Dallas ISD School Board to Discuss — Again — Charter Partnerships

charterA month after a proposed policy to partner with nonprofits to run certain Dallas ISD schools was taken off the agenda for the Dallas ISD board of trustees regular meeting in January, the matter will once again be brought before the board at its briefing Thursday.

Board briefings are held once a month, prior to the regular board meeting, and are an opportunity for the board to discuss and get up to speed on items that will likely appear on the regular board meeting agenda. It’s also the time they are briefed on district progress. Dallas ISD holds their board briefings at 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays.

Although there had been several posts on Facebook and other social media sites insisting a special called meeting would be held at 9 a.m. Thursday to vote on the policy, ostensibly to hamper public comment, a call to Dallas ISD news and information director Robyn Harris revealed that the only meeting scheduled for that day was the board briefing, and that the policy was on the agenda for discussion.

An email to board president Edwin Flores to ascertain if a 9 a.m. meeting would be called went unanswered, but the likelihood of an early meeting to vote on something that is on the agenda to discuss at the board briefing (as well as on the agenda at the regular board meeting on Feb. 28) is doubtful.

At last month’s board meeting, the agenda originally indicated that trustees would discuss a policy that would set up the framework for the district to take advantage of a state law — SB 1882 —  that was passed in the last legislative session. That policy would permit the district to partner with specific nonprofits to run certain schools.

The law incentivized partnerships between school districts and charter schools by offering about $1,800 per student in additional funding for campuses that are in a partnership. It also was a third option for improvement required schools that were facing closure, and provided a bit of reprieve from that.

“Lawmakers adopted this bill to reduce these barriers specifically—with a focus on partnering at specific school campuses,” Molly Weiner, director of policy at the Texas Aspires Foundation (a champion of the bill), told Center on Reinventing Public Education research analyst Sean Gill. “SB 1882 provides two incentives to districts and charter schools to collaborate: students in the partnership school are funded at whichever per-pupil rate is higher (the charter school’s or the district’s) and turnaround schools receive a two-year pause in sanctions from the accountability system.”

It also allowed for districts to partner with other entities that were not current charters, which is what the proposed Dallas ISD policy aimed for.

Two teacher’s unions, however, have sued Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and the TEA, arguing that SB 1882 weakens protections for public school employees.

Texas AFT and the Texas State Teachers Association further argue that Morath is exceeding his authority by releasing schools that seek these partnerships from state education regulations.

“The education commissioner has made an unlawful power grab to have complete authority over approving these charter takeovers, and most disturbing is his insistence on breaking the law to ensure that these charter campuses are not subject to important rights protecting teachers and students,”, Texas AFT president Louis Malfaro said.

“The bill was intentionally designed to give autonomy to the local district and charter operator (or nonprofit partner) to build a relationship, identify areas of need, and collaborate on solutions in those areas,” Weiner continued. “Partnership agreements can vary based on the mission of the school and the purpose it is serving.”

But others feel that in the case of Dallas ISD, it’s sending mixed messages to the public about the confidence the district has in its successful turnaround initiatives.

One of those people is Trustee Joyce Foreman, who is asking for a moratorium on charters in her South Dallas district.

“You know, you have to ask yourself the question — if DISD is doing so well, and we got a B from the state’s grading, we have 227 schools and only four of them are low performing, so we’re leading the state in so many areas, why would we be privatizing our schools?” she told WFAA’s Jason Whitely this morning.

It was a refrain heard frequently in the public comment portion of last month’s meeting, too.

Former State Board of Education board member Mavis Knight said she didn’t think the district needed the partnerships — it was doing well on its own.

“Believe in yourself and your leadership skills,” she beseeched the board, adding that by considering this policy, the district was signaling it didn’t have the faith in the work it was doing.

“Let me say first, I’m proud of you,” said Dallas city councilman Philip Kingston, speaking of the upward trajectory Dallas ISD has achieved. “I’m here to chide you very gently for an idea that I think was half-baked.”

Kingston wondered why the district would turn to these partnerships in light of its successes. “Why would you give that away?” he asked, adding that the district’s proposal sent mixed messages since the district campaigned for the recent Tax Ratification Election on the strength of those gains.

“You’re gonna bring someone in to wash the dishes we’ve already washed,” another speaker said, saying that the district is making improvements, and doesn’t need to partner with charters.

Will the revamped policy pass? “I’m hoping the revised policy comes in qute differently,” Foreman said. “If they bring to the board the same thing, then I will be opposing that.”

Foreman was clear that she was opposed to “privatizing” schools.

“I do not support privatizing our schools,” she said. “And I think they superintendent heard the community when the community came down and spoke out.”

At Thursday’s briefing, the board is expected to hear about the proposed policy, including a discussion on how this could benefit the district’s Pre-K program, where partnerships with providers already exist to help expand the quality pre-K program into more communities.

You can see the whole presentation here and a detailed information sheet on the partnership policy here. Board meeting agendas are always posted online at least 72 hours in advance of any meeting, and most pertinent documents are attached to the agenda items.

All meetings are also broadcast live on the district’s website.

For more information — and the chance to ask questions — the district is holding four public information meetings simultaneously Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 p.m.