Too Many Wrinkled Guys in Mayor's School Takeover Campaign

Monday I said Mike Rawlings was about to announce a pause -- a tapping of the brakes -- in his public school takeover campaign. I was a little off. Instead it turns out he has been meeting with three really old guys. I guess that could have the same effect.

What? That's not a slur. I've got nothing against really old guys. Some of my best friends are really old guys. I'm just saying that adding Rene Martinez, Pettis Norman and Tom Dunning to the effort is a darned good way to take the pace down a couple notches, which is exactly what the mayor needed to do seeing as how he was already about six paces from the cliff.

"OK, Team, let's get a move on. Hey, where's Rene? What do you mean, he's with Pettis? Where in the hell is Pettis? He's helping Tom find his keys? Again?"

I don't know if they will have a calming effect, but they will definitely have a slowing-down effect.

The takeover campaign is an effort to use an obscure state law to change the way the city's public schools are governed. None of the backers will admit it, but one assumes they have some scheme in mind to get the district away from the elected school board -- an idea that could get serious traction with the right pitch. I have a column in the paper this week about what a disaster the roll-out of the takeover campaign has been politically so far. Enough said, maybe.

The mayor called a press conference Tuesday to apologize for the clumsiness of the effort. Apparently the trio of senior advisers (literally) are supposed to calm the waters out in the community, and in fact these three men have a long history of doing just that in the past when waters have been roiled. They are not without credentials, and their affiliation with the mayor's campaign won't hurt.

But here is what strikes me. The people most invested in the fate of the school district tend to be members of the more procreative generations -- people who have school-age kids now or might soon. If the mayor's design is to draw the middle and upper classes back to the district -- and that would be a good idea -- then his target demographic ought to be the young middle class families already fairly flooding back into the city anyway, in spite of the fact that living here will saddle them with private school tuition bills bigger than their house payments.

Want to recruit an army of school takeover fanatics? Tell the young families in East Dallas, North Oak Cliff, North Dallas, Southwest Dallas and The Grove that you've got this crazy idea by which all they have to pay to educate their children is their taxes. You'll start a stampede. In fact, if anybody ever really does that, I want you to make sure Rene, Pettis and Tom are safely out of the way first.

How to reach those people? Aha. That brings me to my real point here. We already have in place in Dallas a cadre of young elected officials hard-wired to the target demographic. I'm talking about people like Miguel Solis on the school board, Scott Griggs, Philip Kingston and Adam Medrano on the City Council. What about state Representative Eric Johnson or even Congressman Marc Veasey? What about former council member Angela Hunt? Why isn't the mayor meeting with those guys? Why not get some people who actually have skin in the game?

I'm not saying Martinez, Norman and Dunning do not have skin. They all have my kind of skin. Wrinkledy. The audience to whom the mayor needs to sell his idea are people who will listen a lot more to a Griggs or a Kingston than to a wrinkledy guy. (Two great things about being my age: Cheap coffee at McDonald's and you can make fun of old people.)

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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