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DISD Board Offers Something for Everyone, from Number-crunchers to God

I attended a Joyce Foreman spiritual revival last night that was quite enlightening. (It was billed as a DISD board meeting, but that didn’t break out until much later.) But once District 6 folks completed their hourlong touchdown celebration, some important board work took place: naming a new board president, giving teachers a 3 percent raise, 2014-15 budget approval, and issuing a guiding set of principals for the home-rule commission, which will hold its first meeting in mid-July. To the bullet points!

• The evening began with Carla Ranger stepping down and Joyce Foreman being sworn in as trustee. The auditorium at 3700 Ross was packed, and many of those in attendance were friends and family and well-wishers from southern Dallas. John Wiley Price was there to address the crowd and did not disappoint, equating a vote for Foreman as a “celebration and understanding” of Freedom Summer, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. As if that were not lofty enough, Foreman — after promising to be “direct, firm, and fair” — said that there has been “a song in her heart” since the election. “God has spoken,” she said, drawing smiles and a loud simultaneous speak-along from the audience. “Let the church say amen!” Just so we’re clear: Foreman is an instrument of divine providence.

• That said, I completely understand the dynamic on display. You’ve got a longtime community activist who can best rally her supporters by saying that her well-funded opponent was a tool of billionaire overlords intent on a hostile takeover of the school system. If you think that fantasy plays well in the Crazytown world of union-driven talking points and made-up bogeymen, it plays spectacularly in poor black neighborhoods where such a narrative mirrors real injustices they’ve experienced for decades.

• But where it breaks down for me is how her supporters continue to look at this as a referendum on the question, “Are you black enough?” Three trustees did not offer public praise to Foreman: Morath, Bingham, and Blackburn. When it became clear those three would not follow the procession of congratulations from the horseshoe, the audience murmuring against Blackburn reached very high levels. (No one seemed to care or be surprised that Morath or Bingham were silent.) One man near me yelled out, “Give that man a bandana!” A reference, of course, to the term “bandana head,” which is another way to say “Uncle Tom.” Just so we’re clear: If you don’t kneel before the instrument of divine providence, you ain’t black enough. Which, again so we’re clear, is a hateful, disgusting, bullying way to frame disagreement among black officials. Unfortunately, it’s pretty damn effective as a tool to mute that disagreement.

• Eric Cowan, citing work/family ball-juggling (note to self: find better term), stepped down as board president. Miguel Solis was voted new president; Lew Blackburn stays as 1st VP, and Elizabeth Jones is 2nd VP. I’ll have more thoughts on this next week, but if you listened to the podcast I recorded recently with Solis, you’ll hear Solis’ thoughts on how he thinks the board should practice governance. It has to do with setting priorites and hiring people to put systems in place that address those priorities — and supporting those efforts except when they’re out of bounds. (Hugely paraphrasing; you should have a listen.)  I would argue his efforts to do this will be at best problematic based on …

• The budget discussion last night. I’m going to spend a lot of next week breaking down the wrongheaded way the board treats its mission, especially financial oversight, as well as district employees. And I’ll use examples from this meeting. For now, I’ll go ahead and point out two examples from the hours of line-item questions board members threw out last night. First, a lot of time was spent asking CFO Jim Terry and his associates why this employee bonus was $3k vs $4k, or why teacher bonuses couldn’t be be $500 more, etc. The rationale was always, well, we need to prioritize teachers, or this helps children, or some other nondescript, inarguable Mrs. Lovejoy stance. Elizabeth Jones, for example, took many valuable minutes off my life in the 10 p.m. hour asking specific, often circular questions of CFO Terry, who would answer them, and then she’d ask again, and then she’d go off on a rant about the way the board made its decision on Mata months earlier, and then remind everyone that she’s a finance person and that this is her role. It was excruciating for me. I can’t imagine the serenity-now exercises Terry and his team must go through to endure it.

• Both Morath and Bingham called out trustees for doing just this, and both were promptly told by Jones and Foreman, HEY, this is what we do. They basically said, sorry, we ask tough, detailed questions because this is our job as trustees. Okay, let’s assume that’s true. (It’s not, at least not in this fashion, in this instance.) Then is it too much to ask that they ask questions that are consistent with what they’ve said are their priorities as governance officials? Example: In her speech to the audience, Joyce Foreman said that one of her top priorities was rewarding and retaining experienced teachers. Fine. Now let’s assume there is a huge body of scholarship that says teacher experience correlates to excellent student outcomes. (Spoiler alert: there is not.) That means you should be asking Mike Miles and Jim Terry, hey, how do these salary and other teacher programs we’re funding identify, incentivize, monitor, and report on our efforts to keep experienced teachers? And if they say, they don’t, you say, not good enough, find a way to make that happen, we need such data to make strategy decisions. That is proper board governance. But there was not one such question asked. There was instead a lot of trying to find $1k bucks here, $500 there for groups of employees that were in no way broken down by experience. Remember: These trustees are trying to move handfuls of dollars around on the day they’re supposed to approve a $1.3 billion budget. It boggles.

