A group of parents who live around White Rock Lake in East Dallas wants to split from the Dallas Independent School District. That’s right, the group wants to secede and create a new school district it’s calling White Rock ISD. But the hurdles are high.
Dallas parent Chris Crawford can’t imagine his 8-year-old son, Jack, going anywhere else but Hexter Elementary. The school is east of White Rock Lake, has an active PTA and a coveted Blue Ribbon – that’s a designation given to high-performing schools. But he’s not so jazzed about what happens when Jack finishes fifth grade and faces middle or high school in DISD.
“It seems like the majority of parents who leave Hexter either cross their fingers and hope for their children to be in a TAG program to get a free education or they end up moving to a suburb, or they end up paying for a private school,” Crawford said.
He adds that talented and gifted programs are tough to get into and private school drains parents’ pockets.
“You have to start paying the college education tuition at the sixth grade, which is just brutal. It’s brutal,” he said.
At St. Thomas Aquinas, it costs $9,000 a year to attend school if you aren’t a parishioner. That’s why a public school district just for the White Rock area has a lot of appeal.
Former State Rep. Allen Vaught created a Facebook page in support of this idea. The page has more than 2,500 likes so far. He says the group hasn’t drawn boundaries yet, but he wants it to be inclusive.
“Our goal is not to just pick the cream of the cream and say the heck with everybody else,” Vaught said. “Our goal is to have a diverse school district that represents East Dallas, which by the way would be 20 percent Anglo.”
He said the Dallas public school system is too big and that parents are tired of how the district is managed.
“You know, it’s going to have many of the same educational challenges DISD has,” Vaught said. “We’re just saying we think we can do it better at a local level that has more focus on the needs of the local community.”
Creating a new school district from a larger district almost never happens. Under state law, the new district has to be at least nine square miles and have at least 8,000 students. School board trustees could pass a resolution, but that’s unlikely. Supporters could also submit to county commissioners a petition signed by at least 10 percent of registered voters in the area that wants out.
At least 25 percent of registered voters in the existing district and in the one proposed would have to show up to the polls. Then, a majority of voters in the current district and the new one would have to support the measure. And that is a long shot.
“It doesn’t happen too often,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, a spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency in Austin. “It tends to go more the other direction where a district consolidates with another one.”
Even school consolidations are not that common. Ratcliffe said usually, it’s the smaller districts that merge. Sometimes the state intervenes. Like in 2011, when it ordered the North Forest Independent School District to fold into Houston ISD the following year after decades of academic and money woes.This past summer, North Forest lost its final appeal to remain open. In 2006, Dallas absorbed the Wilmer-Hutchins school district for similar reasons.
Ratcliffe said a new district has to consider the price tag.
“You are duplicating some costs because now you’ve gone from one superintendent to two, two central offices,” she said. “Not to judge whether that’s better or worse, it’s just that that’s a financial reality.”
Jon Dahlander, a spokesman for DISD, said this isn’t the first time an idea of a split has come up. He hopes talk of a new district can encourage parents to become more active in their child’s school.
“I’m glad that people are talking about public education. I’m glad that they’re discussing options,” he said. “Hopefully it spurs them to get involved and to improve their local schools.”
Parent Melissa Martinez has 7-year-old twins who attend Hexter and an older daughter at a magnet school. When she heard there was a group that wanted to pull out of DISD, she had a feeling it might be her community. She liked the Facebook page to keep up with the group.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Martinez said. “We can only look at ourselves and our schools and see how we can grow.”
Next steps for the White Rock ISD group include creating a steering committee and planning a public meeting. Even though, many say the road ahead is steep.