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Dallas Home-Rule School Backers Face Hurdles After Submitting More Than Enough Signatures

Backers of the effort to remake the Dallas school system on Thursday turned in more than enough signatures to force the school board to act on the home-rule effort. Here’s a look at the hurdles ahead.

Whether you’re for or against the home-rule push to change how the Dallas school system operates, no one claims surprise by the 48,000 signatures turned in. Support Our Public Schools  is the organization that had volunteers and paid collectors gather those signatures. Jeronimo Valdez sits on the group’s board, and says it means that’s how many people want change in DISD.

“This is as close to a mandate as you can get in DISD voter participation,” Valdez says.

Harryette Ehrhardt doesn’t buy it.

“I think if you had enough money you could get petitions to pave the moon if you paid people enough to get those petitions," she says.

Ehrhardt’s a former educator and state representative who opposes the home-rule effort. She believes many signatures came from people who didn’t know what they were signing.

“Do you support our public schools? ‘Of course I do.’ ‘Well, sign this petition,'" Ehrhardt says. "And I think we ought to be able to request copies of the petitions, and ought to be able then to check with some of the people who signed them and see how far down do we need to go before we find someone who says I hadn’t a clue this is what it meant.”

Valdez says Ehrhardt is among just a handful of vocal opponents that number under 100.

“My position is that the number of people who want to see change far outnumber the very few people who want to protect the status quo," Valdez says. 

State law gives the district five days to verify the signatures. Then DISD board members have 30 days to choose 11 of 15 commission members who will write the new charter.

A DISD advisory committee of teachers picks the other four members. Rena Honea, president of the Alliance AFT, Dallas’ largest teacher organization, is a member of that advisory committee, as are teachers, administrators, parents and community members.

"But that particular topic hasn’t come up at the meetings yet," she said.

Honea, who opposes home-rule, says that means her group has work to do. The few trustees KERA reached say the same. The 15-member commission must reflect DISD demographics. Home-rule supporters want the new charter written and approved by the Texas Education Commissioner by mid-August so it gets on the November ballot.

Dallas school board President Eric Cowan won’t say the deadline’s impossible, but says it's going to be tough.

Jeronimo Valdez says the U.S. Constitution was drafted in under four months, so he’s optimistic.

The school board meets Monday to discuss what it’ll do next. 

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