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Home-Rule Effort Still Struggling To Get Message Right

There’s a scary, scary story in the paper today by Matthew Haag about the home-rule effort to reform DISD. The online headline: “Three Sources Say Home Rule Was Pitched With Dallas Mayor Running Schools.” The hard-copy headline (yes, I still subscribe): “Three Say Home Rule Pitched as Takeover.” Here’s the meat:

Because district trustees would appoint the commissioners, the process suggests that outside forces couldn’t control the outcome. However, according to the former city official [much of the DMN story relies on quotes from this one “former city official”], [Sam] Merten [the mayor’s spokesman] said the group’s backers had recruited people to be on the commission and believed a majority of DISD trustees would vote them in.

“He said he would propose a slate of people for the charter that they knew would put in place the charter they would want. They would have enough votes on the DISD board to get that passed,” the person said. “You’d have the folks in place already who are committed no matter the public outpouring or opposition.”

Merten denied telling anyone that and said there is not a list of suggested commissioners. “That’s completely inaccurate. There has not been one conversation about who would serve on this potential commission,” he said.

Clearly Merten is lying. But there’s no reason for him to do that. First, the mayor should probably be talking to Haag, not Merten. Second, the mayor should say the following:

“Of course I have some people in mind that I’d like to see on the commission, if we get enough signatures to reach that point. I’m the mayor, and I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time time. Did I mention that I’m the mayor? I happen to know a few people. Smart people who would make great commissioners. In any case, the school board would have to appoint the commission. I can’t control the school board. Then, after the commission comes up with ideas for a new DISD charter, the TEA and the voters would still have to approve it. To me, that sounds like the furthest thing from a ‘takeover’ that I can imagine. But I understand that people who want to protect a system that turns out eight college-ready kids for every 100 graduates will say anything to keep us from focusing on the system’s failure.”

I’m not sure what’s happening here, why the home-rule folks aren’t making a clearer case for their cause. The DMN story mentions that Allyn Media is directing the home-rule communication plan. From where I sit, a little more direction is still needed.

UPDATE (3:20) — Sam Merten sent me a note saying that it wasn’t cricket for me to say that he was lying. I gave it some more thought. He’s right. For Merten to lie about those conversations, he would have had to know of their existence. Withdrawn.

  • mark

    you guys are really selling this hard, huh?

  • Tim Rogers

    Yes. Are you happy with DISD’s current results?

  • Alexander

    Ah, that sounds more like it- some motivation!

    This is DOA. Something like 15% off all DISD voters live in the burbs (16 total). They are not going to vote to turn over power to an office they can never vote for.

    That means 60% of city of Dallas/DISD residents have to vote for this. How do you cobble together a 60% coalition in a gubernatorial election year? Answer: you don’t. You can buy off the black community when you have 7% turnout in a nonpartisan race, but a 40% turnout governors race is a much different story. Unless Wendy Davis gets behind this (hahahaha) it’s dead.

  • Alexander

    The results are a matter of demographics. I’m amenable to the idea that we could improve outcomes for poor kids on the margins (and that we should try to do so), but the problem is not in the brick and mortar or the management.

    I asked you yesterday if any of these changes could get you to send your kid to Hill. Everyone knows the answer; it’s ‘no’. Hill is going to be a high poverty school and you are not going to send your kid there (85% of the K class at Hill feeders qualifies for F/R lunch, it drops each year after that). So neighborhood schools are not an option for you. Management won’t change that.

    You can argue till you’re blue in the face that if the schools were high quality then gentrification would bring in more middle class investment creating a feedback loop. But that isn’t reality in America. HCZ is extremely high quality, how many middle class kids are there? The Mission has gentrified a crazy amount- the schools are still overwhelmingly poor. How is Gastonwood or Casa View going to be the neighborhood to change that trend if the infinitely more desirable Logan Circle could not?

    The problem is that there are a lot of poor people in our district. People of means choose to isolate their kids from poor people. If Rawlings want’t to see middle class urbanites stay in the city he needs to realize that fact and come up with some outside of the box thinking. Downtown apartments north of Young should not be zoned to MLK, they should be zoned to Milam. Transfers into Milam could be stopped. Uptown and downtown residents could be guaranteed seats at Travis for middle school and Booker T for high school. If you tell me my kid is going to Booker T instead of Madison when I buy a loft in Deep Ellum my impressions of the district change drastically.

  • DanKollerPeople

    Does Allyn Media have any competitors in this town?

  • Jim Schermbeck

    How about a little more transparency and bottom-up participation?

  • Alexander

    “Are you happy with DISD’s current results?”

    The average SAT score for DISD white students in 2012 (most recent available) was 1606. The state average for white students was 1553. If you exclude Seagoville, the DISD white average was 1625.

