City Hall

Park Cities School Fight is the Trump Chicken Coming Home to Roost

The looming battle over a big loan proposed for the school system in Dallas’s wealthy Park Cities enclave is but the local version of one very big fat squawky chicken coming home to roost for rich people everywhere in America.

I would say it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch, but if this goes the wrong way I may find myself really missing the old kind of rich people. And, of course, by then it will be too late.

This fight is all about the Donald Trump ethos— the sense that there is no nation anymore, that what used to be America has been sundered in half and left in warring camps — winners in one, losers in the other, a zero-sum war to ensue.

Russell Fish, the man I wrote about yesterday who opposes a proposed $361 bond issue for Highland Park Independent School District,  is a very bright man and ruthless tactician who isn’t going away. If I know Fish – and I do –he will rage like Sampson until he either brings down the pillars of the Park Cities or gets trundled off to the guillotine trying.
If you read my piece yesterday, you may have noticed that Fish made invidious reference to Mexicans, Africans, lesbians, gay men, transsexuals, poor black people, Muslims, fat people, hairnets, people from the Ozarks, and, needless to say, people who live in government-supported low-income housing. If I were inclined to defend Fish, which I am not at the moment, I might point out that he had nothing negative to say about Eskimos or speech impediments. But he may just not have had time.

I should tell you something else about Russell Fish that I know from decades of dealing with him. He believes deeply that all of the babies that come into this world are endowed at the moment of birth with the same range of disability and promise, regardless of race or class. That’s why he went to Africa and established schools in the bush – to show that the children of the Masai people in Kenya could learn math skills just as fast or faster than rich white kids in Palo Alto or poor  black kids in Dallas.

In fact Fish believed that old-fashioned rote-based curricula left behind by the colonial Brits would produce Masai kids who were way ahead of the American children he thinks are ruined daily by American public schools. His plan at the time – he hasn’t done it yet, thank God — was to wait a while and then give the same math test to the Masai kids and kids in the Dallas Independent School District. He told me his title for the program was going to be, “Are you as smart as an African?”

He asked me what I thought of the title. I said, “Russell, I can’t talk to you about this” – one of many times I have said that to him.

So his roundhouse blizzard of ethnic and gender-based insults yesterday was not based on anything so simple or flimsy as mere cultural bias alone. I know from many long conversations with him over many years that Fish is far better armed than that. He believes that a century of feckless social policy has fostered an entire populace of lazy, ignorant, parasitical dunces whose votes are harvested regularly by the liberal elite.

They weren’t born that way, in his book, and their kids don’t have to be that way. But as long as this mentally inert mass continues to exist, its one moral impulse will be envy and its only plan will be theft by confiscation.

So it’s war.

So tell me. Seriously. Isn’t this the same flame that licks at the hearts of the Trump-lovers, this Ayn Rand nightmare in which life is a grim war of survival, winners fighting to protect themselves from losers? And isn’t this school bond fight in the Park Cities just the first few bales of hay mysteriously catching fire in our own fields?

First, let me promise you, Fish is too smart to go at it on these terms. He’s an experienced political trench warrior with way better bullets in his belt.

He points out first that none of the sitting members of the Highland Park Independent School District was elected. This is a fact I checked with HPISD Director of Communications Jon Dahlander. Dahlander said one of the sitting board members may have had an opponent once in a past election, but in the most recent election none was opposed so none was elected.

That’s actually slightly less absurd than it sounds. The Dallas school board and school boards everywhere occasionally see unopposed candidates, in which case those districts don’t waste tax money on elections. But for every single member of the HPISD board to serve without benefit of a single vote? Yeah, that’s somewhat absurd. It smells of the kind of insular insider self-dealing by which small rich communities always have been ruled.

But this may be a new era, the dawn of the Tea Party, of Trump and Carson and the rest of those guys. We either are or are not entering the Age of Ideolocracy. The old way rich people had of handling their business in the past — whispers and gin-and-tonics at the club – may be history.

In this new age, Fish would be our Robespiere, the French revolutionary who said, “To punish the oppressors of humanity is clemency, to forgive them is cruelty.” Then later Robespiere got his own head chopped off by even worse sons of bitches, but that’s another story.
Fish is also going to point out, every little chance he gets, that the proposed bond issue will raise HPISD’s total debt per student by over 400 percent. I checked it out myself and found that the district’s current debt is $111.2 million, which would increase to $472.2 million if voters approve the new bonds on Nov. 3. With a student population of 7,002, that would raise the debt per student from $15,881 to $67,437, an increase of 424 percent. In a political gunfight in a conservative place like the Park Cities, that’s not a bad bullet.

You can see HPISD’s current debt here, the proposed bond issue here, and the student population here

We spoke yesterday about the fact that Fish may also be on target in his reading of recent Supreme Court decisions, statements by the president and the secretary of HUD, as well as recent intercourse between HUD and the mayor of Dallas with regard to pressure on Dallas to build low income housing in affluent areas.  

Dallas Morning News editorial writer Rudy Bush accused me of “hopelessly speculative reporting”  in this area yesterday, but I must point out that the Morning News didn’t even know the Secretary of HUD was in town this week, didn’t know he discussed this very topic with the mayor and then, when they did know because I told them, didn’t tell their readers about it. When a member of the White House cabinet can sail through City Hall with a message for the mayor and the Morning News completely misses it, it makes you wonder what other broad sides of barns they may miss on a regular basis.

My note to end on is this: if the grand burghers and grand bugheresses who have always ruled the Park Cities think Russell Fish can be dismissed as a joke, he will haul them off in tumbrels. And why would I warn them? I don’t know. I just have this weird feeling I might wind up missing the burghers and burgheresses.

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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