Mike Rawlings Says He Wants to Fix the Schools. Sure, But Talk is Cheap.

Ah, wait a minute. Wait a minute. I call "rubber meets road" on the school district issue in the mayor's race.

Candidate Mike Rawlings has been getting himself some political mileage on the hustings by saying that, as mayor, he will help fix the city's beleaguered public school system. I have written that it's a good thing, not a bad thing, that he recognizes the importance of fixing the schools, even though the mayor has no power, authority or political mandate to even touch the school district.

But I think the rubber just met the road, and I believe I detect some shimmy. Gromer Jeffers has a piece in The Dallas Morning News this morning about a meeting between the mayoral candidates and the paper's editorial page writers. Sound like they asked Rawlings if he is ready to commit to the Villaraigosa model.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants to fix the schools too, and he's in the same position a Dallas mayor would be -- no legal or charter-based ability to do so. So Villaraigosa is doing the only effective thing he or anyone else could do -- putting his name behind slates of school board candidates.

See, that's rolling up your sleeves, shouldering your political rifle and wading on out into the front lines. Some people will love it. Other people will get really really mad about it. It's not without bloodshed.

Sounds to me like Rawlings whiffed when they asked him "if the Dallas mayor should wield influence on DISD the way Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa does in his city's school district."

Jeffers quotes Rawlings as saying: "The L.A. model is a step in the right direction. I'm not saying we should go all the way. Whether the mayor is involved or not, that's a different issue. But people are rising up and saying we are going to have a great school district, and the mayor plays a very important role in it."

No. C'mon. Either say it and commit to it or don't say it and don't try to grab credit for having school balls.

The only way a mayor could change a damn thing in the school district is by getting directly involved in school board elections. What's the other idea? A bunch of rich suits wagging their fingers and telling people to adopt better accounting practices? Yeah, that'll rally shake the place up.

Former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle and veteran city council member Ron Natinsky have demurred on this, saying they care about the schools too, but they're not going to promise to go fix them.

You could argue that whoever wins will have a big job learning to be mayor first. The only candidate with any elective political experience -- to be strongly counted in his favor -- is Natinsky.

Kunkle does not have experience with city politics as an elected official. Maybe being a former top staff person helps. Maybe it hurts. I don't know.

But Rawlings is the greenest of the three politically, with the most catch-up to do. And there is a lot for a newbie to learn. Politics is politics, and you have to learn your way around. Rawlings might be better off proving himself to be one hell of a mayor for at least a first term and then taking on the beehive at school headquarters at 3700 Ross Ave.

But here's the rubber: If he's going to take credit for caring about the schools, he must commit to meaningful action. That means manning up and wading straight into school board politics. And here's the road: the sitting school board. Welcome to our nightmare. I ain't goin' down that road for love nor money! But if he wants to, he needs to get hiking.

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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