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A Taxing Problem: Breaking Down the Remarkably Low DISD Rax Rate

Yesterday, I mentioned that some people still fail to equate spending with student achievement. Given that point, and in light of the presentation to the board a few weeks ago about the big dollar costs associated with the comprehensive implementation of Destination 2020, I thought I’d look a bit at the school finance picture. I’d like to say said picture is a Monet — up close it’s blurry, but far away you can see clearly what is going on. Really, though, it’s like a Pollock – art majors love it, but to everybody else it looks like the 3:01-to-the-end mark of the Freeze Frame video. 

Let’s start with some basics. [...]

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What Dan Micciche Gets Right — and Wrong — in His DMN Essay

Dallas ISD trustee Dan Micciche wrote a column last week that appeared somewhere in the Dallas Morning News‘ suite of websites/papers that deserves discussion. (Sorry I don’t know where it appeared exactly. I think it ran in something called “Neighbors Go East Dallas-White Rock,” but I don’t really know what that is; sounds like a Dad’s Club festival, or perhaps it’s a targeted news product in the form of several rolled sheets of thin paper still used to litter lawns. All I know is that it’s on the Internet.) Ostensibly, the column is about why a plan to break up DISD is a bad idea, and, oh by the way, why the current home rule process is also a bad idea. But it’s really NOT about that — which is good, because his latter argument is really silly.

Let’s first deal with what the column is really about: haranguing state legislators for not properly funding education in Texas. [...]

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2 Trustees Voted to Cut Off More Than $100 Million to DISD and I Guess No One Cares

I really don’t know what to do. Really don’t. I tell myself I’m going to talk about things besides the performances of trustees Bernadette Nutall and Joyce Foreman, because everyone knows I think they’re too often obstructionist and harmful to the district. So I’ll find other things to discuss when I recap the board meetings. But then they go and completely dominate a meeting, and cap their performance by voting for the district to reject more than $100 million in federal funds, and other media won’t even mention it. It makes my shoulders slump.

You realize that this really happened last night, right? These two trustees, stewards of the public’s trust, repeatedly voted in ways that would have forced the district to lose tens of millions in E-Rate Program funds (federal money for school telecommunications programs). It was shocking, but apparently only to me. Here’s a tweet from me last night: [...]

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Trustee Meeting Tonight to Focus Almost Exclusively on Kids

Just kidding! Actually, 13 of the 14 items from the consent agenda were (of course) pulled by Joyce Foreman and Bernadette Nutall, and all the items have to do with budget decisions. Why we don’t just hire them as co-CFOs, I don’t know. Here are the budget approval items that were pulled, listed for the record and for your enjoyment. From the agenda: [...]

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Mike Rowe Calls Attention to Grand Prairie’s Dubiski Career High School

You might have seen the DMN blog post that mentioned Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs fame) was in Grand Prairie yesterday to see/promote the kids at Dubiski Career High School. It’s a school that prepares kids for real world jobs, including those in the automotive industry. Rowe just put up a great post on his personal Facebook page detailing his visit. I thought it was worth highlighting here. (Click on the “see more” tab to read the entire post.) [...]

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Home Rule Commission Suggestion No. 8 — Term Limits

As I continue to write about home rule, people have wondered (in questions to me directly, or aloud in public meetings) what would be the ideal system of governance for our school system. It seems this home rule process has sparked a legitimate interest in governance reform as a lever to help improve our school system. This is a good thing, because this conversation was pretty limited before, even though research indicates that governance structure in general and the board of trustees in particular has a real impact on student outcomes.

Those in opposition to home rule have repeatedly told me and Home Rule Commission board members that our governance problem is not an issue, suggesting that people like me just don’t like the “messiness” of democracy. I think that’s silly, and a red herring. I’ve already addressed this by discussing how the City of Dallas and the Dallas Independent School System are similar, and how they are different. Our elected representatives at the city are there to debate the competing values of our citizens, and make sure the city’s budget and policies most represent those values. The folks in charge of the school system, by contrast, are there to make sure kids get a good education.

The City of Dallas is already a home rule city. Dallas ISD is considering becoming a home rule district. Although I think the focus of the two entities [...]

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Do Superintendents Matter? Do Schools? Do Teachers? Does Anything?

Last week, I moderated a home rule discussion for the Dallas Assembly, a group that, best I can tell, meets once a month to have local geniuses moderate panels of interest. I was asked to begin the luncheon by putting the home rule discussion in context. I didn’t really do that, in the sense that I didn’t put our particular home rule discussion in context. But I did try to put the idea of governance reform in context, and I did so by leading with an important recent study that suggested superintendents don’t matter to student outcomes.

You may have heard about the study — by the Brown Center for Education Policy at the Brookings Institute — on an NPR report titled “The Myth of the Superstar Superintendent.” It found that superintendents had almost no effect — .03 percent, actually, as shown on that chart at the top of this post — on student outcomes.

You really should read the study, because it’s fascinating. The takeaway for those focusing on the superstar superintendent angle was obvious: You shouldn’t [...]

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Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 7 — Two-Thirds to Terminate

In a blog post last week, I addressed what is perhaps the biggest philosophical issue in the home rule debate: school districts are not like other local government institutions in our democracy. They don’t exist because we’ve decided to come together and govern ourselves democratically. They exist to educate all children, period.

(Side note: This also came up during a 45-minute discussion yesterday after I’d moderated a home rule debate for the Dallas Assembly. A few vocal home rule opponents wanted to [...]

