The Great Education Debate: DISD Presses Forward Despite Great Education Debate

cover6By: Darwin Campbell

DALLAS -  The fate of Home Rule in Dallas Independent School District remains up in the air as the commission attempts to hammer out a proposed plan it feels the public will support.

Meanwhile, DISD officials are  moving forward in preps for the 2014-2015 school year.

“We are focusing on the job that is ahead of us and this is educating 160,000 plus students,” said Andre’ Riley, DISD Director of Communications. “That’s what superintendent, parents and taxpayers expect and with the excitement of the new year building, that’s our #1 focus.”

Riley said the commission is a separate group of citizens appointed by board members, administrators and teachers to examine Home Rule, but none of their work impacts or interferes with the current operations in the district.

“The HRC commission is doing its work in accordance with state law,” he said. “As they take it step by step, we are continuing to focus on giving the best to our children.”

A 15-member commission was appointed by the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees on June 27 to frame a home-rule school district charter.

The commission has one year in which to complete its work. It was appointed after the board received a petition signed by more than five percent of the district’s registered voters ordering the appointment of the charter.

By law, a home-rule district has the powers and entitlements granted to school districts and school boards, including taxing authority. A home-rule district is also subject to federal and state laws and rules governing school districts.

Support Our Public Schools wanted the proposal on the November ballot because the Texas law requires at least 25 percent voter turnout, or about 123,000 people.

In Dallas County, the gubernatorial and presidential elections are the only races that receive at least 25 percent turnout.

Last week the commission decided to wait longer and take its time drafting a proposed charter, delivering a blow to Support Our Public Schools supporters who wanted the item on the November ballot. The group had hoped the commission would write a proposed charter soon to meet the deadline and get it on the November ballot.

The home-rule charter drafted by the commission must:

1. Describe the educational program to be offered.

2. Provide that continuation of the charter is contingent on:

a. Acceptable student performance on assessment instruments.

b. Compliance with other applicable accountability provisions.

3. Specify any basis, in addition to a basis specified at Education Code Chapter 11, Subchapter B, on which the charter may be placed on probation or revoked.

4. Describe the governing structure of the district and campuses.

5. Specify any procedure or requirement, in addition to those at Education Code Chapter 38 [see FF series], the district will follow to ensure the health and safety of students and employees.

6. Describe the process by which the district will adopt an annual budget, including the use of program-weight funds.

7. Describe how the annual audit of the district’s financial and programmatic operations will be conducted, including how the district will provide the necessary information to participate in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS).

 8. Include any other provision the charter commission considers necessary.

While some believe the Home Rule movement is on life support, others believe it is important to remain vigilant and follow the moves of the commission.

“It is my understanding that many people are not supporting this,” said District 6 DISD Board member Joyce Foreman. “I say no to it and will continue to openly. There is no proof anywhere showing it can help children. This will be a long hard fight, but we are ready to do what is best for our children.”

The district has a $1.4 Billion budget and allegedly many “snakes” are waiting in strange places to not only influence educational direction of the district, but also take advantage of changes to pad their own pockets.

Foreman said a number of qualified and dedicated educators are already involved in providing input and information on how to make improvements to DISD. She believes looking to those years of experience and drawing on those ideas is valuable in helping children achieve better results from testing to reducing drop out rates to boosting graduation numbers.

“What can we do with Home Rule that we can’t currently do with our school board,” Foreman said. “We know what works. Do we have the will to do it?”

Foreman said the process will work itself through, but her main focus continues to be preparing students starting with Pre-K, working to ensure students can read by 3rd Grade, keeping top quality teachers in the classroom, working to boost interests in college readiness and increasing focus on career readiness, reviewing and developing better discipline policies and finding ways to increase parental

 

POSITION PAPER

Developed by Dr. Roscoe Smith and the Coalition for an Accountable System of Education Supporting Locally-Elected, Single-Member District Control of DISD Under its Current Structure And Opposing DISD Conversion to a Home Rule District

What is CASE?

CASE, Coalition for Accountable System of Education, is a Dallas-based, community organization formed in 2011, comprised of educators, elected and former elected officials, and community advocates with years of educational leadership experience at the local, state, and national levels, and with insight into innovative trends in education. CASE was formed initially to recommend criteria for selecting a new superintendent, and has since consulted with DISD on issues including early childhood education, curriculum development, minority student achievement, discipline policies, and human resources. In 2013, CASE sponsored a summit to address student achievement that included representatives from the   U. S. Department of Education; State Commission on Education; State School Board; trustees; and teachers. CASE is dedicated to the academic achievement and welfare of all children, but particularly African-American students, who perform less well in academic measures when compared with students of other races.

Why is CASE Speaking Out on the Proposed DISD Home Rule Issue?

