Volunteers for a group calling itself “Support our Public Schools” were staking out polling places in Dallas this week, collecting petition signatures from uninformed voters interested in improving Dallas’ public schools.
I say “uninformed” because they are. Nobody in Dallas, except for the mayor and maybe a handful of other people, knows what this group has in mind because it is operating in secrecy. The group’s leaders could be trying to hijack their public schools, and, considering the name of the first leader to become public, John Arnold, hijacking may very well be the goal.
For those who may not know of John Arnold – and that would be at least 99 percent of the voters in Dallas ISD – he is a wealthy, former Enron trader and hedge fund manager who first wanted to hijack the pensions of school teachers and other public employees. Now, he must be trying to sell himself as an “education reformer.”
Fortunately, the Texas Legislature so far has ignored Arnold’s proposal to convert defined benefit pensions to the riskier (for the employee) defined contribution plans. That would have the effect of replacing a school teacher’s guaranteed and well-earned pension with something like a 401k plan, which could disappear if the stock market plunged shortly before the educator’s retirement.
Now, Arnold and several other unnamed financial backers have launched a petition drive to force a vote on whether to convert Dallas ISD into a home-rule charter district. A 1995 state law allows such conversions, but such a change never has been carried out. A charter designation would free the district from many important state educational requirements and could even replace the elected Dallas school board – and its control over school tax dollars — with an appointed body.
This takeover scheme, according to The Dallas Morning News, which broke the news of the effort only a few days ago, has quietly been in the works for several months. Arnold apparently didn’t bother to ask any real educators about his idea. But his group has enlisted the support of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has endorsed the idea. (Wonder how eager the mayor would be willing to endorse an idea that could replace him with somebody’s appointee?)
But neither Rawlings nor Arnold is saying much of anything else, including who else is behind the scheme.
Dallas voters should refuse to sign the petition and be wary of a group that may very well be more interested in helping wealthy business people profit from the privatization of public schools than it is in actually supporting public education.