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SAGA Pod/Learning Curve: Jim Schutze on DISD, the Toll Road, and Moving to Plano

Jim Schutze stops by to discuss his column from this week, which basically covers all the important things in Dallas: How we’re going to get middle-class parents to send their kids to DISD schools (or if we even should want to do that); how that affect the ability of young couples to stay in the city, as they increasingly want to do; and how the Trinity River toll road (and the thinking behind it) makes all of this harder than it has to be. Also, I play a song on my phone. Because Tim convinced me to. The lesson: Never listen to Tim.

As always, [...]

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DMN Stories about DISD Grad Rate Sound a Lot Worse Than They Are

I was glad to see that the DMN did a follow-up story to its Sunday report on DISD’s compliance with the state’s “90 percent rule.” Because that first story was pretty weak. The follow-up gave some more context to this issue, but the way it was presented in both instances — I’m particularly fond of leading with a respected former lawmaker who authored a paperwork-creating law change saying, “If they’re doing what you allege they’re doing, then that ain’t right, consarnit!” — gives a false impression of what’s going on here. More to the point, it misses the real problem(s). Let me ‘splain.

Actually, before I get into this, an admission: This story is personal to me. [...]

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DMN Story on Liebbe Report Confuses Me, Mainly Because It’s Wrong

I’ve spent the better part or this morning trying to make sense of this story, the one in which the DMN tries to argue that a DISD report does not “clearly” show that Jeremy Liebbe, recently placed on leave then fired as a DISD investigator, violated school policy and state law.

Please read the report in its entirety. My takeaway, as you might suspect, greatly differs from this (the first blog post on the subject) and this (the story for the news site/newspaper itself). And, for what it’s worth, it differs from the analysis DISD insiders got from its own lawyers, with whom they double-checked today, because they too made the Britney Spears confused face when they read these stories.

My takeaway is that this characterization of the report is clearly wrong. The report explicitly quotes [...]

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Why Being a School Board Trustee Isn’t Like Being a City Council Rep

Why is it that I’ve advocated strongly for a less-meddling school board, and yet I love our meddling City Councilman Philip Kingston? Why does it pain me to listen to a trustee question spending on a relatively tiny three-year $1.4 million contract, yet I have no problem with councilman Scott Griggs harshly questioning our city manager for not finding more dollars for city libraries?

The answer to these questions gets to the heart of an interesting conundrum, one framed this weekend by David Lee’s speech to the Home Rule Commission. Lee suggested that anyone who advocates for DISD board governance reform is scared of the necessarily messy nature of democracy. “Have you ever seen a City Council meeting?” he asked.

On it’s surface, the argument that school boards should be just as contentious as other political bodies is attractive. Elected officials are watchdogs for our concerns. They are there to make sure that the many conflicting values of a large urban citizenry are represented. That’s what school board members should do, right?

No.

City council members, yes. Trustees, no. In fact, I’d suggest that our desire to see their roles as similar is at the root of our governance problem in Dallas ISD.

A city council is the essence of democracy. In our case [...]

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Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 6 — Ballot Petitions

Some people have asked me why I’m making these home rule charter suggestions, especially since the larger media companies in town have basically stopped covering the process. A lot of reasons, really. If I may get all serious on you for a moment … here’s one, written by someone who offered an excellent explanation for why discussing home rule is important:

It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force.

Okay, he wasn’t talking about home rule, but it’s at least somewhat applicable. And that, my friends, was written by Alexander Hamilton, arguably the greatest American in history (so long as you don’t deduct points for affairs). This quote comes from the opening of The Federalist Papers, which argued the reasons we needed to adopt a new constitution for our country.

This is the relevant thing about home rule: It is our chance [...]

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Home Rule Commission Public Hearing Wrap-Up: Surprising Support for Mike Miles

There are many great things about this home rule discussion the city is having, and several of them were on display Saturday at the first public hearing held by the Home Rule Commission. (Recall, I couldn’t make the second meeting because of a funeral, and the audio is not yet up online. I heard it was very similar to the first meeting, even to the point that some of the public speakers were the same, even though HRC chief Bob Weiss asked people not to make multiple appearances. File under: smdh.)

Here are few of the highlights:

• I was very glad that most of the speakers talked about how glad they were that home rule [...]

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Can Trustees Change School Board Elections to November? Only if They Are Loopers.

I’m putting together a recap of the first Home Rule Commission public forums, which were held Saturday. But first I just want to quickly highlight an incorrect assertion that relates to my Friday post on moving trustee elections to November.

One of the speakers at the W.T. White morning session at was Dallas County Schools District 2 trustee Kyle Renard, whom you may remember as the person beaten by Edwin Flores in a 2009 DISD school board race. (As an aside: Dallas County Schools has almost nothing to do with schools in Dallas County, much like the Texas Railroad Commission has little to do with railroads. I think I’ll write about that one day). During her public comments — best summarized as “love the conversation about education, but please don’t actually do anything” — Renard said that despite calls from several speakers to change the election date for trustees to November, the HRC should not consider this. Because, Renard said, the DISD board currently has the power to do so if desired, and therefore a home rule charter provision is unnecessary.

Renard is wrong.

The confusion is what the school board used to be able to do versus what the school board can do under current law. A quick copy-and-paste exercise makes this clear.

Now, there are two areas of state laws [...]

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