4 major ways home-rule charter could change DISD

220px-Woodrow_Wilson_High_SchoolIf you go to the polls tomorrow, you’re likely to be asked to sign a petition in favor of creating a home-rule charter school district in Dallas. If the group pushing for home-rule schools in Dallas, Support Our Public Schools, get 5 percent of the voters in Dallas to sign the petition, it can be put to a ballot referendum for voters to decide in November.

The push is being led in Dallas by Houston-based philanthropist and former Enron trader John Arnold, which, regardless of one’s view on home rule, raises a lot of questions, as this editorial points out.

Creating a home-rule charter frees school districts from following most state and federal mandates. The district must still refrain from discrimination, meet enrollment requirements and offer bilingual education. Students would still be required to take the STAAR test, and schools would have to follow rules regarding funding and extra curricular activities, for example.

What can a home-rule district do that our current district cannot? Here are four major things:

1. Replace the elected school board with another governing board, which could include appointees.

2. Require no minimum pay for teachers.

3. Create a longer school day and a longer school year.

4. Give the school board the power to create curriculum that is cheaper than what’s required under state law.

DISD trustee Mike Morath supports the proposal and helped found Support Our Public Schools. Board president Eric Cowan called a meeting between the group and the board today.

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  • Jada Wooten


  • Mark Melton

    I agree. Fortunately, no one is actuallly trying to do either of those things.

  • Teach for the kids

    I can’t imagine how increasing class size helps students???? Lower pay for teachers helps students? Why should one vote for this.

  • Los_Politico

    Thank you for replying.

    “as opposed to being constrained by the many state laws that have largely been passed at the request of special interest groups.”

    Can you name some examples?

    “Isn’t it worth a shot to at least review a proposal before we kill it?”

    No; not in Dallas. I voted for the Trinity project like 15 years ago because it was all picture of flowers and kayaks. Now I’m bitter and assume money rules the day in Dallas. If you want the support of skeptics like me I need to see some details– otherwise I assume it’s all about race and/or money.

  • Mark Melton

    That’s a fair point about wanting information on the goals of those pushing this idea. And I expect we’ll see those goals outlined shortly, as those folks are currently giving interviews to the media and will soon have a website up.

    Splitting up the district isn’t a palatable idea for lots of reasons. And none of those reasons change by instituting home rule. So, I would disagree with your conclusion that the “real agenda” is related to splitting up the district. I can also say with certainty that the folks pushing this are not the same folks that pushed for WRISD. Splitting up the district isn’t even on their radar.

    Further, I don’t expect this commission will propose an unelected board (although the commission hasn’t even been appointed so its difficult to say what they’ll propose at this point). The true benefit of home rule is that it allows the district to operate with more freedom, as opposed to being constrained by the many state laws that have largely been passed at the request of special interest groups. The commission could very well keep the current system of elected trustees just as it is now. But by moving to home rule, that board of trustees would have the ability to do more things to improve our educational outcomes.

    Like you, I look forward to getting more detail on what this will look like. But let’s assume the commission comes up with a horrible plan. The voters could simply vote no at that point and keep the current system. Isn’t it worth a shot to at least review a proposal before we kill it?

  • Mark Melton

    The commission is merely coming up with a proposal. It must be approved by a vote of the people (which must include at least 25% of all registered voters). Note that only about 2% of voters actually vote in school board elections. That is not taxation without representation…nor is it a determination of school governance without a voice from the people. This is direct voter approval we’re talking about here. Nothing is more democratic than that.

  • Los_Politico

    You just used a lot of words to tell me what this proposal is not, but none telling me what it is.

    What does Morath, et al want to change?

    Should I speculate?

    I think that the WRISD group did their research and found out that their plan wasn’t viable. The Woodrow zone alone is too small and our neighborhoods are too poor for expansion to be desirable. So no HP East for us. However, if we can make DISD a charter district first then the rules for chopping up the pieces change and we can form just the desirable parts of East Dallas into a district (and North Dallas could do the same).

    The absence of a policy wish list leaves me thinking this is the real agenda. Of course my wild speculation could be shot down with a simple one pager of bullet points of how a charter is a good idea.

