We’re probably in for a little more excitement at DISD after Tuesday’s runoff election, as voters elected Bruce Parrott and Bernadette Nutall to the board. Both Parrott and Nutall were considered "outsiders" by former board president Jack Lowe, who financially supported their opponents (Leigh Ann Ellis and Sally Cain) in the election. (Lowe also supported one of Ellis’ opponents in the November election, hurting Ellis’ chances and helping force the runoff with Parrott).
It will be interesting to see what impact this failed attempt at election micromanagement has on Ross Avenue, where Supt. Michael Hinojosa is losing the generally supportive votes of Ellis and longtime trustee Ron Price, who chose not to run. Given the inevitable and ongoing turmoil at DISD, this could be the beginning of the end for Hinojosa depending on how things play out over the next six to 12 months.
Ellis argued, unsuccessfully it turned out, that DISD was making progress where it counted — in the classroom — but it’s likely that voters in her district punished Ellis for her vote to delay the originally scheduled May 2009 election to May 2010. Trustees described the delay as an attempt to save money for cash-strapped DISD, as well as provide continuity on the board during a time of financial crisis at DISD, but in the end, it was the final straw for voters disgusted by what they saw as arrogant management by the board.
By just about any measure, DISD is doing better today in terms of student academics and overall management; in normal times, that would have been enough to guarantee Hinojosa and the trustees a ticker-tape parade downtown. But last fall’s financial crisis, prompting charges that the board didn’t properly oversee the administration, along with the general malaise that people are feeling these days due to the economy simply overshadowed DISD’s accomplishments and started the bickering and finger-pointing that are likely to lead to Hinojosa’s eventual dismissal.
Trustees Carla Ranger and Lew Blackburn have made no secret of their disdain for Hinojosa, and it’s reasonable to think that Parrott and Nutall — after they settle in — will be inclined to join Ranger and Blackburn in pulling the rug out from under Hinojosa since they both campaigned for "change". That means it would only take one more vote to reach a majority of trustees favoring Hinojosa’s dismissal, and current board president Adam Medrano seems like a reasonable guy who could go either way on the superintendent’s future.
My prediction: Sooner or later during the next 12 months, Hinojosa will do something to cause Medrano to become the fifth trustee favoring Hinojosa’s removal.
It’s ironic and at the same time amusing that also on Tuesday, the Dallas Citizens Council announced that one of its big priorities for the year ahead is supporting and improving DISD. As we all know, the Citizens Council has the money and the influence to make things happen (see the Trinity Toll Road and the Convention Center Hotel), but they’re a little late to the game this time. With the new mix of trustees, at least five of whom aren’t beholding to the Citizens Council in any way, I suspect the board eventually will resemble more of a runaway train than a little engine that could.
Too bad the Citizens Council chose not to stand up and be counted last fall, when the DISD funding crisis left Hinojosa and the board crippled and twisting in the wind, and no one of any influence in town — including self-proclaimed education Mayor Tom Leppert — aligned themselves with Hinojosa. Instead of supporting the people running DISD when they needed support, Leppert tried an end-around and launched a stealth campaign to take over DISD.
All that little bit of misguided leadership did was undercut Hinojosa and DISD’s board, just like Lowe’s support of Ellis helped tube her re-election run and probably didn’t do much to help Cain, either.
We just can’t seem to win for losing when it comes to public education in this town.