
"I am happy to tell you that I think there is a sense of optimism and enthusiasm in the city, because you have a council, you got a city, and, most importantly, you have people in this city that have a sense of optimism and a sense of belief in tomorrow.
"Education is the long-term solution. [Applause from audience] We have to have a strong educational system, a strong public educational system, because we have people move out of our city because of our schools, and we have businesses that don't want to move to our city because of our schools.
"There's been a lot of things in the paper in the last several of days that talk about education. Let me be very clear. I will do everything I can to make sure the Dallas Independent School System is successful.
"We do not have a choice. It has to be successful. This debate, this decision has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with the city. It doesn't have anything to do with the Dallas Independent School System board or anybody else. It has to do with the kids. [Applause]
"Discussions should never be about adults. They should be about the kids. The focus should be the young child that's sitting here in a classroom and what we need to do. [Amens from audience] And the answers didn't come from me and they don't come from way on high. They have to come from you.
"You need to ask questions that say, 'Are our public schools producing the type of product for our kids that we want them to do?' And not just are we doing it in ways to survive, but are we doing it in ways that give our kids a chance to succeed, succeed on a a national level, succeed in ways that make a difference to them, that open up every opportunity.
"As I said, I had a chance to visit with the folks at the Dallas Independent School District, and they are committed to the same things that I am committed to.
"[DISD superintendent] Michael Hinojosa and I are close, and I stand behind Michael."
Later during a break in the meeting, a small scrum of reporters formed around the mayor in an aisle; I was a scrummee. I asked the mayor, "Mr. Mayor, what would the legal structure be for taking over DISD?"
He said, "I am going to leave it to the statement that I made, and if you don't have that I would be happy to get that to you, and leave it at that."
Dave Levinthal of The News said to him, "Your statement doesn't address the conversations, specific conversations you had with Royce West for instance, about some sort of takeover of DISD. What can you say about conversations you've had ..."
The mayor interrupted: "I am going to leave the conversation as my statement. That covers the main things I am putting out. ... The important thing is that the kids learn. ... And everybody in this community wants to see a really strong public school system."
Levinthal said, "You're just not going to be talking about what you said beyond ..."
Leppert interrupted him: "I think the statement is the best way to cover it."
The statement to which he's referring was written not by the mayor but by his chief of staff, Chris Heinbaugh. It said this:Everyone is concerned about the challenges facing the Dallas ISD and its students, including Mayor Leppert who ran on an education platform and has been one of the most education-focused mayors this city has ever had. So no one should be surprised that we have had lots of conversations with lots of people -- including the Superintendent and some of the Trustees -- about ways that everyone can be helpful. And we will continue having those conversations.
The Mayor knows that Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is doing everything he can, and he has the Mayor's full support.
Our children's education is too important to leave any ideas off of the table. The most important thing we're doing is working so that every child graduates and is ready for college or the work force. And we will continue exploring all the possibilities to make sure the children of Dallas are a success.
That's it. Dear Friend, this is all that I can give you. You must you take it from here. What think you? Does the man have an identifiable idea?