DISD’s Home Rule Discussion Was Entertaining, Made Me Want to Kill Myself

DISD board members
DISD board members

There was a lot of interesting stuff that came out of the DISD board briefing yesterday, but most of the items will require their own blog posts over the coming weeks to give you the political/media/idiocy briefing you’ll need to understand what’s really going on. But you know about home rule, so here we’ll just deal with the special board meeting (which came before the board briefing) about forming the 15-member home rule commission. As always, the sheer level of dumb-crazy (Drazy? Crumb? Let’s workshop that) almost made me rip my ears off. To the notes!

  • I sat next to Bill Betzen, the retired teacher and longtime community activist who has traditionally been very anti-Miles and is campaigning against home rule. We disagree on a lot, but he’s a very nice guy. After he figured out who I was, he asked me to defend supporting home rule. I told him I support what home rule is forcing us to discuss: board accountability, as well as longer school days and years. As someone who likes disruption, I told him I was okay with other uncertain outcomes so long as we got those three things. He said we shouldn’t invite that sort of disruption into the school system because “DISD has shown improvement the past three years.” I was stunned. This from a man who has campaigned hard to get Mike Miles fired for at least two of those years. The cognitive dissonance displayed by home rule opponents who also tried to run Miles out of town is astounding. (FYI: By a measure we’ll probably discuss next week, DISD did make astounding improvement in 2013.)
  • The DISD board went into executive session, which allowed me time to watch the first half of Brazil v Croatia on my iPad (which the Wi-Fi there couldn’t handle after about six minutes). DISD officials saw it and asked that the game be put on one of the big TV screens behind the board horseshoe. Which was fun until Mike Morath came in, saw it on the screen, and looked around in a very annoyed fashion until someone turned it off. I then overheard him reference this Simpsons quote to Mike Miles (1:39 to 1:47), so at least he has a sense of humor about the board’s lack of sports appreciation.
  • The board was ostensibly going to discuss two proposals (one by Solis, one by Blackburn) for determining the remaining 11 members of the 15-member board it must name by June 23. (Four members are teachers already named by the DAC, recall — which is what the AFT lawsuit is all about.) The bottom line is this: each proposal suggests that board members each pick three names, and that one of those three from each member will eventually be named to the board. (And that the remaining two names will come from that initial pool of 27 names, too.) The board should be guided by the idea that the final 11 names should reflect, as much as possible, the geographic, socio-economic, ethnic, and racial diversity of the district. (Remember, because certain board members can’t: the lawyers say that charge is more of a guideline that a rule.) Now, the difference in the proposals was pretty simple: Solis’s proposal said the winnowing of 27 to nine should be done by a sub-committee of three, and then they are presented to the 9-member board which votes on it. (If they say, nope, then it goes back to the sub-committee for reworking.) Blackburn’s proposal said the winnowing from 27 to 9 should be done by the board itself.
  • Now, why the sub-committee suggestion? Well, there are the stated reasons: e.g., it’s easier for a sub-committee to come some sort of agreement, and the board still gets to vote on the final list. This is obvious to anyone who has watched the board for the past 20 years that this is a good plan, right? DISD boards couldn’t agree on corn vs flour tortillas, and would rather starve than give in. Perhaps three members could at least put a group of nine together, right? Especially if they could do it in a back room, out of the public eye, so they could be open and honest with each other, right?
  • NOT TODAY! First, several board members had a problem with the ad hoc committee idea. Elizabeth Jones led a long, confusing, mostly absurd line of questioning to legal counsel asking how in the world an advisory council could possibly have legal standing to winnow such a list! The lawyer’s awesome, even-keeled response: “Under Robert’s Rules of Order, a group can charge a sub-committee with advisory work. Which is what this board would do.” Left unsaid: “Would you like a copy of this book? I think the board could use one.” (BTW: I’m neatly summarizing this exchange. It went on and was revisited later. You’ll see this under the “kill me” section of my notes.)
  • This led to a very interesting development, though. One of the stated reasons for doing this was that a sub-committee is not a quorum, so they could just pick up the phone and hammer this out during a three-way call. But the lawyer said that, after careful consideration, they think even the sub-committee discussion should be done in public. Plot twist! This was a blow to folks who wanted to make it more difficult for the most divisive members of the committee — in order, that’s Nutall, Ranger, and Jones — to try to block favored commission selections who may obviously lean pro home rule (or even possibly lean that way). That possibly makes the compromise on this swing toward having all nine members winnow their lists, because the major advantage of the sub-committee (keeping the crazies out) is gone.
  • Elizabeth Jones ran an analysis of the districts and found them very diverse. Yes, this was a point. Yes, it was revealed in a none-too-quick fashion.
  • Carla Ranger went on a long rant about how the board shouldn’t call whatever plan they adopt a resolution. It was solved by offering to call it a guideline. This took eleventy-million hours.
  • At one point, Nutall — I don’t have the energy (too beaten) or the space (the Internet isn’t big enough) to fully describe the back assward rabbit holes and tangents she went down — basically asked the lawyer to tell the board what the racial composition of the commission should be. As everyone in the room murmured, Blackburn gently told her that the board can’t ask legal counsel to do its work for it.
  • Blackburn, at this point sensing a split vote, put off a vote on which process would be adopted until next week. I collapsed in a heap.
  • Then Mike Morath got cheeky. He asked the lawyer to research the definition of what sort of conflicting loyalties would keep people from being able to serve on the commission, throwing out the example of, “Let’s say I want to nominate myself to serve on the home rule commission.” To say that the home rule opponents in the audience and on the board nearly crapped themselves is to sell short the very idea of one crapping one’s self. I giggled. Morath may be a soccer-hating nerd, but he doesn’t open his trap without a reason. And this one clearly was not to place himself on the board. It was to get a legal opinion that would prevent anyone else from doing so. (In order, I’d suspect that list is the same as above: Nutall, Ranger, Jones.)

To summarize: We’ll be doing this next week. I suspect the entire board will have to take the 27 names and get it down to nine. I suspect that will be a shit-show of the highest order. I really, really wish DISD served popcorn during these meetings.