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Why Home Rule, The Controversial Effort To Transform Dallas ISD, Fizzled

Dallas Independent School District

The Dallas school district’s home-rule commission voted Tuesday against writing a new charter for the district. That ended a nearly year-long process aimed at transforming how the district is run. Bob Weiss is the chairman of the home-rule commission, and he spoke with KERA’s Jeff Whittington about the reasons behind that decision.


Interview Highlights: Bob Weiss…

… On problems with the 1995 home-rule legislation:

“In reviewing the legislation, there were several problems that I came to believe made it inherently weak and problematic to implement. No. 1 was confusion over how to be in a charter if it was to be drafted, and No. 2, what we could opt out of or what we could put in, so there was a lack of clarity.

"There were very significant voting thresholds -- 25 percent had to approve it, [that number] seemed arbitrary, [I] did not know where that came from. You had multiple opportunities to pass it – if it didn’t pass once, it could be brought back – and it seemed to me more of a sales device than a straight up-and-down democratic vote."

… On realities that faced the home-rule commission:

“… The way I’ve described this [is like Star Trek]. If you could think of the home rule charter as a new starship in a fleet called Home Rule Charter, we get on it to find out that it didn’t have a navigation system. We get on it to find out it didn’t have a navigation system. I wasn’t even sure of the propulsion system, and I came to realize that most of the crew weren’t sure why they even wanted to be on this ship. Off we went, and I was Captain Bob Kirk with the imperative to find new universes but do no harm. That was quite a task and I said, ‘well, we’ll just do this as we go along.’ People have to remember this has never been done before in Texas.”

… On the changes he thinks DISD could make:

“I think we need to find pieces of the district that work and then define those that don’t. Under state accountability rules, the district last fall had 43 schools designated IR, and that basically means improvement required. If we concentrated all our communities’ efforts without ignoring the kids who are doing well and the kids who can do better but aren’t failing, and the teachers who are doing well, then we can move this district forward.”

… On whether reform could be made outside of the home rule framework:

“We have not used the rules currently on the books before we went on this path. In the last legislative session, there was a bill passed called SB2. Under SB2, the community can form schools, bring them to the Board of Trustees; charter schools can go to the school board and ask to form a new school or take over one of these 43 [Improvement Required schools]. Teachers and principals could also form a school. I think we have some fundamental disagreement on how to help children. If it’s not for the kids, then what’s the point of it?”

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.