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Dallas City Council Gets An Educational Lesson On Home-Rule School Proposal

Dallas school administrators and board members met at Dallas City Hall Wednesday to discuss the home-rule proposal that could change the way the DISD is run and governed. Despite the mayor’s support of home-rule, City Council members want more information.

The decision to create a home-rule school district isn't up to school trustees or even council members. It’ll depend on supporters gathering at least 25,000 signatures from registered voters. That would force the formation of a commission to write a new charter.

Dallas superintendent Mike Miles sketched out his plans for DISD improvement and won praise from every single council member. One of them, Philip Kingston, aimed a question at school board president Eric Cowan.

“Given your view of where the district is headed in terms of the reform initiatives that it's undertaken, what initiatives have you been unable to accomplish under the present board structure as it’s composed today?" Kingston asked. "In other words, is the governance structure of DISD limiting its success?”

Cowan’s answer? No. Later, Miles said the same.  

Kingston said if the district’s reform efforts are working, why blow them up?  

But Vonciel Jones Hill, a council member, parent, and public school graduate, took a different view.

“I had one chance to educate my very bright child. One chance," she said. "When I had that one chance, I did not believe that one chance would be maximized in DISD. That’s the reality. I’m not the only parent who’s made that decision. I made it with difficulty, but I made it. There are lots of people like me.”

Those kinds of people, well-educated middle-class parents who want the best education for their kids, are the same folks Mayor Mike Rawlings talks of when he argues for home-rule. 

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.

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