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In Dallas Home-Rule School Debate, Supporters And Opponents Agree On A Few Things

A day before the Dallas City Council dives into the “home-rule” debate over remaking the city’s school system, supporters  issued their first four concrete recommendations today. And a key opponent announced an organizing meeting, in part to show that the opposition is multiracial.

Those backing the home rule effort that could change the way Dallas schools are  run and governed have run into a firestorm of opposition at recent town hall meetings. Opponents of the effort feared teachers would lose jobs and voters their elected trustees. That won’t happen, says Jeronimo Valdez. He’s a board member of Support Our Public Schools, the group pushing the home rule idea.

“Our job was create the conversation,” he says, “not to drive possible solutions. As a social welfare organization, part of what we’re supposed to do is to listen to community concerns, try to figure out what folks in the community want to have happen, things that people don’t want to have happen.”

Among four recommendations Valdez says his organization wants - move May elections to November for better voter turnout, launch a plan for special board elections if trustees aren’t doing their jobs, and give the board and Dallas Superintendent Mike Miles more flexibility from state education rules.

“Guess what board, you guys now have soul autonomy from the state,” Valdez says. “You don’t have to ask for permission for things you know are good. Moreover, Mike Miles, who’s instituting all these reforms, if you guys can work together, all these great things that are happening could have happened when Mike Miles started these initiatives.”   

And the fourth recommendation Valdez’s group favors is one no can argue with – unity. Even former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt likes that one, and she’s on the other side. In fact, Ehrhardt, a former teacher and principal, likes all the latest ideas from home-rule backers.

“I would be in favor of a November election, that’s fine,” Ehrhardt says. “We don’t have to change the law to do that.”

Ehrhardt and home rule opponents will hold a press conference Thursday to show, in part, that opposition is multiracial, and not minority driven. She doubts home-rule proponents are a grass roots group or even understand education.

“It’s anything but grassroots,” Ehrhardt says. “They didn’t start in the schools in south Dallas and say 'Folks, let’s get together. Those of us who have children in our south Dallas schools and see what we need. And what we need is home rule.' That’s not how this happened.”

Eherhardt says home-rule leaders are both misguided and arrogant.

“This came from a small group, I suspect, of very wealthy people who are very successful," she said. "They think because they are successful in their area that they know everything about other areas, and they don’t.”

Ehrhardt and Valdez agree on some issues. But if the town hall meetings on home-rule were designed to find common ground, Ehrhardt says that hasn’t happened. The Dallas City Council gets briefed on the home-rule proposal Wednesday.

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