    Average white SAT score in Frisco that year was 1612. Rockwall was 1575. Ft Worth was 1611. Houston was 1628.

    There’s no reason for any of the type of people who read or write this blog to be upset with DISDs performance.

  • mark

    you live in the Hexter and I’m guessing Hill feeder…. how does changing the district governance help Hill MS? All of a sudden D Mag has interest in the poor kids?

  • Joe

    You didn’t pick any comparables that “people who read or write this blog” would find acceptable. What was the average for Richardson? Plano? Southlake? These are the districts that people flee to.

  • Tallulah

    Soooooooo, you want to make Travis and Booker T neighborhood schools? They’re not great schools because of their location, or who lives in the neighborhood! They’re great schools because of the really smart and creative kids that apply! They work really hard to get there, and they work really hard to stay there. If they’re turned into neighborhood schools, will anyone that moves into the neighborhood want to send their kids there?

  • Guest

    Very few, Dan, which is why many of these local public affairs firms are so unimaginative. Not only is Allyn screwing the pooch on Home Rule, they also ran John Carona’s losing campaign. Yeah, I know Huffine’s spent a lot of money, but Allyn ran the same campaign for Carona that they always use. They didn’t know what hit them. There is room for other players to make hay in the public affairs space.

  • Guest

    Alexander, Tim will continue to tiptoe around the issue of where and why he sends his kids to school because it contradicts his and his magazine’s past commitments to DISD. His answer will play the religion card or he’ll have a proxy answer for him.

  • Dubious Brother

    The “poor people” that send their children to St. Philip’s School in South Dallas would disagree with your assessment. The school is a success despite the neighborhood and they do it for less money per student than DISD spends. School vouchers would give parents the choice of the quality of education their children receive without having to move to do it.
    As far as telling you your kid is going to Booker T, I suggest having your kid go through the try out process and be accepted before you buy the loft in Deep Ellum. Very successful magnet schools like Booker T are a form of voucher for families with talented children that are willing to work hard regardless of the neighborhood they live in.

  • Alexander

    Well no, I suggested making them magnet schools with a limited neighborhood attendance zone. The Census estimates that less than 200 children live in the area I was talking about, you spread that out over a bunch of grades and we’re not talking about many spaces.

    But more to the point– it’s just an idea– that both responses have been against it show just how hard it is to suggest changing the status quo for white middle class people. What is going to happen when the commission recommends longer days at Lakewood or whatever?

  • Alexander

    I’m not going to get into a conversation about vouchers, but getting into Booker T is not very hard. There are dozens of (nonpaying) suburban district students enrolled right now because DISD doesn’t have enough qualified students to fill the spots. Also, that wasn’t what I suggested, I suggested changing the model 😉

  • Alexander

    Ah, so we move the yardsticks from ‘unmitigated failure’ to ‘best of the best’. There is a direct correlation between household income and SAT scores.HPISD has the highest scores in the area because it has the highest average income. Going down the line you won’t find a deviation from the norm.

    I wish I could find income data instead of racial data, but that’s what TEA provides. Maybe Tim could get district to release the data, but I can’t. What I can see is that by dropping the 10% of white kids who live in a high poverty area I raise the average score quite a bit. that’s telling, don’t you think?

    The schools are having very little effect on performance, it’s all about their parents income. Woodrow is growing a reputation as a good school because more and more wealthy parents are choosing to send their kids there (2 years ago only 40 white kids graduated from Woodrow, Class of 2015 has 100!). Woodrow is going to start looking like a better school– but it’s the same school! They have just somehow managed to get a wealthier student body.

  • GlennTheHunter

    What about responding to Dubious’ point about faith-based St. Phillips? That school is a stellar example of achievement, despite the fact that many of its students are from low-income families. There is a respected headmaster and involvement by all the parents—and the once-crappy neighborhood has blossomed, at least partly because of the school’s success.

  • Alexander

    What’s his point? That poor people can learn? I know that. Google ‘sorting effect of charter schools’. Same concept applies to private schools. Heck, the same concept applies to Irma Rangel or Townview’s business school. Despite those successes I do not want to emulate an east coast style disregard for community schools in Dallas.

  • sammy

    Woodrow is not really the same school. It always had a large selection of AP classes and kids doing well in those, but it’s now an IB accredited school (as is J. L. Long Middle School next door as of last month). True WWHS was accredited a couple of years ago but this is the first year the seniors have been all the way through IB. Also the school was redesigned into four college prep academies and this is the first year that the seniors have been in academies all four years.There are about 600 more white kids in Woodrow and its feeder schools than there were a few years ago. Some of the home rule group have been involved in these changes. I would give them credit for knowing what works to bring in more middle and upper class kids. This is unprecedented in DISD and other systems where a certain balance has tipped.