CASE members have a proven track record of graduating thousands of college-ready/college-educated students from DISD, a district that has been majority African-American and Hispanic for decades. We have been in the board rooms, classrooms and homes of students practically all of our professional careers and have intimate knowledge of their skills, aspirations and challenges. In fact, most CASE members grew up in communities similar to those from which most DISD students come; and have developed tools to maximize student potential that combine understanding with a rigorous, holistic approach. Also, as educational leaders, CASE knows well the state requirements and policies by which students, teachers, administrators and trustees must abide; and can bring expertise, clarity, and truth to the discussion about the pros and cons of Home Rule Charter Districts.

What background information about DISD does CASE want citizens to know?

DISD has a $1.3 billion dollar annual budget; 159,000 students; 223 schools; and nine trustees elected by voters from single-member districts approved by the Texas Legislature.

Approximately 68% of DISD’s 19,846 employees are engaged directly in instruction. 32% serve in support roles. Therefore, any attempt to change DISD’s governance structure requires expertise in academic affairs, and in financial accounting; technology; maintenance; construction; facilities management; human resources; real estate; legal; risk management; professional services; contracting; food services; security; pensions/retirement; and other disciplines.

DISD student enrollment is 70% Hispanic; 24% African-American; 4% Anglo; and 2% other ethnicities. Most are low-income; and many live in households where English is the second language.

Therefore, Home Rule proponents should have track records of measurable success working with students matching these demographics.

What would a Home Rule Charter District (HRD) look like?

In 1995, the Texas Legislature authorized Home Rule Districts that allow local voters to free their districts from many, but not all, state Education Code mandates. However, no city in Texas has ever attempted to convert an entire district to HRD. Similar attempts in other states have failed. This is a partial list of what Home Rule Districts DO NOT have to do:

Elect school board trustees by local voters

Honor teacher contracts

Require teacher professional development

Follow current governance rules

Follow current teacher/administrator appraisal procedures

Adhere to state minimum salary schedules

Adhere to uniform school start date; minimum length of school year; school-day hours; or attendance policies

Abide by Minority and Women-Owned Business contracting requirements

Adhere to current counseling programs and ratios

Adhere to curriculum requirements for health, career, technical, military and talented and gifted guidelines

Abide by current student discipline policies

What is the process required to convert DISD to a Home Rule Charter District?

The current board of trustees must create a Charter Commission to develop a new Home Rule Charter

The Charter Commission must be composed of 15 district residents reflective of its demographic diversity

The Commission has one year to draft a charter that describes its educational program

The Commission must submit the proposed charter to the Commissioner of Education and Secretary of State

If approved, the board must order an election within 45 days w/charter approved by a majority of voters

Within 10 days, the Commission must notify the Commissioner and Secretary of State of the results

If approved, the HRD may then adopt and operate under any legal, governance structure it chooses

The HRD would now have the authority to operate the new district with the same powers granted independent school districts, including taxing authority.

What concerns CASE about the Support our Public Schools (SOPS) Home Rule effort?

CASE believes the Support our Public Schools (SOPS) effort is a move by monied interests to take control of a nationally-respected district, DISD, and its billion dollar budget to privatize its public education system for private gain. And once a large, urban school system like DISD is under its control – a district comprised of some of the nation’s leading schools – a domino effect would occur jeopardizing districts nationwide. CASE is cognizant that this Home Rule effort is part of a national movement toward privatization of education at the local and collegiate levels. CASE is suspect of SOPS’s motive, because it attempts to prevent the same district that developed nationally recognized schools like Townview, Rangel, and Booker T. Washington, from using its own know-how to turn around its under-performing schools.

Although some Home Rule proponents may have good intentions, all backers do not have the best interest of children at heart. If so, Home Rule proponents, their efforts, and “accomplishments” would be known throughout the city. But, they are not. Otherwise, CASE and the community, who have worked for decades in our most challenging schools and disenfranchised communities, would not have been blind-sided by this sudden Home Rule takeover attempt.

Home Rule backers have not advanced their educational proposals in an inclusive, transparent public forum. Neither have they provided their educational credentials for public scrutiny; or presented their success records with similar Home Rule efforts. Why? Because there are none. They want to side-step the democratic process, and use the cleverly-worded theme “Support our Public Schools” which is code for dismantling our public schools. This foretells exactly how a district-wide charter system would run – as a hand-picked, for-profit enterprise, steeped in “good ol’ boy” cronyism – professing to be about quality education, while incorporating the district’s successes as their own for private gain.

What are SOPS’s credentials for managing a complex, billion dollar educational operation?  What qualifies them to better manage a district comprised of 94 percent African-American, Hispanic and low-income children?  What experience do they have in working with ESL children and families?  Show voters the data that proves conversion of an entire school district to Home Rule has improved student achievement.  SOPS supporters should demonstrate to the Dallas electorate that they have been engaged in the academic pursuits of DISD students before the profit motive became evident; and show the community how appointed leaders will be more accountable than elected ones.

