Last month, while working on this profile of Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa, I met DISD board of trustees president Jack Lowe for coffee at the La Madeline by SMU. Lowe, as you may recall, said upon the revelation of the district's initial $64-million budget shortfall in September that he was, ya know, "very embarrassed." But two months later, Lowe, who is pictured at right, orchestrated the vote to suspend next year's elections and keep his pro-Hinojosa block intact. It was a savvy way to duck accountability.
During our interview, Lowe came across disengaged and arrogant -- as you might expect from a man who rarely sees fit to explain his actions before, during and after board meetings. In fact, there were times when Lowe's comments seemed to suggest that he is calling the shots for the entire board. Except, of course, Carla Ranger.
Lowe, who revealed during our interview that he voted for Barack Obama, is justifiably proud of the district's academic gains. In his own way, he is fiercely devoted to public education. Public accountability is a different matter, as evidenced by some previously unpublished excerpts from our interview that follow.
On why he ran for the board
"Public education in general in the United States is not working very well. If we can make it work well it changes everything: the economy, crime, welfare, health care."
What he was looking for in a superintendent when he voted to hire Hinojosa
"I was looking for a performer with a history of improving school achievement. One of the big things I was looking for was someone who might stay here for 10 years. We have a history of changing superintendents, and I don't think you can change an organization by always changing leadership."
On Hinojosa today
"I'm a big student of leadership; he just struck me as a guy who really cared about urban kids. He's an immigrant, he comes from a family of achievers who came from very modest beginnings. ... He is a winner; he's an athlete. I like people who are competitive."
About Hinojosa's personality
"Good guy, very intense. Very serious -- good dad, good husband. I think he's introverted; he's pretty good at making a speech, but he doesn't naturally want to walk into crowd and want to have a conversation. ... I wish he was more gregarious, he's not gregarious."
Jack Lowe on Jack Lowe
"My general approach to organizational excellence is not to convince people we're excellent. It's to build excellence, and one of these days everyone will figure it out."
On the district's financial crisis that led to the layoffs of nearly 400 teachers
"Eight-five percent of our budget is payroll. We didn't know how many people worked for us. We have a formula for how many principals, vice principals, teachers were at Hillcrest, for example. We didn't measure these requests against ... As I understand it, the budget office said, 'OK,' and the HR department hired them. I still don't know how the budget office hired them."
"In April, they told us we were $52 million over in salary -- but we had some revenue and non-salary savings that would offset that. The second half turned out to be wrong. My experience with the district is that the finances are confusing but they tend to work out all right, so here I worked on other things. And as it turned out the finances weren't alright."
On learning from the district's financial crisis
"I have very little interest trying to figure out who to blame for this; I'm trying to look out the front windshield, make sure it doesn't happen again and get back to the business of educating kids."
"I don't want to interrogate the people in the budget office and the HR office and see what they did wrong. I don't care."
"I'm in the construction business. I we have a job that goes over budget, it's not the plumber and sheet workers fault, it's because we didn't plan it right and we didn't give them signals along the way that, 'Hey, we're running behind.'"
"It is the board's and Dr. Hinjosa's fault, and it's our responsibility to fix it."
What would he say to teachers who lost their job because of the district's incompetence
"'I'm sorry, we really failed you,' but I would say the same thing: What I think we need to do is the best thing for the kids in the district. ... As concerned as I am about the few hundred teachers who lost their job, I'm much more concerned about the 160,000 students in our district."
"The company I was the CEO of for 25 years is TD Industries. We're on the list as one of the best companies to work for. I'm not insensitive to adults and employees -- but the most important issue is the mission of the enterprise."
On whether Don Williams, the chairman of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, recommended that the district hire the now-disgraced Eric Anderson as COO
"Several business people floated his name. I think Don knew him. We hired him; nobody assigned him to us."
On tracking the district's progress
"Educating kids is more like growing forest than making widgets. You can't check the output every day; it takes a long time to figure out how you're doing."
On his role in the district's financial crisis
"I think I should have asked more questions in hindsight. I have more experience with large organizations than anybody on the board and anybody in the district. I should have smelled it, I didn't."
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His thoughts on firing Hinojosa
"Last year I chaired five boards -- and we changed three CEOs, including the guy at Zale's. If I think changing the CEO is the right thing to do, I'm not adverse to doing it. ... I think it is wrong to change CEOs to prove your manhood or respond to public outcry."
On the press
"I tell reporters and Jim Moroney and Bob Mong at The Dallas Morning News we're building the best urban district here, and do you want to be the last to report it or the first to report it? ... I won't pay much attention to what you write. I'm not concerned." --Matt Pulle