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As Home Rule Group Launches Town Hall Meetings, Skeptics Sound Off

Backers of an effort to free Dallas schools from some state regulations took their home-rule charter campaign to three spots around town last night. Doubters in Pleasant Grove voiced their concerns, but so did some supporters.

Activist, businessman Jesse Diaz, from Pleasant Grove, extended the invitation to Support Our Public Schools on behalf of the Southeast Hispanic Chamber. He was hungry for information about the group’s home-rule plan that would change how Dallas schools are run. The group needs signatures to make that happen, but Diaz is undecided.

“In Pleasant Grove,”  he said, “the majority of our high schools and middle schools  are failing. I’m open for something new, but I haven’t been able to read anything to find out if it’s good or bad. I’m open-minded and we need a change in this area.”

Jeronimo Valdez, a board member of the home rule effort, told the crowd of about 50 that he graduated from DISD’s Spruce High School and wants education to improve for all the kids.

“How do we transform DISD into an asset for the city?” Valdez asked . “How do we make the district great so when folks have kids they want to have them in DISD much like they want them in Plano or McKinney or Frisco?”

Hilda Ramirez Duarte likes the plan and said it’s necessary.

“We’re in a state of urgency,” said Ramirez Duarte. “You have 14,000 students in 9th grade going to Dallas public schools as freshmen. They only graduate 4,500. Where are the other 11,500 kids? If you’re satisfied with these numbers, sit down, fold your hands and walk away, but I’m saying we’re in a state of urgency.”

But others at the meeting.  Including paralegal Yolanda Williams, were skeptical. She said members of Support Our Public Schools were using a name that’s deceptive.

“Because I’ll be honest,” Williams explained, “I thought when I said I support our public schools, I thought it meant I support DISD. So I just got educated. I’m not ready to give up on DISD yet because I’m a product of DISD.”

Valdez said DISD would not go away, or be privatized. But its governance would change. Board members for example, might be appointed in the future, not elected the way they are now. Skeptics outnumbered all last night.  Retired DISD staffer and LULAC member Rene Martinez asked why the rush?

“Tap the breaks, slow it down,” Martinez urged. “Get people involved. If you really want reform, get more of the folks in the community involved in this process.”

Afterwards, Dave Lee with Dallas’ largest teacher group, said too many questions about home rule remain unanswered. He says home-rule backers want to consider some curriculum changes. They’ve also talked of lengthening school days and the school year, which is allowable now without any changes. Lee wants specifics.

“As parent of two young kids,” Lee said, “I can assure you we don’t want longer days or a longer school year. We want a more effective use of the time our kids are already spend in school.” 

Jeronimo Valdez says Support Our Public Schools wants to answer questions in person and on its Facebook page, and it’ll hold more meetings to do that.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.