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Dallas Mayor Rawlings Apologizes For Confusing Rollout Of Home-Rule School Effort

Bill Zeeble
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, at UNT's Dallas Law School, apologizing for the confusing launch of the home rule school effort. He said more citizens are now involved in discussing the Dallas School system's future, which was one goal when this started

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings apologized Tuesday for the bumbling launch of the home-rule school proposal that could change the way Dallas schools are governed and run.  

Rawlings hopes to save the effort which critics have harshly attacked. He says it could free the Dallas school district of some state rules so that bad schools could improve faster. But with nothing on paper, opponents fear a district takeover, the elimination of an elected board, or both. The mayor said none of those drastic ideas are in the works.

“The rollout of the effort was misunderstood and poorly executed,” the mayor said at a morning press conference at the UNT Dallas Law School. “As my wife said, people don’t get it. And when people don’t get it, they fear it.”  

So Rawlings says more meetings with more citizens are planned, where ideas will be put on paper and discussed.

What is the home-rule proposal? It would be a new way to run the school district, allowing it to avoid certain state rules.

The Texas legislature approved home-rule charter districts 19 years ago. But no Texas district has ever passed it, perhaps because it takes a lot of signatures — 5 percent of registered voters — to get it on the ballot. After that, a quarter of registered voters must turn out when it’s on the ballot.

A petition drive is underway. About 25,000 signatures need to be collected. If it's successful, DISD trustees would appoint a 15-member charter commission that would create a governance plan over which trustees would have no power or control.

Rawlings said Tuesday that Dallas students are depending on better schools, because too few are graduating college or career-ready.

“Tens of thousands of families have moved out of Dallas to other cities, where they perceive there are better schools," Rawlings said. "There’s no question that 7-Eleven’s departure to the northern hinterlands is impacted by that, because so many of their employees live north. That’s a doom loop and death spiral for this city.”

The mayor was referring to the news that 7-Eleven may move its headquarters from the Dallas Arts District to north Irving.

Home-rule critic Rena Honea accepts the mayor’s apology. But the President of DISD’s largest teacher group says the mayor’s still pushing an idea that lacks substance or clarity.

“He’s not backing off,” Honea said. “He says he’s not a part of the group, but he’s the forerunner. He’s going to offer space for people to have meetings. He’s calling groups together. Who’s to say what they’re doing is exactly what Dallas needs? Who are the people he’s asked to do this?”  

Rawlings says there’s another community meeting scheduled next week at Salem Institutional Baptist Church, in south Dallas, and the City Council will get a briefing on the home-rule proposal April 16.

Rawlings hopes voters use these four points to guide their thinking about home rule and DISD’s future.

  1. What are the real performance numbers DISD?
  2. Can we improve governance and voter participation in board elections? How do we hold trustees accountable for academic achievement?
  3. Are there any tools the superintendent needs to improve schools that he can’t use now because of state mandates?
  4. How can DISD attract & retain best teachers?
Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.