Old School

Page 4 of 8

"That's splitting hairs," he says.

Among Price's most loyal backers are the two main teachers unions in DISD. Currently at philosophical loggerheads with Hinojosa and the majority bloc, the unions have been able to count on Price as a steady ally, which is especially vital to them now after recent board elections saw the defeat of former board President Lois Parrott.

"When Lois Parrott lost, there was a quantum shift on the board," says Aimee Bolender, president of the local AFT chapter. "The current leadership is exemplified by Jack Lowe, the new president of the board, and it's modeled by good business practices, which in their mind is good test scores."

The new bloc sees their role as akin to board members of a Fortune 500 company, giving their CEO, Hinojosa, the support he needs to reshape DISD. Among the changes the new board has supported is a controversial initiative that will allow the administration to fire teachers more or less at will. After several teachers spoke out against this measure last May, the board voted 5-4 in favor of the administration. Price and the other two African-American board members, along with newly elected trustee Adam Medrano, voted against the proposal.

Price probably earned the undying loyalty of the unions when he voted against a proposal from then Superintendent Mike Moses to tie teacher evaluations to test scores in 2004. Two years later, Price spoke out against one of the hallmarks of the new bloc's agenda: offering incentive pay to principals based in part on the test scores of their students. But the new bloc clearly had the votes, and it passed unanimously.

Trustee Edwin Flores, who recently reviewed educational case studies at a think tank in Los Angeles, says that he ran on the incentive pay for principals and won with 75 percent of the vote. Clearly, he says, a mandate exists for shaking up the dated bureaucracy at DISD, and trustees tied to the past struggled during the last elections while he and Leigh Ann Ellis, who upset Parrott, coasted to easy victories.

"Unless we implement these major reforms and we do so boldly and deliberately and with research and accountability to back it up--and unless we do it all at the same time--you don't know if the experiment works. And you have to experiment," he says. "We've seen the results of the past, and I would bet dollars to doughnuts the taxpayers don't like it."

Price rarely brings up his opposition to key tenants of the new bloc's self-titled reform movement. Indeed, he hardly seems bothered by it. While his colleagues cite the latest educational research and pepper conversations with phrases such as "data points," Price has a more old-fashioned approach to his job. Since his election in 1997, Price has held a series of flexible jobs, including doing out-of-state sales and educational consulting work. Now he owns a pizza place on the Mesquite border. It's been years since Price held a regular 9-to-5 job, but that's because to him being a school board member is a full-time gig with the demanding task of giving your constituents what they want.

After fielding suggestions from parents and teachers on the merits of a school uniform policy, he pushed to implement it for most grades in the district. He holds regular meetings with the easily irritated parents in his district, which includes South Dallas and part of East Dallas. He supported using part of the 2002 bond program to build tracks behind nearly all DISD high schools, which nearby residents love. Finally, in a huge bureaucracy such as DISD, where simply getting an administrator on the phone is almost impossible, Price is the one guy people in his district can find.

"He's just a big lovable teddy bear, and he'll shoot me for saying this, but it's true," says Kaiser with NEA-Dallas. "He genuinely listens to people when they talk to him...And when he's able to take care of their problem, he's got them."

To his critics, Price's ability to win friends and influence people doesn't always stem from a kind heart. On May 5, during a campaign in which his ethics were up for debate, Price took a group of guidance counselors in his district out for lunch at the Pappadeaux restaurant on Oak Lawn Avenue. DISD picked up the check, which came to a hefty $1,457.56. Price says that the lunch was a token of appreciation and that he often takes teachers out to lunch to reward them for their hard work. But according to one guidance counselor who was at the luncheon, Price used it to answer criticism that had appeared in the Morning News. In one conversation, he spoke simple Spanish phrases to deflect a recent story that cast doubt on his claim that he did not speak English until the age of 11.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle