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Both Sides In Controversial Home-Rule School Proposal Promise Passionate Talk Tonight

Bill Zeeble
Former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale, with other opponents of the home-rule charter issue behind her, gathered at a recent demonstration at the Dallas ISD administration building. Supporters and opponents will gather Monday in South Dallas.

Opponents and supporters are rallying their troops for a meeting Monday night about the home-rule effort to remake the Dallas school system. The showdown is planned to take place at a South Dallas church.

Rev. Todd Atkins, pastor of Salem Institutional Baptist Church, teamed with Ronald Jones of New Hope Baptist Church to put on the meeting. 

“We’re going to have a conversation about education in Dallas,” Atkins said, “and put everything on the table and allow the community to speak their minds, get their questions answered and allow those on both sides of the issue to  come and present all the information to us.”

Atkins says his members have a keen interest in better schools, because black students often perform poorly on tests compared to other groups in the district. Advocates say the home-rule effort is crucial to changing and improving school; opponents see it as an effort to take control of the district, its finances, and the elected school board. Both sides are promising to attend. Atkins says he and Jones are committed to keeping things orderly.

“This is going to be an example to our children: How do you solve hot-button issues?" Atkins said. "We’re going to come together and discuss in a passionate way – because anytime you’re passionate there’s going to be a lot of emotion there ... but we’re going to make sure this is a discussion about education, not a personal attack on anyone in the building.”

Last week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings apologized for the bumbling launchof 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 home-rule proposal 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.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at Salem Institutional Baptist Church, 3918 Crozier St., Dallas.

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