I had a feeling it would come to a bad end.
One evening late last year, not long after the DISD hired Bill Rojas as its new superintendent, I was sitting towards the back at a DISD Board meeting, along with maybe a hundred other people. A subject came up, I can’t remember what, that turned into a rather nasty disagreement between Mr. Rojas and a couple of Board members. I’ve been at a lot of public meetings and seen a lot of city managers and other public employees interact with the officials who hired them, and I had never seen one talk to their bosses the way Bill Rojas did to the Board.
Somewhat astounded, I remember thinking that that was no way to forge a good relationship with the Board members, and that if things got rough he might wish he had tried harder to form some alliances.
Be that as it may, the headlines earlier this summer announced another huge donnybrook at DISD headquarters — which is about as surprising by now as an August forecast of sunny and hot. Amid charges and countercharges of arrogance and mismanagement, Rojas either resigned or was fired, depending on the outcome of the litigation which is sure to ensue, in a storm of acrimony. Of course, he didn’t help himself with the Board by hiring a whole group of six-figure-salaried assistants or being out of town whenever another controversy blew up.
Regardless of how it happened and whose fault it was, the fact is that the District is once again the subject of a deluge of embarrassing publicity. You don’t have to be an expert pollster to gauge current public opinion about DISD — just read the letters to the editor or listen to the people around you talk. And as for a bond issue anytime soon — let’s just say that if I was their consultant I wouldn’t recommend it right now.
Now, you might think that none of this really affects you if you don’t have kids in public school. But you probably pay taxes to DISD, either directly, or indirectly if you rent. More important, it’s beyond question that the perception of the public schools affects the desirability and marketability of your neighborhood, and has a big impact on the local economy and on your property values — just look at Plano, Richardson or Highland Park.
What we don’t need right now is yet more finger-pointing. I really believe the Board cares about the students and wants to improve the schools, but governing and managing the District isn’t easy. To be very blunt, there’s an awful lot at stake, politically and economically, for a lot of people in who runs the DISD.
For example, recall the constant ethnic-based power struggle that used to characterize the District, which, fortunately, seems to have cooled down, or the occasional flap about this or that vendor’s contract. And, of course, there’s the apparent petering-out of the federal corruption probe, leaving many with the queasy feeling that perhaps not every rock was turned over — or at least that the evidence wasn’t strong enough to go the Grand Jury.
In any event, DISD is the only public school system we’ve got here in East Dallas. Fortunately, every day thousands of well-intentioned students and hundreds of dedicated teachers and administrators show up at DISD schools regardless of who’s at 3700 Ross Avenue. It’s not realistic to expect that a huge and complex institution like the DISD will never be controversial, and sometimes the public process is unavoidably messy.
What we should be entitled to expect, though, is that a new superintendent will be hired who can work with the Board and run an efficient administration that will focus on the District’s primary mission: improving the education it provides to its students and, by extension, improving our community for all of us.
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