School Board, Never Boring

The DISD Board is polarized along racial lines, the black trustees are feuding with administration, and the district's teachers are disgusted with the entire system. Other than that, last night's DISD board meeting struck a positive note for public education in Dallas.

The meeting began innocuously enough when the newly elected board members were sworn in. But after Leigh Ann Ellis took her oath of office, the only person on the board who did not applaud was a glum-looking Lois Parrott, who looked as if someone had stolen her car and used it to run over her dog. Making matters worse, Parrott had to relinquish her spot on the board to the newly sworn Ellis and leave the meeting. Awkward.

But that peculiar moment was just a side note to the demoralizing soap opera that was to follow. The board was set to deliberate over a few controversial items: One would have changed the attendance zones in South Oak Cliff, the other would have given the administration greater leeway in firing teachers, librarians and other district staff. Both items, while seemingly disparate, revolve around the same theme: Should the administration be able to make important decisions on zoning and personnel without listening to input from the board?

There were several different parliamentary votes on these items, but the blocs basically fell into two disparate camps. On the "let's not micromanage the administration" side were the three Anglo board members (newly minted Ellis, Jack Lowe and Nancy Bingham) and Hispanic trustees Edwin Flores and Jerome Garza. On the "the administration works for us" side were all three African-American school board members--Ron Price, Law Blackburn and Hollis Brasher--and rookie Adam Medrano. If these blocs hold—and I will bet they will—Hinojosa has the votes he needs to pursue his agenda. Had Parrott won, that would not have been the case. That's why The Dallas Morning News went after him and Price so exuberantly.

Now that you know the players, here were some of the highlights from yesterday's meeting: After several South Oak Cliff parents angrily voiced their displeasure with the administration's new attendance zones, which they claimed will increase bussing, their local trustee Law Blackburn argued eloquently on their behalf, asking the administration to make seven specific changes to the plan. A staff member countered that if they followed Blackburn's advice, that would overcrowd some schools and under-utilize others. The administration was ready to give Blackburn a pair of concessions until school superintendent Michael Hinojosa swiftly changed course and said that they weren't going to budge. That infuriated Blackburn, claiming Hinojosa pulled the rug from under him.

"We didn't get the seven; then we didn't get the two," he said, as some of the South Oak Cliff parents jeered Hinojosa's maneuver. Hinojosa sat there quietly.

After that, the board deliberated on whether the administration should have more leeway to can teachers, librarians and anyone else. Flores says he has faith in the administration to carry out those duties responsibly and that he didn't want to micromanage them, to which the several dozen teachers in the audience hissed in protest. Then when the board voted with Flores to give the administration more autonomy in firing school personnel, a purported school employee dressed in white sweatpants left the meeting in disgust.

"So we must be slaves!" she yelled, momentarily halting the board's discussion. "You can write me up." --Matt Pulle

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