Dallas citizens elect mayors; city council members; county commissioners; sheriffs; and even judges. But, those seeking our vote campaign for it; develop platforms; garner broad-based community support; and debate opponents in public forums to earn the right to advance.

It is simply wrong to attempt to change a time-tested, democratic process of governance, and replace it with an autocratic one. If enacted, Home Rule would lead to taxation without representation; public acrimony; and lengthy, costly lawsuits. This is America.

And though our country’s founding documental principles gives citizens the right to dissolve our constitution; Americans have wisely opted to amend our constitution when our nation’s practices have not lived up to its ideals; but we have never scrapped it. CASE recommends a similar approach.

Is CASE suggesting Home Rule has no merits? Is student achievement at DISD satisfactory?

There are aspects of Home Rule that may be advantageous. Gaps in achievement must be closed. And DISD must improve outcomes in under-performing schools. But, do not “throw the baby out with the bath water.”  The state Education Code already grants districts the flexibility to create Home Rule Charters for individual schools. But an honest discussion of the pros and cons of Home Rule cannot occur when false, misleading, and misinterpreted data are presented as truth for public consumption.  For example, “college readiness” cannot be measured by data alone. Countless students labeled not “college ready” have graduated college with honors; and just as many deemed “college ready” have failed.  CASE knows from years of experience that “college readiness” is best measured by eligibility as indicated by completing necessary course work for admission; parental involvement; college awareness through information provided to parents and students; and preparation, as measured by a student’s attitude, drive, maturity, and will to succeed. And, CASE cannot stress enough how important parental and community involvement is to a child’s academic success. No matter what governance structure is advanced, the most important instruction happens at home.

What are some of the achievements of DISD under its current structure?

The supporters of converting DISD to a Home Rule Charter District have painted a bleak picture of the district that is false. Although improvements must be made on a number of performance measures, the following are few of the accomplishments about which the district can be proud:

DISD had the largest number of graduates in Spring 2013 in 31 years, up almost 5 percent from 2012

The percentage of students graduating on time has risen for the 5th consecutive year to 81.3 percent,

a remarkable 19 percent increase during this period

The district’s dropout rate has been cut by more than half in five years

DISD has 8 of the top 10 high schools in North Texas as ranked by a non-partisan research group

DISD has the top three high schools rated for performance on math and science

Townview Magnet is rated the #1 high school in the nation for the 2nd straight year

TEA nominated four DISD schools (Longfellow, Gilliam, Middle College, Business Management) as National Blue Ribbon Schools

The Arts Magnet; Dealy Montessori; and Walnut Hill elementary are former National Blue Ribbon Schools

The district met all four of the state’s new, more rigorous accountability standards

85 percent of schools (191) met all required state performance standards

Both African-American and Hispanic students showed gains in college readiness as indicated on the STAAR test

DISD ended the school year in the best-ever financial position, with a $275 million fund balance

DISD installed the most state-of-the-art fiber optics network and wi-fi system of any school system in the nation

A new principal evaluation system was implemented where 40% of a principal’s effectiveness is based on student achievement

3-8 grade students showed gains against their peers statewide in reading, math, science, and social studies

The Destination 2020 initiative was implemented providing additional resources to the Lincoln/Madison/Pinkston feeder pattern schools

What strategy is best for moving DISD forward?

CASE recommends the following:

DO NOT sign the Support our Public Schools petition. Signing is the first step toward dismantling DISD.

DISD recently hired a new superintendent who implemented significant changes focusing on more instructional accountability. His changes need more time to show results.

The mayor has spoken often about having a safe/secure environment around DISD schools. He should be held accountable for taking action to rid neighborhoods of the criminal, nuisance activities surrounding our schools.

There is nothing wrong with the current governance structure of DISD. However, the district should rally broad-based community support to devise innovative strategies to improve under-performing schools.

DISD should establish a Blue Ribbon Committee of nationally renowned educators with a track record of success educating Hispanic and African-American students that would recommend ways to improve outcomes.

DISD and the community should seek best practices for parental involvement. Student achievement is measured equally by the quality of the home environment, and the quality of instruction at school.

DISD and community leaders should redouble their efforts to get more citizen volunteers into our schools. Teachers and students earnestly need more “face time” with community role models.

The Support our Public Schools (SOPS) Home Rule initiative is misguided and off-base. Their proponents should engage in open public forums and debates, and reveal the financial backers of their efforts.

For more information, contact Dr. Roscoe Smith, 972-741-8213; smith.roscoe@sbcglobal.net; or Dr. Alfred Roberts, 214-478-7228; llar1@sbcglobal.net

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