Angela Hunt: What would DISD home rule mean for a possible White Rock ISD?

13.11.26-Angela-Hunt-Headshot-DFulgencio-0024-2Several months ago, former State Rep. Allen Vaught floated the idea of public schools in East Dallas seceding from the Dallas Independent School District. Color me intrigued. East Dallas has a disproportionate share of top-flight public schools. Kids are engaged, parents are actively involved, rigorous class courses are offered, and the principals and teachers are outstanding. So I was looking forward to a discussion about breaking apart from the behemoth that is DISD and creating our own little education utopia here in East Dallas. (I was also excited about the possibility of having a “Secede!” bumper sticker on my car. Finally.)

According to Morath, East Dallas can’t actually secede from DISD. The secession process is not only extremely difficult, but DISD’s bond covenants could be endangered, resulting in legal roadblocks.

But the conversation surrounding the idea seemed to die down, and I haven’t heard much since.

Then, last month, a new group popped up — seemingly out of nowhere — to propose its own bold vision for DISD: Support Our Public Schools wants to hold an election to make DISD a “home rule” school district, which would allow the district to seek exemptions from a variety of state mandates and adopt a new governance structure. For the idea to get off the ground, SOPS has to collect roughly 25,000 signatures from registered voters. If successful, the DISD Board of Trustees would be required to name a 15-member commission responsible for drafting a “charter” or constitution for the school district, which would then be presented to voters.

Right now, DISD is governed by nine locally elected trustees. Among other things, the new charter could do away with trustees altogether, call for some or all of them to be appointed (by the mayor? By the city council?), or something else entirely.

With such dramatic changes being proposed for the school district, my first thought was, how will this affect the children of DISD and their educational opportunities? My second thought was, what would this mean for a White Rock ISD?

I posed this question to DISD Trustee Mike Morath in early March.  Morath is an avid supporter of the “home rule” idea. To say he is well versed on the subject of public education is an understatement, and his passion for creating a child-centered education system in Dallas is inspiring.

According to Morath, East Dallas can’t actually secede from DISD. The secession process is not only extremely difficult, but DISD’s bond covenants could be endangered, resulting in legal roadblocks. Future property tax revenue already has been committed to secure the district’s debt, so a huge swath of East Dallas homes and businesses couldn’t be lopped off without losing a big chunk of the already-pledged revenue. Likewise, because a White Rock ISD would be whiter than the district’s overall demographics, re-segregation issues could cause additional legal hurdles. So, a White Rock ISD isn’t likely to happen.

But there are other options. DISD home rule could give East Dallas schools greater autonomy without their wholly seceding from the larger district. A governance change could allow for the creation of semi-autonomous local school boards within the larger DISD. Says Morath: “Beyond the overall board for the district, we could develop a system that created boards governing individual campuses or whole feeder patterns. Subject to achieving certain outcomes for students, and while being funded equitably from the district, these boards could operate their campuses with high levels of autonomy from the overall district, potentially increasing neighborhood cohesion and raising student outcomes, which could accommodate the needs of those promoting White Rock ISD while keeping the tax base together.”

So East Dallas could get more local control while still enjoying the benefits of being part of DISD (namely, the opportunity to send our kids to nationally ranked magnet schools and talented and gifted programs).

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I’m not saying I’m sold on the home rule idea. I’ve got reservations. The devil is in the details, along with the governance structure that is ultimately proposed. But with the dismal outcomes at DISD and the potential upside to East Dallas, it’s a conversation worth having.

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  • dallasmay

    ” (I was also excited about the possibility of having a “Secede!” bumper sticker on my car. Finally.) f”


  • bbetzen

    DISD was improving monumentally from 2006 to 2012 going from a Cumulative Promotion Index (CPI) of 40% to one of 66%! The CPI is the most timely and predictive of all the graduation rate measurements. These numbers showed that our graduation rate numbers would be going up, and they did! In 2013 DISD had the largest graduation class with the highest graduation rate in 31 years, possibly in 32 years if the numbers just published in March on the TEA web site are correct. An open records request to verify that 7,691 number for the number of DISD graduates in 2013 has been sent to DISD. Whatever, the news is good for the Class of 2013.

    Sadly, for the Class of 2014 the news is very bad. The official enrollment count November 1, 2013 showed a drop of 533 students from the Class of 2013. That is the largest drop in 29 years! It also mirrors the monumental 33% drop in 12th grade enrollment in the Colorado Harrison School District Two that Mike Miles supervised before coming to DISD. That 33% drop happened over the last 4 years Mr. Miles was in Colorado. Now it is happening in Dallas. Is this how he was able to achieve higher ACT scores? Did he push out lower scoring upper classmen before they took the ACT?

    Most of the students who left Harrison transferred to District 11 to the north of Harrison in Colorado Springs. Sadly the District 11 average ACT scores went down. What was happening?

  • gpulte

    Home rule is a giveaway of OUR schools. It is a land grab and a power grab that will turn decades of community investment of our schools over to a for-profit manager who has no ties to our community or concern for our community. it is the handing over of the keys to our property and our schools to whom? Some wealthy investors who won’t reveal themselves? White Rock area schools and other schools in Dallas are great because parents are actively involved, and remember: THESE ARE DISD Schools! We are not about to turn our back on OUR schools or our kids so wealthy investors can assume a new revenue stream at taxpayer expense.

  • gpulte
  • bbetzen

    The so-called “home-rule” is a proposal and petition with funding that mostly came from people and money from outside Dallas. They are not living in Dallas nor sending their children to DISD schools. This is our community and our schools and Dallas should be making these decisions out in the open. How often have SOPS leaders or funders spoken before the DISD Board. Have they tried to use the methods open to the public that can be used to change DISD?

  • Angela Hunt

    Some additional thoughts on the subject:

  • Pingback: Why SOPS Is Losing Me – Angela Hunt()

  • HillsideNeighbor

    Per the article, “the DISD Board of Trustees names a 15-member commission responsible for drafting a charter/constitution.” If approved, it then gets presented to voters for their approval.

    As I understand it, the 9 currently elected Trustees name a 15-member commission which then drafts the rules governing future Boards of Trustees.

  • lakewoodhobo

    Until SOPS figures out who exactly would appoint the nine trustees, we can’t move forward with this. I don’t know anyone who would support this without that information, but it’s true that DISD needs to change drastically or Dallas will continue to lose families to the suburbs.