State of the DISD Address, or: You Can't Have the Good Without Some of the Bad

Last time we checked, there wasn't much to laugh about when it came to the state of public education in Dallas. But leave it to Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa to at least try to insert some humor, even at his own expense.

This morning Hinojosa gave the "State of the District" address at the seventh annual Symposium on Education at the Belo Mansion. "I have good news, and I have bad news," Hinojosa told a small crowd this morning. "The good news is that I hate hearing long speeches. The bad news is I like giving long speeches."

The joke turned into the theme of the address.

On the good side, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution noted in a report released in February that between 2000 and 2007, the DISD was the second-most improved district in the country and the most improved urban district in Texas. But there are still a lot of kids dropping out -- though, Hinojosa insists, not as many as you thought. "Don't believe the rhetoric when people [tell you] there's a 50 percent drop out rate in Dallas," he said. "That's just simply not true."

If you consider only the federal standards, then students must graduate within four years to not be considered drop-outs. Using that definition, Hinojosa pointed out Dallas ISD's completion rate is "somewhere between 60 and 70 percent." (Don't worry: We're fact-checking.)

And then there's the demographics issue. "We don't apologize for our demographics," said Hinojosa, noting that while Plano ISD has about 55,000 students, Dallas ISD has 55,000 English-language learners alone. "I'm an immigrant myself."

There was also good and bad news when it came to finances. Yes, Hinojosa had to cut 1,000 positions last year, but now he's been in the news for giving out raises. He says the reason lies in the difference between the school district and the city.

"You're probably wondering how is the district different from the county and the city?" Well, he said, as your property values grow, so does the city's wealth. This isn't good for the amount of state aid the public school districts receive, however. Instead, as property values decline, the schools receive increased aid from the state. "So that's why we were immune from some of those issues on property value growth."

The same special mix exists with the juvenile curfew passed earlier this year by the city council. "We are very thankful that the city council passed the ordinance about who is on the streets and who's not on the streets between 9:30 and 2:30," said Hinojosa, who says he has seen the police pulling over kids as he's driven through town. "We think that's helped our attendance rate."

But, with 86 percent of the kids coming from economically disadvantaged homes, it's the families that these laws have ended up hurting. "How many of those parents can afford to pay that fine? We have some unintended consequences of that law."

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Kimberly Thorpe
Contact: Kimberly Thorpe