Mixed Report Card For Support Our Public Schools

I attended one of tonight’s three town-hall meetings regarding the home-rule initiative in DISD, specifically the most-publicized meeting, hosted by state Rep. Jason Villalba and City Councilwoman Jennifer Staubach Gates at the Preston Royal Library. Since this discussion is about education, I’m going to grade Support Our Public Schools’ performance tonight. All subjects will be graded on a pass-fail basis.

PASS

VOCABULARY: They cleared up the confusion about how this relates to charter schools: It doesn’t. People keep saying the home-rule effort is about turning DISD into one big charter school; that’s because the 1995 state law that makes home rule a possibility says a commission can “frame a charter for the district.” But “charter” has more than one meaning. In this case, it’s a synonym for “constitution.” Regarding charter schools, the word means “authorization from a central or parent organization to establish a new branch, chapter, etc.”

CITIZENSHIP: Louisa Meyer — whose two sons are both W.T. White graduates and, by next fall, will both be DISD teachers — was the only one of Support Our Public Schools’ five tight-lipped founders in attendance. To illustrate broader support, she introduced four members of the organization’s advisory council: Jeanne Culver, Mark Melton, and Randy Mulry are DISD parents, and Josh Womack will be one as soon as his kids are old enough to enroll at DeGolyer Elementary. The foursome helped field questions from the audience, along with Meyer and Villalba.

MATH: They stressed that the 15-member commission that would draft the new constitution (assuming enough people sign the petition) would be made up of 8 parents of current DISD students, 4 DISD teachers, and 3 “at large” members who must be DISD residents. If that numerical breakdown has been publicized before, I missed it. If I were a DISD parent, those numbers would make me feel better about the commission.

FAIL

PHYSICS: Whoever decided on the Preston Royal Library as a venue for this meeting sorely underestimated the interest in this topic. The meeting room there could comfortably hold about 50 people, but we were packed in like sardines, with people lining the walls and filling the adjacent foyer. A teenage book lover who stopped by the library just to check out a Twilight or Hunger Games novel would have been out of luck.

TIME MANAGEMENT: The library’s meeting room — and, by extension, its foyer — was booked for only one hour. By the time Gates, Villalba, and Meyer finished their introductions and presentations, 35 minutes had passed, leaving only 25 minutes for questions from the audience. (The organizers promised that all questions they didn’t have time for would be answered on SOPS’ Facebook page.) When things got a little testy during the Q&A, Villalba said, “There’s going to be time for debate.” That prompted several people to ask, in unison, “When?” And when Meyer wrapped things up by saying, “Support Our Public Schools is about having a conversation,” more than a few people laughed.

COMMUNICATION: I learned of tonight’s meeting via The Dallas Morning News’ education blog, where Matthew Haag posted the details at 10:50 a.m. on Tuesday. That’s the same day all three meetings — the one I attended, another at True Lee Missionary Baptist Church near Fair Park, and a third at Eastfield College’s Pleasant Grove campus — were posted on Support Our Public Schools’ Facebook page. But none of the meetings is mentioned on the SOPS website. A commenter listed all three of them under Haag’s post, but a Morning News reporter didn’t write about the other two on its education blog until Dianne Solis posted something at 3:25 this afternoon, giving people less than four hours’ notice.

SPANISH: The folks running the meeting wanted to answer questions only if they were passed to the front of the room on notecards. Nonetheless, they had to endure plenty of shouted questions, including several from Oak Cliff rabble-rouser Carlos Quintanilla. But the very first interruption came early on from a Hispanic woman on the front row, who’d brought two small children to the meeting as well as another woman who doesn’t speak English. The English-speaking woman wanted to know if the organizers would provide translation services, and that’s a valid question in a district where nearly 70 percent of the students are Hispanic. Meyer said no, but former DISD Trustee Edwin Flores will be organizing Spanish-language town-hall meetings in the future. Nothing about those meetings is mentioned on Support Our Public Schools’ website or Facebook page.

By Dan Koller Mar. 20, 2014 | 10:23 pm | 7 Comments | Comments RSS
  • Martha Parks

    Dan, the SOPS folks are trying to confuse the people in glossing over the term “charter” with the high sounding term “constitution”. There are three types of “charters” granted under Chapter 12, and they are all “pieces of paper” authorizing an entity to operate schools under a different set of rules other than what govern ISD’s. The rules vary for each type of “charter”, but they share most of the same characteristics. The big difference is home rule charters can levy taxes even though they can operate without an elected board that represents the taxpayers. It is disingenuous and offensive for SOPS to claim home rule is not a type of charter.
    http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/Docs/ED/htm/ED.12.htm

  • No dog in this hunt

    Dan, props to you on your coverage of this topic. If you keep this up, we will probably lose you to bigger and better things.

  • C. Lux

    So an appointed not elected board would be able to decide what the tax rate was without an election? They would be able to change or remove homestead exemptions? The appointed not elected board would have power to recall or remove elected school board trustees? Is this part of their proposal? Or is this not yet decided? I am hearing a lot of press about taxation without representation and loss of democratic control over the school board. Not sure who to believe.

  • Cathy Lux

    So an appointed not elected board would be able to decide what the tax rate was without an election? They would be able to change or remove homestead exemptions? The appointed not elected board would have power to recall or remove elected school board trustees? Is this part of their proposal? Or is this not yet decided? I am hearing a lot of press about taxation without representation and loss of democratic control over the school board. Not sure who to believe.So an appointed not elected board would be able to decide what the tax rate was without an election? They would be able to change or remove homestead exemptions? The appointed not elected board would have power to recall or remove elected school board trustees? Is this part of their proposal? Or is this not yet decided? I am hearing a lot of press about taxation without representation and loss of democratic control over the school board. Not sure who to believe.

  • http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2014/03/unanswered-questions-killing-dallas-isd.html Bill Betzen

    When you have a meeting and about 70% of those attending have to stand, and many leave as they cannot even get into the room, you have a problem. Then when you have a majority of questions that cannot even be answered, that problem grows. Such management is going to kill this so-called “home rule” effort very quickly: http://schoolarchiveproject.blogspot.com/2014/03/unanswered-questions-killing-dallas-isd.html

    I was told that many of the few who signed petitions there went back after the presentation and tried to, or actually did, cross out their names from the petition. We are now drafting a petition to start against this alleged “home rule” effort. The many against it simply did not have time to speak. At future meetings at least they should be able to record their opinions!

  • Martha Parks

    Cathy, the Board now, and under home rule,can propose rate hikes but cannot raise the tax rate without voter approval. It can however remove the current homestead exemption at anytime. This has been discussed publicly by Louisa Meyer with the Citizen’s Budget Review Commission and DISD financial officers.

  • Cathy Lux

    Thanks for the clarification. I actually attended the meeting (in the hallway)and still got very little in the way of real details, just multiple requests to sign the petition because DISD needs to change because it’s so bad. I do believe that many involved are sincerely motivated by valid frustration with the current system and a desire to improve it. However, political ambition is more often driven by money and power, and I trust teachers and principals over shadowy Enron billionaires or “anonymous donors”.