Embattled Dallas County Schools Superintendant To Retire

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The board of Dallas County Schools met today in a special called meeting. Among the agenda items were strong hints Superintendent Rick Sorrells will no longer be with the agency.
The board of Dallas County Schools met today in a special called meeting. Among the agenda items were strong hints Superintendent Rick Sorrells will not be with the agency. (Photo courtesy Dallas County Schools)

Embattled school transportation provider Dallas County Schools may have been able to continue its relationship with Dallas Independent School District, but as early as this morning it seemed its superintendent could be the most recent casualty of a recent spate of very bad news.

DCS, which provides busing for Dallas, Carrollton/Farmers Branch, Highland Park, Irving, Aledo, Cedar Hill, Coppell, DeSoto, Lancaster, Richardson, Weatherford and White Settlement school districts, called a special meeting today.

The agenda included two ominous items –  “Consider Appointing an Interim Superintendent” and “Consider Defining Requirements and Authorizing Search for a Permanent Superintendent.”

Ultimately, however, the committee in charge of making recommendations regarding Sorrells recommended the full board approve a “retirement agreement” that would ease Sorrells out of the job. Since the board voted to approve that recommendation, there will be no need for an interim superintendent.

Dallas ISD recently approved 17-month, $50 million contract for busing, which will extend the two entities partnership to July 31, 2018. According to Dallas ISD’s chief operations officer, Scott Layne, the district wasn’t left with enough time to feasibly explore other options.

“It’s too late in the year to look at another provider, but we do have some concerns with Dallas County [Schools] based on their performance this past year,” Layne said in an interview with NBC5.

But that contract wasn’t the usual one. The district opted to go year-by-year for now, and has also included language that requires DCS to have a 95 percent on-time rate each month, with the option of a $30 late bus penalty every time a driver doesn’t show up on time. Dallas ISD is also asking for DCS to use its GPS system to track on-time rates, and to provide access to that system to the district.

Dallas County Schools, despite the name (which has led more than one person to confuse DCS with Dallas ISD), does not actually operate any schools.  It employees about 3,000 people in jobs that include bus drivers and crossing guards. It is responsible for a $180 million budget, but as of late has been in dire straits. Trustees recently learned that DCS is projecting a $40 million deficit for the fiscal year. In addition, recent stories regarding the entity’s payment of traffic fines for drivers who committed moving violations did not sit well with many.

Three state legislators are gunning for the complete dissolution of DCS. A fourth, Texas Sen. Royce West, called for the resignation of Superintendent Rick Sorrells, who has helmed DCS for 13 years.

“All of this happened under his [Sorrells’] watch,” West said. “You need to have a change in leadership because … there’s not any confidence at this point in time.”

Sorrells and West were due to meet to discuss his leadership, but NBC5 reported earlier today that the meeting was canceled.

“This is on the agenda for Wednesday and is a discussion between the board and me,” Sorrells told NBC5 in a statement. “It is not something I can talk about before then but we are focused on putting the safety of our students first and moving this agency forward.”

Texas Sen. Don Huffines and Sen. Bob Hall filed a bill last week that would completely obliterate DCS and force the school districts that have contracted with the entity to find new providers.

At a news conference in Austin, Huffines cited financial mismanagement, unsafe driving and reports of students being left behind by bus drivers as the impetus behind his bill.

“It’s dangerous for students and certainly a rip-off for Dallas County taxpayers,” he opined. His bill would require districts to find new providers for the 2018-2019 school year.

In late February, State Rep. Cindy Burkett filed a bill that would strip DCS of the ability to tax Dallas County citizens. It would be up to individual districts on whether they want to use DCS for bus service.

If less than 75 percent of students in the county end up receiving services from the agency, DCS would be eliminated. The measure provides for a committee to take over running DCS until it is completely shut down.

In Burkett’s case, her constituents in Sunnyvale, Mesquite, and Rowlett see part of their property tax bill going to DCS, but none of those school districts contract with the agency and use their own buses instead.

“DCS, Dallas County Schools, will have to get their services up to par,” Burkett told NBC5. “The market, the free market, does a lot to make sure that good services are provided because if you don’t get what you want, don’t get what you pay for, you simply go look for it elsewhere.”

But several school board member serving various Dallas area school districts have privately called into question the feasibility of such an idea, saying that buses are quite expensive and that the tally for starting a transportation department from scratch for most districts would take millions for each district.

“To me this is a nightmare scenario for trustees,” one suburban trustee said.

Dallas County Schools serves about 450,000 students, and in addition to school buses and crossing guards, it also provides services for charter busing, school resource officers, technology services, and psychological services to various districts.

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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson lives in a 1961 Fox and Jacobs home with her husband, a second-grader, and Conrad Bain the dog. If she won the lottery, she'd by an E. Faye Jones home. She's taken home a few awards for her writing, including a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Online News Association, the Education Writers Association, the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and the Society of Professional Journalists. She doesn't like lima beans or the word moist.

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