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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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Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 5: November Elections

The first two Home Rule Commission public discussion meetings are tomorrow (time and place here), and I hope some of you come out to them and talk about the issues I’ve addressed so far or others that are important to you. It’s worthwhile: the concept of a home rule charter is about becoming more self-governing in Dallas ISD, allowing for more flexibility over state regulations and for tweaks to the way we govern the school system. (I’ll be at the morning meeting; I have a funeral in that conflicts with the afternoon session.)

Now, to my next suggestion. In my previous HRC suggestion post, I talked about some state regulatory flexibility that could help kids. Now, let’s go back to governance tweaks that could help kids.

This is an important point: Why is home rule important for our school system? Because [...]

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Programming Note

Out today covering some stuff for the magazine proper and trying to learn to build charts in HTML. Tomorrow, two posts: First, part 5 of the Home Rule Commission series in advance of the meeting Saturday. Then I’ll talk about why the last school board meeting (and subsequent news stories) show why DISD is different than City Hall, and why that matters. I hope you all come prepared.

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Should Dallas ISD Be Broken Into Smaller Districts?

Perhaps you saw on Channel 8 or read the news story in the Dallas Morning News or read Rudy Bush’s analysis of it online. Either way, you’ve probably heard someway that the idea of breaking up DISD into smaller districts is back in the news.

The idea is not new. Several months back, right before the idea of a home rule district picked up steam, local news outlets reported on the idea of forming a White Rock ISD. I doubt this was the first time anybody had heard about the concept of splitting up DISD, and idea that has surfaced publicly several times the past two decades. It’s recently been picked up by state Rep. Jason Villalba from North Dallas, but it was originally floated by state Rep. Yvonne Davis of southern Dallas. I suspect anyone who has ever engaged in a DISD conversation has talked about it once or twice.

I think it’s worth exploring why this topic keeps coming up, which helps inform whether or not this is a good idea.

One reason the idea survives [...]

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Board Meeting Wrap-Up No. 1: Cherry-picking Bill Betzen

Trying something new this week, since I’m almost a week late with the wrap up (holiday weekend, D Magazine column due, gremlin attack) and since I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that boils down to this: I get it. You don’t like Foreman and Nutall. What else you got?

Fair point. Also incorrect. It’s not that they’re bad people. I think they really believe they’re helping kids. I also believe their actions exemplify the very thing the Dallas ISD board has done for 20 years: meddle in district matters in a way that ultimately harms kids, no matter the intention. So I want to explain why that is, and I’ll use last week’s board meeting as an example. (Although I have some even better examples coming down the road.)

Overall, I want to do a couple separate blog posts that hit only a few key issues, to better give context as to what concerns me and what I think is substantive board discussion. This week, I have two main themes to highlight from last week’s board meeting: cherry picking data, and why DISD is different than City Hall. First, the cherry picking. To the (two) bullet points! [...]

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Suggestions for Home Rule Commission No. 4: School Calendar

So far, I’ve discussed a few different governance changes that would be wise for the Home Rule Commission to consider implementing in a new charter. But Home Rule allows Dallas ISD to do two things: change its governance structure and exempt itself from (some) state education rules. Let’s then look at some of the rules from which we could seek exemptions.

There has been a lot of confusing coverage of Home Rule — why can’t parents vote (they can and must), is this a takeover of our school system (it’s actually a painfully democratic restructuring, one that must meet multiple threshholds), etc. But one idea that has gotten a bit of informed publicity (YOU’RE FREAKING WELCOME!) is that of changing the school start date. State law prohibits school districts in Texas from starting before the fourth week of August.

Given that DISD generally schedules winter break [...]

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Status-Quo Trustees Look to Disrupt Tomorrow’s Board Meeting Any Way They Can

Yesterday, a person whom I know only through social media recognized me at a restaurant. He told me how much he, as a DISD parent, appreciated Learning Curve. I thanked him. He made a parting joke, something along the lines of, “We’re just glad you have to attend the board meetings and we don’t.”

Looking over the agenda for tomorrow’s board of trustees meeting, and, my goodness, was he spot-on. Because, based on the posted agenda, tomorrow’s meeting will offer two things: [...]

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Three KERA Stories Worth Reading: On Refugees, Homeless Students, and Pre-K

Preparing to go back to school this afternoon — which, weirdly, terrifies me — so there won’t be a new post until tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a reminder that Bill Zeeble and the folks at KERA do a great job covering education. You should check out these three stories:

• Zeeble on homeless students in DISD. (There are nearly 3000 homeless kids in the district; including about 100 at North Dallas High alone.)

• Doualy Xaykaothao on the first day of pre-K in Fort Worth.

• Stella Chavez on what the first day of school is like for refugee families.

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