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Dallas Home-Rule Charter Won't Be On Fall Ballot

Bill Zeeble
The 15-member home-rule commission plans to schedule community meetings over the course of two months, but hasn't set any dates yet. The charter they'll write needed to be ready by mid-August to make the fall election. That can't possibly happen.

There will be no new Dallas home-rule school charter on November’s ballot. That outcome became clear soon after the home-rule commission met Monday night for only the second time.

The organization that pushed the effort to change the way Dallas schools could be run and governed - Support Our Public Schools – wanted the election this November. That’s because for a new charter to pass, voters would not only have to OK it, but state law says turnout would need to be at least 25 percent. That kind of turnout could happen this fall because it’s a big election.

But early on in Monday night’s meeting, commission members, like Jeff Veazey, discussed schedules well past the mid-August deadline required for a November vote.

“I just wanted to propose September and October to be the fact-finding community meeting months, and however many meetings we want to set up from there we can go from there," Veazey said.

Other commission members discussed holding community meetings over three months or more. Many, including former DISD administrator Shirley Ison-Newsome, said it will take time to get the process done right.

“You have to hear from the whole public,” Ison-Newsome said. “This is a public institution. This institution belongs to the public so you have to hear from the public.”

Commission member and teacher Ron Oliver says there’s no way members could dash out a new charter by the middle of this month.  

“I don’t see how we could possibly see all the districts in the community by then,” Oliver said. “I think it’ll take at least two or three months just to go out and talk to everyone. I think it would be reckless to try to put something together in a few weeks or a month.”

Commission member Lew Blackburn Jr. said there’s really only one way for a charter to ready by the fall election.

“Now if we just want to rubber stamp something,” Blackburn explained, “and to say that the 15 commissioners were selected just to push this through and not to do anything, then that would make sense. But that’s not why we’re here.”

Commission member Edwin Flores, perhaps the only member who wants a home-rule charter on the fall ballot, was disappointed. He said with kids’ education at stake, the commission can’t wait to improve schools. But he respects his colleagues and the process.

“It appears there’s broad consensus among the commission members,” Flores said, “that there’s a schedule that ends March, April, May. Is that what I would have preferred?  No, but it’s a group of 15. It’s a committee.”

Flores said commissioners need to deliberate before agreeing on a new charter, so that it gains public support. Trustee Mike Morath, who appointed Flores and backs the home-rule effort, isn’t surprised the item won’t be ready for November, but expects some voters will be upset.

“You have a large number of people in Dallas that want to see change," Morath said. "They want to see the kind of governance reform that can be enacted with home-rule. I’m sure those folks will be disappointed. Whether they express themselves at a May election to their elected officials is going to another question entirely.”

Credit Bill Zeeble / KERA News
DISD trustee Mike Morath helped introduce the home-rule charter idea to members of Support Our Public Schools. He may be the only trustee who backs home-rule.

The home-rule commission still needs to finalize its own meeting schedule, plan community gatherings around Dallas, and also approve a budget. Its next meeting is in two weeks, one day after the date home-rule supporters wanted a new charter written. 

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