  • East Dallas girl

    Whatever happened to no taxation without representation? The trustees are elected. The commission would not be elected. They would be appointed.

  • Mark Melton

    Let me clarify a few points here. Morath’s interest in this project stems from his desire to help all children throughout Dallas. Our city, and our school district’s overall reputation, is not impacted only by D2 schools. If the district as a whole can be improved, that benefits D2 residents as much as anyone.

    Second point, this effort is NOT being led by a Houston based hedge fund manager. That’s a misnomer. While it’s true that he is providing funding for the project, this effort was iniated by, and is being led by, Dallas based education reformers.

    Third point. No one in DISD is proposing lower pay for DISD teachers. In fact, almost universally, everyone is trying to find ways to pay them more. Dropping teacher wages would lead to a mass exodus of teachers. Literally no one is dumb enough to think that’s a good idea.

    Fourth point. No one is proposing to provide a cheaper curriculum. I’m not even sure where that came from. The idea here is be able to provide our board of trustees and the administration more flexibilty, not less.

    Fifth point. Longer school days and years would benefit most DISD students. But the commission could draft the charter to allow for flexibility to extend days/years where its needed and not in other places. The whole idea here is to get parents, education experts and other stakeholders in a room to figure out what works best for DISD. Their entire argument is that the “one size fits all” system mandated by the state doesn’t work here. There’s no reason to believe the commission would insist on a “one size fits all” system for all parts of the city.

    There will be a series of town halls coming up soon with plenty of opportunity for community input. This is an opportunity for the citizens of Dallas to design a better system that works for us. If the commission doesn’t come up with a great idea, the voters can simply vote no when it comes to a vote in November. The Petition merely begins the conversation on what we might do to improve DISD. No harm in that, is there?

    For the record, I’m a Woodrow parent and Distict 2 resident.

  • Los_Politico

    Jay, I meant “qualify” for free lunch. Thanks for the catch.

  • Woodrow Wildcat

    Woodrow has about the same percentage of economically disadvantaged students as the average Texas high school, just over 50%. It’s difficult to compare because there are different strata of poor and Woodrow has them all. There has been an influx of more affluent students at Long and Woodrow since they became IB World Schools. Some are coming from private schools and others are transferring in from other areas for IB or one of the other college prep academies (the school has been completely redesigned and this is the final year of the four-year roll-out of this). Enrollment at Long and Woodrow is up at each school by more than 200, despite a change to the attendance zone (switching O.M. Roberts to the under-capacity Madison HS feeder pattern).
    These students and many of the others already put in long days with early “zero period” and after school classes plus Saturday tutoring, SAT prep etc. There is also a cornucopia of extracurricular activities (the reason many choose Woodrow over TAG or SEM or privates). Many of the less affluent and poor students also participate in these. I can see a longer day helping some but not all of them.

  • Jay Cutcher

    Don’t necessarily disagree with you, but your facts are wrong. 100% of DISD students are on free lunch program and have been for a year.

  • Los_Politico

    Longer days/more days is the rage currently. And moreinstruction time does seem to benefit poor students.

    But it does not seem to help middle class and upper middle class students who have parents that can supplement their education with extracurricular activities more tailored to their individual interests. The Hockaday and HP schedules are remarkably similar to ours.

    While most of the district students are poor, most Woodrow zoned students are not (only 40% of kindergartners in our 5 feeder schools are on free and reduced lunch, a significant number of those are concentrated at Mt Auburn).

    So while it may be a good idea in other areas, why is it coming out of the mouth of our Morath? Or, will the charter be sufficiently flexible so that what applies to Dunbar does not apply to Stonewall? I am really frustrated by the lack of specific goals coming from the people who want me to sign the petition.

  • stuart

    You had me at Houston…

  • dallasmay

    Let’s say, hypothetically, that a group of people from out of town, say Houston, came into the city wanting to completely overhaul every aspect of Dallas’s public schools. And let’s say their leader made his billions by being a hedge fund manager for ENRON, selling out just before the collapse. And, just to make things interesting, let’s also say that his foundation has the explicit goal of dismantling the state’s public pension systems. And let’s say that all the rest of the people in this group are keeping anonymous.

    At what point do you start questioning whether or not this group really has our communities’ and or children’s best interest in mind?