Hinojosa Outlines Path Forward for Dallas ISD After Voters Opt Out of DCS

Hinojosa

(Photo courtesy Dallas ISD)

A lot may be up in the air right now about how students will be transported after this year, Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa does know that the district’s entry into the bus business was a reluctant — but necessary — one.

Hinojosa met with reporters Wednesday morning and stressed that bus service would remain up and running despite voters choosing to dissolve Dallas County Schools, and there would be no disruption in service to students who rely on them.

“I don’t want to be in the bus business,” Hinojosa said. “However, this is an important service.”

“We need this service. Don’t wanna be in it. It’s not fun. It’s hard work. However, it’s very important that this service be available to our community.”

DCS is an entity that collects a one-cent ad valorem property tax. It offers busing and other transportation services to nine districts, including Dallas ISD.

“I want to assure the bus drivers, dispatchers and other employers of DCS, they have a job and are needed for the next few months,” Hinojosa said, adding that those employees will have opportunities to apply for similar jobs with the affected districts as those districts figure out what their transportation services will look like.

“What will change — almost immediately — is the management and the governance of this agency,” he said. The current DCS board and superintendent will be relieved of their duties immediately.

While there are laws in place — thanks to the most recent legislative session — to outline how DCS will be dissolved, it’s a bit up in the air as to which one — SB 1566 or SB 2065 — will be followed.

Hinojosa said that the two are similar, but one allows for a committee that would be comprised of a representative of the largest district involved (which would be Dallas ISD), and then a slate of appointees picked by State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and the other would include representatives of all nine districts.

“We have not heard from the comptroller this morning, but we expect to hear from his office in the next 72 hours,” Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa said all of the districts have been meeting regularly to discuss potential options.

In the next three days, Hegar’s office will appoint the committee, who will meet under the Texas Open Meetings Act for the first time Nov. 15.

By Wednesday afternoon, Hegar’s office had announced the other committee members. In addition to the superintendents of the nine districts affected by the closure of DCS, the committee will include former Dallas ISD superintendent Mike Moses; Celina Miller, an audit partner with Whitley Penn in Houston; Matt Boles of RBC Capital Markets in Dallas; Robert Dransfield, bond counsel with the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright; and Chuck Yaple, a certified public accountant.

After the committee meets, they will choose a chief executive officer to run the agency for the rest of the school year. “That CEO is gonna work their way out of a job,” Hinojosa said. The CEO’s job will be to make sure the dissolution happens according to law, and in an organized manner.

Some of the major decisions to be made by districts will be whether they outsource their transportation, go out on their own, or create some kind of hybrid. That will have to happen by Spring 2018, as well as how they will disburse assets.

Hinojosa said that taxpayers will be pleased in the long run. “There will be some one-time costs,” he said, “such as if you’re going to have your own system, you’re going to need to have a bus barn, and we’re going to have to undo the issues of the service centers that used to be owned by the taxpayers.”

The Dallas ISD trustees will be presented with the district’s plan at its next meeting on Nov. 29.

The district has also asked DCS to supply VIN numbers for all the buses to account for them. “We don’t know how many of those buses that are assigned to us are leased and how many are owned outright,” he said.

Hinojosa told reporters that currently, DCS is the district’s third biggest vendor expense — to the tune of $54 million a year. “We think we need to just analyze that $54 million that we’re currently budgeted.”

The superintendent said that as he grew up as a Dallas ISD student, and then later as a teacher and coach, he never recalled any problems with DCS services. But when he came back to the district this time, it was different.

“When I left and came back, two years ago, when we were trying to get our kids to school, and we sat around our conference table the first day of school and there were so many anecdotes coming from choice schools, from school leadership, from every department head about us not getting kids to school on time, I knew then it was different.”

While he doesn’t know for sure what changed, he said that the evidence seems to show that the agency lost focus.

“I think when they left their core competence of providing transportation services and started venturing to other opportunities, I think is when they lost their focus.”

Hinojosa said that regardless of which law ends up being applied to the situation, he’ll be sitting on the committee that will oversee the dissolution of DCS. He plans on pushing to release documents that the agency has so far refused to release to media, despite an attorney general’s order to do so.

And while he wouldn’t comment on personnel matters, he did say that the committee would likely take up the continued paycheck of former DCS superintendent Rick Sorrells, who made a deal to retire last March that pays him through December, and includes a $700 a month car allowance.

Dallas ISD also released an explainer for parents, and any parents with questions or concerns can call the district’s call center at 972-925-5555 .

You can see the entire press conference here: