In April, the Dallas Morning News ran a story revealing that DISD board president Jack Lowe’s company has done $9.6 million in business with the district since 2002, when he was first elected to the board. It was a good story. It was the sort of story an enterprising newspaper ought to run.
While the story may have surprised readers who don’t follow the school district regularly, it didn’t surprise anybody else. When he first ran for his board seat, Lowe was open about TDIndustries’ vendor relationship with the district. In fact, he said that if his election ever caused a conflict, he would quit the board. He couldn’t take on a volunteer job that would hurt his employee-owned company.
The voters knew it and elected him. In 2005, his fellow board members knew it and made him president. They’ve re-elected him president every year since. Not once has there been a hint of a conflict of interest. The News did not suggest one; it merely did what a newspaper should do, dig out the facts and present them to its readers.
In the wake of the News story, trustee Carla Ranger pressed the board to change its ethics policy, so that no company in which a trustee or trustee’s family had an interest could do business with DISD. Let’s look at that little ploy for what it is. Jack Lowe has said he would resign if his position ever created a conflict for his company. Ergo, the way to get rid of Jack Lowe is to create a conflict of interest where none existed.
Why would Ranger, elected from southwest Dallas in 2006, want to get rid of Jack Lowe? With 21,000 employees, DISD is the largest job factory in the city of Dallas (only American Airlines and Wal-Mart employ more people in North Texas). Over 25 years, under a court order imposed by now-retired federal judge Barefoot Sanders, the district deteriorated into a board-controlled patronage dispenser. Seven superintendents in 10 years tried to fix it, but none could get the board to rise above squabbling over the spoils. The turnover in superintendents created turmoil in the middle management ranks, disaster in the schools, and scandals in the newspaper. In 2005, out of 222 schools, only six were rated exemplary and 43 as recognized by the Texas Education Agency.
Then, in a miraculous eight months in 2005 and 2006, three things happened. Michael Hinojosa was recruited as the superintendent. Jack Lowe was elected board president. And two of the worst board members left.
Just three years later, this month, as many as 26 schools will be rated as exemplary, and 76 will be named as recognized. These are all-time highs for DISD.
You’d think people would be overjoyed. Most people are. But a few diehards are not happy at all. Cleaning up the mess at DISD means incompetents are being fired, lifetime sinecures are gone. That makes the patronage folks very angry. What the rest of us think of as a mess they think of as the good old days.
In tackling the core of the problem at the district, Hinojosa has been fearless. But the board is the key to success. At the center of the board is Jack Lowe. If you want to derail reform and get those jobs back, your only option is to get rid of Lowe.
What kind of person is Lowe? I’ve never met him. But one little thing speaks volumes. It was told to me by a district employee. Behind the administration building, the district keeps nine prime parking spots reserved for the board members. Lowe never parks there. He parks in the employee parking lot and walks over.
That little item and the dramatic improvement in our schools tell me all I need to know about Lowe’s leadership. No wonder his company is consistently named one of the best places to work in America. That’s the kind of man - and the kind of company - I want to keep working for the Dallas public schools.
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