• Also, it’s mostly political theater. The board has to approve the budget, by law. It’s largely a way to placate various interest groups, at the expense of cordial relations with administrators (Jones and Nutall are especially rude and condescending, but Blackburn edges that way with his eyebrows-held-high snarkiness). Jones has a point that the budget process is a little too rushed, but that’s a system problem that Miles is working on. It’s just low priority because, you know, eliminating cradle-to-prison pipelines take priority.

• After midnight, the board also approved a set of operating guidelines — suggestions, really — for the home rule commission. This was done at the request of commission members, who said they would appreciate a starting point for home rule discussion (even though they aren’t required to follow said guidelines). Thankfully, they then went away for two weeks. Hallelujah.

 

25 comments on “DISD Board Offers Something for Everyone, from Number-crunchers to God

  1. Eric, darling, you have it, and you still don’t believe it. YOUR QUOTE, meant to be derisive? Actually a good description of what is up in Dallas:

    “You’ve got a longtime community activist who can best rally her supporters by saying that her well-funded opponent was a tool of billionaire overlords intent on a hostile takeover of the school system.”

    What do you call $120,000 on a South Dallas campaign for a woman, Whatley, who works for another ISD? Hmmmm? Come on…. and they lose to a campaign that spent about $20K?

    Excuse me while I spank you for this comment:

    “Now let’s assume there is a huge body of scholarship that says teacher experience correlates to excellent student outcomes….”

    Uh, there is. I can give you a dozen, but do you want them or not? Probably, no, since you are a shill for the oligarchy. So, let me as you this: Why do you think it is ONLY in the teaching PROFESSION that experience is not seen as important and positive, but is now seen as a negative? Whom do you think is better, a newbie cop or a seasoned veteran? Your mother needs cancer surgery: the guy who went to medical school just last year, or the guy from M D Anderson who has done it for over a decade?

    Or hey, give your mom over to the guy who went to a “medical boot camp” for five weeks, like TFA…..

    And your definition of rude is interesting. NO comment on how Morath could barely look up from his computer screen while people spoke? Or when Bingham was constantly looking down, maybe working on one of her famous crossword puzzle books? Or how Morath had NO good words to say, even fake ones, for Ranger? Even Mr. Miles made a great joke about them butting heads!

    Finally, what “boggles” us is how D Magazine continues this charade of you as a journalist. If you have no idea how much fraud has gone on in DISD over the years, and it was usually done in small increments, then you should just go do something else, because if your idolatry of the status quo in Dallas of lax governance on wasting money, then well…………………

    Let us see if this comment stays up, or you delete it. Too afraid to leave it up?

  2. Read his last several columns….He just gobbles up anything the DCC or the Reg C of C puts out on the table.

  3. Oh, and yes, you scare me. [Insert shiver.]

    No, Diane, I will not put a lot of what you say up because it’s the same strident, shrill, meaningless ad hominem attacks you’ve been spilling for years. I will not let this blog turn into the cesspool that TalkDISD and the like are.

  4. I will put up your comments when they tickle me. Like, how you continue to prove my point, that you think evil dark overlords are trying to take over DISD because reason reason reason. It helps highlight the silliness I’m trying to work against when I we discuss public education in Dallas.

    But no, Diane, I will not put a lot of what you say up because it’s the same strident, shrill, meaningless ad hominem attacks you’ve been spilling for years. I will not let this blog turn into the cesspool that TalkDISD and the like are.

  5. You mean you are doing this for free? Wow, they got you cheap.

    When you want to have GENUINE conversation about what teachers in DISD would like to see, let us know.

    Until then, you miss the point.

  6. Wow, so much for freedom of the press and a “discussion” about education.

    By admitting you censor comments, you are a tool of the oligarchy.

    Shrill? Great comment, usually aimed at women as a negative. Last time you used that word on a man?

    Ad hominem? Yes, I have to keep saying the same stuff over and over, because *journalists* like you and the Belo gang only tell one side, the *official* side.

    Cesspool? Yes, democracy and access to all is so messy, isn’t it?

    And if you think I am silly, PROVE ME WRONG about Dallas. Go ahead, I dare you.

    Tell me that Todd Williams and Mark Melton are NOT the “go-to” guys of the DCC and Regional Chamber? No, you can’t,. but please, tell me their experience teaching IN DISD?

    Want to do a breakdown of the two education PACs which funded Whatley’s campaign, then check on THEIR donations to compare how many of them actually lived in District 6? No, because that would involve work.

