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Michael Hinojosa: Why Should We Blame Him for Leaving a Sinking Ship?

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We all need to splash our faces with cold water in this matter of the superintendent of the Dallas school system leaving town for a job as superintendent of schools in Cobb County, Georgia.

What the hell do we expect?

Governor Rick Perry and the Tea Party are charging ahead with an agenda aimed at the destruction of public education in Texas and massive ethnic-cleansing-style deportation of Mexicans.

Perry and a cabal of ultra-right ideologues are exploiting a catastrophic $23-billion state revenue shortfall to engineer the decimation of public education. In Sunday's Dallas Morning News, a story by Robert T. Garrett and Karen Brooks depicted the utter impotence of what we used to think of as mainstream Republicans -- people whose basic civic-mindedness would not have allowed this kind of debacle to take place.

Forget civic-mindedness. Texas is being steered by people who don't like America -- not the country as we've always known it. They want a different country, and it won't include public schools.

Why wouldn't DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa leave if he could? Cobb County is a hot district in American public education, relatively affluent with relatively decent budget prospects in these generally tough times. They dealt with a $100-million shortfall last year and had to fire teachers, but things are already greatly improved.

This year the worst Cobb County seems to face is two furlough days for employees, continued but stable larger class sizes and the third year of no raises for many employees.

Are you kidding? When the budget tsunami hits the shores of the Dallas school system later this year, Dallas will have to gut -- gut -- its magnet schools program, bloat class sizes disastrously and fire more teachers than anybody can even imagine.

As far as Hinojosa is concerned, let's face it, folks. He's got sizzle. People want him. They look here and see a guy who can run a terribly challenged major urban school system with equanimity. And he got the test scores up.

I wrote critical stuff about him when he first took over. The school system's budgetary practices blew up on him. Under the circumstances now, I admit I have to look back over that chapter with a little different perspective.

Long before he got here, I had reported and written for eons about the Dallas school system's incomprehensibly garbled financial practices. I remember a time, long before Hinojosa, when the FBI devoted almost two years to trying to figure out the school system's bank accounts, and they gave up because they said they didn't have computers good enough.

The FBI couldn't figure it out!

So Hinojosa came to town, and the thing blew up on his watch. Should he have been able to sniff the air and say, "Hey, I think I smell money burning?" Yeah. Ideally. I wish he had.

But the guy's an educator, not a finance guy. The fact is, he brought in a smart, tough financial person and got it cleaned up pretty fast, almost within an annual budget cycle. That ain't bad, for a junk pile that was at least 25 years in the making.

What about the loyalty question? Is Hinojosa a cynical son of a bitch who doesn't care about Dallas? I don't know him, but that view of him is really hard for me to swallow. My wife knows his family from Oak Cliff days, and she tells me they are all really great people with a long history of devotion to the community, very highly respected as a family.

I doubt it's easy for Hinojosa to leave, especially with this negative wind at his back. But what was his choice? How hard was it going to be to stay at the helm of a sinking ship in an atmosphere of political disaster? Do you think for one second that the Perrycrats are going to accept an ounce of blame for the disaster ahead? Oh, hell no. They're going to blame it on the victims -- on guys like Hinojosa. So why would a smart capable person volunteer to be a victim, a patsy and a sucker in a game that's already fixed against him?

At the very least, doesn't he owe his own family better than that?

The Dallas Morning News also had an editorial Sunday about how Hinojosa's departure is an opportunity for Dallas to go out and hire some really great superintendent. They think our business leaders can go recruit somebody hotter, and they mention Joel Klein, former head of the New York City school system.

Wow. Talk about delusion. This is what I mean about the need for a splash of cold water. Why do we think somebody better than Hinojosa would come to Texas? (And I can't help reminding us that the last out-of-Texas hero we brought to town to run the schools was one Waldemar Rojas, or, as I called him in my own heart of hearts, "a columnist's dream.")

And there's the question of better how? Hinojosa got the scores up, in spite of everything. What's Joel Klein going to do, get all the kids in the movies?

This isn't a question of a bunch of business guys going around the country pitching some haircut chief executive to come to town and save us with his/her personal brilliance. We're screwed. We're screwed statewide. I laughed out loud at that editorial. It made me wonder what a bunch of editorial writers would have said aboard the Titanic on that fateful night.

"We believe this situation calls for new leadership."

Yeah, while you guys are working on that new leadership angle, would you mind if I took your seat in the lifeboat?

If we have to put everything in private sector terms so Dallas can get it, then don't think of DISD as a company. It's a division -- a local branch of the state education system, run with state money by state rules. It's not Ford Motor Co. It's the Ford truck division.

Now think of Ford Motor Co. if a controlling interest has just been acquired by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Group of Tehran, and their idea for the company involves switching from the internal combustion engine to ox-power.

You're sitting at your desk as boss of the truck division. You get the memo. What do you do? You know what you do. You pick up the phone, you call your spouse, and you say one word.


If business leaders in Dallas want to do anything to save the city school system (or the affluent suburban school systems, by the way), they need to figure out a way to get Rick Perry out of office. They need to help take Texas back from the Taliban.

Otherwise, we can expect to see long lines of top people with suitcases in their hands -- refugees, in effect -- fleeing a sinking state.

You know who else we might think about recruiting for the job meanwhile? I keep thinking of George Clooney. He's so cool. He was great in that movie, Up in the Air. He'd be really good at firing people.

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