Month: <span>March 2014</span>

Dallas mayor on the wrong track for school improvements


Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has been smoked out, at least partly, on some of his reasons for supporting what has been a stealth campaign to transform Dallas ISD into a home-rule charter school district free from many state restrictions, including reasonable protections for teachers and other school employees.

In an apparent reaction to the initial publicity on the proposal spinning out of his control, the mayor told The Dallas Morning News editorial board that the radical change is necessary to save what he considers a dysfunctional school district. Converting DISD into a home-rule district, he told the newspaper, would provide more local control over funding and curriculum, make it easier to get rid of “bad teachers” and allow for a longer instructional day and school year.

Let us take a closer look at his points:

# State law, as The Dallas Morning News points out in the article linked below, already allows school districts to provide longer school days and year-round schools. Dallas ISD had 25 year-round schools during the 1990s but gave up on the experiment because student achievement didn’t improve.

# School districts already have the ability to fire bad teachers. What Rawlings and the self-proclaimed “education reformers” he is supporting really want to do, I suspect, is repeal basic teacher employment rights.

# More local control over funding isn’t what Dallas ISD needs. What it and hundreds of other school districts throughout the state need is more funding, period, from state government. Where was Rawlings when the legislative majority was slashing $5.4 billion from public school budgets three years ago? Those cuts cost a lot of good teachers their jobs and shoved hundreds of Dallas ISD students into overcrowded classrooms. Meanwhile, the legislative majority has so far ignored a state court opinion that the school finance system is inadequately and unfairly funded and unconstitutional.

Another key issue in the petition drive to convert Dallas ISD is who is behind the effort. The group calls itself, “Support Our Public Schools,” but misleading names are as common as masquerading “education reformers.”

The only funder of the effort who has been publicly identified so far is John Arnold, a former Enron trader who already has declared war on teachers and other public employees. For months now, he has been advocating that their hard-earned public pensions be replaced with risky 401k-type plans. Now, he wants to make it easier to fire teachers and other school employees while encouraging privateers to experiment with Dallas schools.

If Dallas ISD is dysfunctional, it isn’t the fault of teachers. And replacing an elected school board with what could be an appointed body isn’t the answer either. That would remove the ultimate local control from district parents and taxpayers while ignoring the basic problem – inadequate support from Austin – and opening up Dallas ISD to a raid by billionaire outsiders.


A stealth campaign to take over Dallas ISD


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.