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AFT Files Lawsuit to Slow Down Home Rule Train

I - DENTICAL!
I – DENTICAL!

No roll call today, because we should just talk about the AFT lawsuit filed against DISD to stop the home rule charter process. After talking to several people last night and this morning, my takeaway: This was a PRETTY, PRETTY, PRETTY, pretty good delaying tactic by AFT. Because what AFT alleges — that the home rule statute was violated because the four teaches selected for the commission were picked by a body, the District Advisory Committee (DAC), that was not appointed and not elected — is technically true, at least for some of its members. Whether AFT’s holds water in the courtroom, we’ll see. (In fact, we should know more later today when the board quizzes its lawyer on the matter.) In any case, this is what DISD trustee Dan Micciche was talking about when at the last board meeting he said, “The way that the statue is written, there is a high probability that we’ll have litigation. Almost any conceivable process that we come up with would be subject to some kind of arguable challenge.”

Some background here: The DAC wasn’t put together to decide which four teachers would sit on the 15-member home rule commission. It’s put together at the start of the school year as a way for the district to get stakeholder feedback on any number of issues. As you can see from the 2013-14 roster, this includes not only teachers and principals but also parents/community members and representatives from three teacher organizations, including AFT. (Rena Honea, the local AFT president, serves on the DAC and is very familiar with the folks who serve with her.)

But that’s not the group who selected the four teaches for the home rule commission. That DAC was really a pared-down version of the larger DAC, because the law said only teachers and principals could select those teachers. (Here is the roster of the DAC group that selected the four teachers for the commission — two of whom, Isaac Freeman and Ron Oliver, were also DAC members.)

So AFT is saying, look, the original, large DAC was not an elected body, as the law says you must have to determine the four teacher names for the commission. AFT says it’s an appointed body, and people are asked to serve by others (their principal, someone else on the board, whomever) and do so without a vote. DISD wouldn’t comment on whether this was true — and the DISD officials who oversee the DAC wouldn’t call me back, because why get fired this morning? — but a I have a few things to say about a thing or two:

  • One DAC member told me that some of the teachers/principals on the DAC are indeed elected. But this person said to get a well-rounded DAC, in the short time you have to put one together, of course some of those elected reach out and ask for participation from colleagues from districts or professions or schools or ethnicities that are in danger of being under-represented. That’s usually done through their principal or some colleague, and those people become part of the DAC by everyone’s agreement. So, no, not everyone is elected, because why would they be? You’re trying to put together the best advisory board possible, not construct a board IN CASE a law that has never been used before suddenly comes into play.
  • Should someone at SOPS have seen this coming? Yes. They can read the law just as easily as the folks at AFT.
  • Another official told me this is the way it’s done in most districts across the state. If true, another example of why the home rule law is poorly written and makes it much more difficult to get the process through than it needs to be.
  • That said, a third source told me that, within DISD, the elected vs. appointed aspects had been discussed during a recent DAC formation. (This person wasn’t sure if it was in 2012 or 2013.) So it’s not as though this came out of nowhere. Again, though, you can’t blame DISD: It’s trying to put together the best advisory board possible, not one that stands up to an unforeseen legal challenge.

Which brings me to this: Remember that none of this is a surprise. If you understand the attitude of the major players going forward, you’ll be able to put these battles in their proper context. Just remember:

  • AFT is going to continue to do anything it can to delay the home rule process, because it knows if somehow this thing (miraculously?) makes it to the ballot in November, it will pass.
  • DISD will do whatever it’s asked to do by the board, but within the building, they roll their eyes at a) the cluster-eff that is the home rule process, and b) the amount of time and energy it takes to deal with it, thus c) distracting them from Miles’ efforts at systemic reform.
  • DISD’s board will continue to motor ahead. They are under a mandate: Appoint a 15-member commission by June 23. I suspect that’s what their lawyer will tell them this afternoon. Well, he’ll tell them two things: 1. You keep your head down and on track to name the commission, or SOPS will slap you with a lawsuit, and then you’ll be getting it from both sides — LESS FUN THAN IT SOUNDS. 2. Why aren’t we watching Brazil-Croatia?

We’ll see what the lawyer says today, and what DISD says in court. One interested party told me he would be surprised if AFT got a temporary restraining order out of this, but not shocked. That sounds fiddy-fiddy to me. Get your popcorn ready.