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Wed March 19, 2014
As Home-Rule School Effort Holds Meetings Tonight, Education Groups Are Cautious, Curious
Three different community meetings on the Dallas schools home-rule effort roll out tonight. If enough people sign petitions, the school district could be forced to change how it’s run and how it’s governed. But some who strongly back school reform efforts don’t yet back this one.
Attorney Mark Melton chairs the 3-year-old Educate Dallas political action committee, which has given thousands of dollars to reform-minded school board candidates, including trustee Mike Morath. Morath likes home rule, saying it would free DISD from some rules he says hurt the district, like not enough school days, especially in the summer.
The organization behind the home-rule move, which is called Support Our Public Schools, is led by Wilton Hollins, a board member of Educate Dallas. But Melton says that doesn’t mean his PAC supports this plan.
“We were not involved in formation of the organization,” Melton said. “Our input wasn’t requested. And so we’ve recently been looking at this just trying to evaluate what home rule is, what options that it provides or doesn’t provide, and whether it’s a good idea.”
Melton says it could be great or awful. But no one knows what a new charter would look like. One big worry is the potential elimination of elected school board members who could be replaced by appointed ones.
“The thought of some kind of significant change there obviously causes us a lot of concern,” Melton said. “And we would want to evaluate closely what that proposal would be to see if it’s in the best interest of the kids of DISD. Because ultimately that’s the constituency we all should be worried about.”
Another big concern is timing. Melton points out that the Dallas school district is a $1 billion operation, with 20,000 employees reaching more than 160,000 kids. Support Our Public Schools wants the required 5,000 signatures gathered by May or so, because a new charter must be written from scratch, approved by the state, and readied for the November ballot by mid-August.
“If I were going to run a business,” Melton says, “and largely we represent the business community, and we were going to overhaul an organization the size of DISD, I don’t think we would find too many examples of overhauls that would happen in this short of a time frame.”
Melton says people should be nervous about home rule without more information. He likes that improving Dallas schools may now be discussed citywide. But he warns that a rush towards what could be a bad decision might end up harming the kids everyone wants to help.