DISD funding: Learning center cuts, less impact on TAGs and magnets

Staffing cuts to DISD’s learning centers, along with limited cuts to some of the district’s TAGs and magnet schools, were approved by DISD’s board of trustees Thursday on a 5-4 vote (trustees Adam Medrano, Lew Blackburn, Ron Price and Carla Ranger cast the "no" votes). After a lengthy discussion that continued for more than seven hours, the board made the decision about 1:30 a.m. Friday to conform to federal law and equalize funding for neighborhood schools and learning centers in order to continue receiving more than $100 million in federal Title 1 funds.

There was immediate confusion about the outcome, with trustee Carla Ranger insisting that it takes seven votes to change learning center funding due to policies adopted by the board following the district’s release from a court order. Meanwhile, DISD’s legal counsel said that the Texas attorney general ruled that the seven-vote requirement didn’t apply. Undoubtedly, there will be some additional legal discussion about that conclusion, but DISD’s attorney assured the board that their ruling would stand.

All of this followed a reorganization of the board earlier Thursday, when Adam Medrano was elected president (replacing Jack Lowe, who remains a trustee), Lew Blackburn was elected first vice president, and Carla Ranger was elected second vice president. I’ll have more about the impact of that move, along with additional discussion about what the vote means for DISD’s future, on Monday.

Meanwhile, more about Friday’s vote and board meeting after the jump:

 

Assuming the board’s vote stands, the learning centers are most affected by the move, primarily because they receive Title 1 funds given to schools with a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. TAGs and magnets will be less affected — their enrollment doesn’t have as many economically disadvantaged kids. Most of the staffing changes at these schools came because the board decided to equalize funding at some of these schools, deciding it was the fair thing to do (funding at the TAGs and magnets will still be 10 to 20 percent above the average for neighborhood schools, even after the cuts).

I didn’t attend Thursday’s school board meeting, but I did watch the final four hours of debate and the vote as it was streamed live online at DISD’s Web site. It you have any question about what happened and who said what, click here and check it out for yourself. Allen Gwinn at Dallas.org offers his thoughts. Background on the vote is here.

From what I saw, the discussion was mostly civil and mostly informed. There were some trustees (Carla Ranger and Lew Blackburn come to mind) who clearly were trying to find a legal way to disproportionately fund the learning centers, and their questioning of DISD administrators was civil but clearly designed to provoke some type of "gotcha" response from the administrators. But they were well within their rights to question the administrators as they did. When their desired response didn’t come — the administrators repeated the same thing over and over and over again, stating that there is no way to obtain a waiver for the inequitable funding — Rangers and Blackburn responded courteously.

Then there was grandstanding trustee Ron Price, who I’m sure was posturing for his upcoming city council runoff race against Carolyn Davis by launching an embarrassing tirade that was almost nonsensical at times. From personal observation of Price, along with his performance on this vote, I honestly can’t say where the guy can do the most damage — by continuing as a DISD trustee (at least through the upcoming November election) or by moving to the city council.

Trustee Edwin Flores, while a bit imperious in his delivery, demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the issues and made some legitimate points in his discussion. Flores pointed out that some learning centers — comparable in every sense in terms of student enrollment — have 20 to 50 additional full-time staff members more than the comparable neighborhood schools. And Flores said that the more highly staffed learning centers are performing at essentially the same level as the less-staffed schools in arguing for the staffing changes ultimately approved.

Trustee Leigh Ann Ellis also spoke authoritatively, criticizing the administration for poorly informing the board, a common refrain among some trustees, but also saying she recognized that it was time to make a decision and move on. She also called for greater oversight to make sure that students outside of Dallas not be allowed to enroll in DISD schools until city residents are taken care of first; administrators pointed out that they’re just adhering to state law, but Ellis pressed the point and asked for further study to make sure the loopholes, if there are any, are closed. Her amendment was added to the final vote and approved.


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