Not All DISD Reformers Are Elitist, Public Ed-hating Zombies

In the smoke, din, blinding flashes, screams, roars, flying body parts, weird music and scarily bad odors blasting out from Mayor Mike Rawlings' enormously maladroit public school takeover campaign, there has been a silver lining.

It is a very thin silver lining, kind of like a kitten that survives an earthquake. But it's silver. And it's a lining.

For the last year or so, the detractors of school reform in Dallas have used one broad brush to paint anybody and everybody interested in changing the way the Dallas public school system operates. They are all sworn enemies of public schools, according to this accusation, and everything they do is subterfuge masking an agenda to kill public education.

So my silver lining — admittedly a modest one — is this: The sheer ham-fistedness of the mayor's "home rule" campaign to change how DISD is governed has exposed a split within the reformers' ranks. Yes, some of the people championing change may indeed harbor dreams of a radical takedown of public education itself. But some do not. Some truly believe in public schools and hope to fix them from within.

That's it, you ask? That's my silver lining? OK, I told you already, it's a very thin silver lining. But think about it. An odd-bedfellows coalition of black elected officials and the teachers unions have been arguing that so-called school reform is little more than a Trojan horse campaign to kill public schools in favor of private charter schools.

Last year when the anti-reform forces were trying to get Superintendent Mike Miles fired, all the pro-reformers, myself included, were saying that the rich elitist Trojan horse stuff was paranoia, some of it stirred cynically by the unions. So now along comes the mayor with a scary movie called Save Our Public Schools, in which rich elitist zombies close a ring around the children chanting, "Die, public schools, die!" It's almost as if the enemies of reform wrote the script.

But do take note, please. Miles and newly elected school board member Miguel Solis are not in that movie. That counts. For this next lesson, please take out your magnifying glasses.

Last week Miles appeared before the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News — the editors and writers who put out the editorial page and after that meeting metro page columnist James Ragland quoted him as having told the board that many of the mayor's apparent goals are already being accomplished under the existing framework of governance for the schools. Ragland quoted him saying of the mayor's effort, "I'm not going to be for it or against it."

You might wonder, if Miles doesn't believe in the mayor's effort, why doesn't he just come out against it? Miles can't just kick Rawlings in the teeth. He owes him. A lot. When the business community was initially tepid in its support of Miles' reform efforts, Rawlings got his back big-time. Last year when the anti-reform forces were maneuvering to get Miles fired, Rawlings made a stirring defense of him, which was then followed by reinforcing statements from the Dallas Citizens Council and the Dallas Regional Chamber. Given what Miles owes Rawlings, his decision last week to back off even one quarter inch from full endorsement of the mayor's takeover campaign was truly significant.

I don't call Miles much anymore, because I was informed the board had imposed a special "Jim Schutze Rule" on him. Every time he talks to me for any reason, he has to inform the board. So I'm saving up my phone call for when I call him to ask if it's true the entire board has been exposed to tuberculosis. But I can call Miguel Solis whenever I feel like it.

You remember Solis. Last November, at age 27, Solis won election to the school board by defeating an anti-reform candidate strongly supported by the teachers unions and by Don Williams, the Rumpelstiltskin of Santa Fe, a wealthy retired real estate magnate who for reasons that may forever elude rational discovery harbors a mortal grudge against Miles.

The mayor's takeover plan for the school system is proposed under an arcane never-before-invoked state law recently unearthed by political spelunkers. I call it the House-that-Jack-Built Law: A petition drive is supposed to trigger creation of a special commission whose report is supposed to trigger a review by the Texas Commissioner of Education whose ruling is supposed to trigger a special election that is supposed to fix everything.

Election about what? Ah, well, that's not being said. Yet. It will be an election about something or other, but don't be nosey. Yeah, well, that's how this whole thing has been handled so far, like a benefit set up by a couple of Park Cities Tinkerbelles.

Last week I was out of town on vacation, but I did see Scott Goldstein's story in the Morning News about an event put on by the mayor's group at the Preston Royal Library. According to what I read, they held the meeting in a hot room that was way too small, refused to take any questions not written down in advance and, when asked who was bankrolling their effort, said, "It's the privilege of the donors to remain anonymous."

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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