Tempers flared red hot at last night’s Dallas school board meeting, where the board president even ordered a speaker removed. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports that despite pleas from parents and students to keep their schools opened, trustees voted to shut eleven campuses down.
This showdown had been simmering for weeks. Eleven under-populated and mostly highly-rated Dallas schools were slated for closure. The District says consolidation can save it $11.5 million, and it has little choice after severe state funding cuts.
Before the meeting even began, hundreds of protestors from City Park elementary and other schools, rally outside and carry banners. Inside the jam packed auditorium, dozens of speakers passionately plead their case, none more directly than activist Joyce Foreman.
Foreman: Wake up, people. Find a better mouse trap. You can find money somewhere else. Are you asleep or sick or what? I don’t care who doesn’t like what I say. I want you to understand. We do not want any of these schools closed.
Foreman later chants "no justice, no peace." When she sees some trustee seats empty, she waits. Then Board President Lew Blackburn returns.
Blackburn: Security. I would like you to escort Miss Foreman out of this meeting now. We will not have disorder in this meeting.
Crowd: No justice, no peace!
Amid the mayhem, DISD security remove Foreman while trustees retreat to their empty board room. The meeting continues with most of the audience now shut out, but they’re able to watch by closed circuit TV. Speaker Laura Chavez argues to keep Bonham Elementary open, Javier Gonzalez speaks for Roberts Elementary.
Chavez: On a rare occasion you find school staff members devoted to making every day differences. This school goes beyond that occasion.
Javier Gonzalez: When I graduated O.M. Roberts I went straight to Long Middle School, having hopes of having such a caring family as in my previous school. But to my surprise it was nothing like it. The feeling of connection wasn’t present in that school. If you break that bond, DISD Board members, not only would a school be gone, but a family torn apart by the destruction.
The pleas fail to persuade. Board member Mike Morath’s comments are similar to those of most other trustees. Keep the eleven schools open at a cost of millions. Close them, move the students to newer schools with better resources, and save some teacher jobs.
Morath: These buildings, the electricity we spend on them, the administrators that are in them, the maintenance costs that are there, do we believe that that is more important to the future of our education than the 171 teachers that we will have to get rid of? The answer for me ultimately is that it’s not about the building it’s about the teachers in the building.
The vote to close the schools, to consolidate, is six to two. Only Adam Medrano and Lew Blackburn reject consolidation. Carla Ranger doesn’t vote. No campus is spared, not the Exemplary or Recognized schools, not the Blue Ribbon winner, Bonham Elementary. Teachers from all these campuses will now go into a pool, hoping some principal will pick them next year. Pre-K teacher Rogelio Garcia is among them.
Garcia: I have to start looking for a job now. I just got fired. I’ve been put into a general pool which means if I have to apply to another school. I’ve just been terminated. 50-50 chance I’ll be in DISD.
That’s if they want to hire him, says Garcia. Two years ago, he won a national teaching award – considered the Oscars of teaching - for outstanding work at his long-time DISD school. Now, he says he does not want to teach in the Dallas system anymore. He concludes, “I have to look out for the best interests of my child.”