DISD update: OK, so now what are we going to do?

Now that the dust has settled a bit on the DISD teacher layoffs (and I say "a bit" rather tentatively because I know this sore spot will linger quite awhile), it’s time to figure out where we go from here.

Hinojosa says he won’t resign. The few school board members who want to get rid of him don’t have enough votes to make that happen. The Texas Education Agency isn’t going to ride to the rescue. Neither is Mayor Tom Leppert, the self-proclaimed education mayor whose only public comment that I’ve seen on this mess is along the lines of "they need to get this thing cleaned up" — thanks for really digging in and helping during DISD’s time of need, by the way.

So there’s no savior on the horizon. We have a lot of angry teachers and parents. The media isn’t going to let up on DISD, but they probably don’t have too many investigative rabbits left to pull out of that hat, either. So if ever the words "winter of our discontent" resonated, that’s what we’re looking at for the rest of this school year.
Jim Schutze with the Dallas Observer has written extensively on the topic. I don’t agree with the general direction he seems to be going — everything about DISD is screwed up forever — and sympathetically quoting former board chairs Lois Parrott and Kathlyn Gilliam (super-micro-managers both) in at least one Observer story just shows how messed up things are. But I do agree with what he ended one column with: "It’s up to us to seize our power as citizens and wield it like a mighty sword. Tell you what. If we even look like we might put our hands to that sword, you’re going to see a whole lot of heads ducking in this town."

He’s right about that — every single one of us who has been whining and cursing and crying about DISD is responsible for the mess, whether we want to admit it or not. Most of us haven’t been involved enough to justify how much we’ve complained. Most of us haven’t voted in DISD elections. We haven’t made DISD accountable to us. So everyone out there burning up the Letters to the Editor columns and the blog comments with stuff like "fire everyone" and "Hinojosa’s a criminal" and "everyone on the board is an idiot and needs to recalled" needs to quit looking backward and start coming up with some solutions.

Here are mine:

1) There’s a school board election in May, and everyone who has been bitching about the school board members needs to either run for a board position or find someone he or she believes will do a better job. What, you say? You don’t have time to do the job? You can’t afford to do the job, which pays nothing? You don’t have time to vote in a school board election? Well, if you have time to complain, you have time to vote. Get out there and make something happen, or let the people who take the time to become involved do their job.

2) Split the superintendent’s job into two pieces. Reduce Hinojosa’s pay by 20 percent, put him on a very short rope, and let him become DISD’s academic superintendent. Immediately hire someone from outside the district to handle the new financial superintendent’s job; don’t even ask Hinojosa for a recommendation. Next, don’t let the academic guy spend more than the financial guy can raise. Period. That way, there’s no chance for finger-pointing the next time something goes wrong in DISD, and whacking one of the two superintendents won’t immediately throw everything into disarray again, just as we’ve done eight times in the past 20 years.

3) I’m among those who have been saying for years the district needs to be broken into pieces. Even Steve Blow at the News is thinking the same thing. I know that’s a tough political pill to swallow, but we need to do it. Every large metropolitan school district in the country is broken, Broad Prize-winners or not. Any organization with a 250-page organizational chart is too big to manage. How do we do this?

4) After the May election, each school board member appoints a citizen to a committee given six months to come up with a workable plan to split the district up. Not decide if it’s a good idea. Not argue about whether one race or ethnicity likes the idea. Just sit down, draw up the best plan possible that can achieve a majority vote of the committee, and put it on a referendum for an up-or-down vote. Either we do this, or we don’t, but let’s quit talking about it and get on with it.

5) Failing that more bold and workable initiative, DISD’s two superintendents and the school board need to unofficially break the district up themselves. After a couple of years, the academic superintendent’s job goes away, while the financial superintendent remains responsible for funding the entire DISD and funneling money to the four or five sub-district academic superintendents, who will be completely responsible for everything that happens within their mini-district. Let us select the sub-district superintendents, using neighborhood parent and community committees. Public education works best when it’s local, and this is a plan that will get people involved in every district. And if people don’t get involved, they’ll wind up with the educational system they deserve.

6) One thing has to be clear from the start, though: All of the funding will be split equally based on the number of students in a sub-district. Period. No top-down-mandated special classes of students, no magnets, no learning academies — unless that’s what the people running each sub-district think is the best way to educate the students in their district. And if a student moves from one sub-district to another, the money moves with them. Each sub-district will have to become competitive to keep its students and its funding. If it doesn’t, the administrators running it won’t have the protection they currently enjoy hiding in the corners of DISD’s mammoth bureaucracy — they’ll just be exposed for the frauds they are, and they’ll be fired.

Does all of this sound messy to you? Does it seem impossible for students to get a good education out of this plan? Does it seem like politics will get in the way? Will all of this give the media a year’s worth of sensational coverage?

Well, we already have all of that going on right now, and it has been happening since at least 1980, when I first moved to town. Like Schutze, I’m sick of the whining and screwing around — all at the expense of our kids. Let’s quit complaining, get off our duffs and make something happen. If we really want things to change, this is what it’s going to take.


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