    Want to explain to me how Edwin Flores, a man who tried to get a teacher FIRED for writing an email, has any business being on that SOPS Home Rule farce? (Wait, I kinda just answered that.) Ever ask yourself how the SAME people who complain that DISD sucks, especially their trustees, well, TWO of them ARE former trustees, and two are RELATED to two others?

    No, of course not. Again, that would involve pulling back the curtain.

    I don’t know where you were raised, but I was raised in Dallas. I understand the city pretty well, and it has a small group of families and groups which control it, have controlled it, for decades.

    Go ahead and ask the Scovell family for a quote? Harlan Crow? Anybody in construction or real estate?

    Notice you still have not answered my question: Why is experience a bad thing for teachers, but a good thing for any other professional?

    Go ahead. Ask Stand For Children…. They will give you a failed study on MET or some crap.

  7. Thank you for showing the world you officially hate me. You just validated me in our efforts.

    I owe you lunch, if you could handle talking to a real teacher who is not bought off.

  8. Oh, Eric, a friend pointed out you used the wrong word, “principals” in paragraph one.

    I won’t hold it against you, though.

  9. I have blocked Diane Birdwell. She is welcome to start a blog if she wants to spend her time making ad hominem attacks. Best of luck to her and her audience. As I said, this will not turn into the cesspool that is most pub-ed blogs in town.

  10. For those who care — a group that includes four people — the final straw was when she commented that Joyce Foreman did not know that her protest of Mike Miles’ at his home took place on his son’s birthday. That is just a lie, which Ms. Birdwell knows. All you have to do is read the unbelievably depressing, borderline-insane comment thread to this post to see that she is lying, and that she knows it: http://educationblog.dallasnews.com/2013/06/protest-planned-at-home-of-dallas-isd-superintendent-mike-miles-on-saturday.html/.

  11. Come on Eric.. . .don’t be a wimp. Unless Birdwell is throwing out F bombs, you have no intellectual reason to censor what she says or writes. If she is all you have intimated, why not publish her comments and let her hang herself? That you refuse to do so only lends credence of her, and others, indictment of you and your work. What are you afraid of?

  12. I just saw this comment Eric…bottom line, you cannot seem to hold your own with Birdwell. . .

  13. Just rejected two more comments that do not address my post, but my decision to keep this comment area focused on the posts. Sorry, folks. Not going to let the trolls win. I’m more stubborn than you are. Go away. Don’t need you.

  14. Well apparently Mr. Celeste, are you familiar with The Code of Ethics? http://www.spj.org/pdf/ethicscode.pdf
    Violation #1- Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
    Violation #2- Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be
    equally valid.
    Violation #3- Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

    Trolls are very different.

  15. If I had to list the things that I find laughable about just about journalism groups/rules, I’d have to start another blog to do so. And this is a blog, not a newspaper. These folks have the right to see if their voice can find an audience. (Many of them are from DISDblog.com, so they know this.) But this is a place for people who want to question, comment, and discuss public education issues without being called names. And for me to make fun of folks who harm kids by pedaling their destructive fantasies. And for movie quotes. If you don’t like a tightly run comment ship, don’t read. I won’t miss you.

  16. If I had to list the things that I find laughable about most journalism groups/rules, I’d have to start another blog to do so. And this is a blog, not a newspaper. These folks have the right to see if their voice can find an audience. (Many of them are from DISDblog.com, so they know this.) But this is a place for people who want to question, comment, and discuss public education issues without being called names. And for me to make fun of folks who harm kids by pedaling their destructive fantasies. And for movie quotes. If you don’t like a tightly run comment ship, don’t read. I won’t miss you.

  17. “If you have no idea how much fraud has gone on in DISD over the years, and it was usually done in small increments, then you should just go do something else, because if your idolatry of the status quo in Dallas of lax governance on wasting money, then well…………………”

    Ummm, how much of that “fraud” was discovered at board meetings? They didn’t even find the big fraud of the credit card scandal in that manner. It was found via an audit. By auditors. Trained to find fraud.

    My money is on the line that says the school board will decide to delay approving a new contract to our superintendent. 1) to avoid the fight that will ensue between the board members, and 2) because it’s what they did with Hinojosa. Who was despised and derided (and picketed at his home as well) by these very “idolators of the status quo”.

  18. Eric – I always hate to agree with Birdwell, but she’s right about one thing: you are indeed developing a reputation as the go-to shill for rich dudes in Dallas. Rich dudes like to throw away money right now on education and real estate and those are the kinds of projects you are taken on, right?

  19. I have “taken on” education because it’s an important issue for our city and I believe discussion about it has been fairly asinine over the past four or five years. Not sure what you mean by “taking on” real estate. And, yes, if there is one thing rich dudes LOVE to do, it’s throw money away.

  20. This “spanking” of Eric is just too titillating to read and not wonder. Who is enjoying it besides me?