The Dallas ISD school board last night proved why home-rule reform is needed, as its most destructive members did everything they could to make sure the home-rule commission would be stocked with status-quo cronies intent on scuttling any meaningful charter reform. It was a bravura display of obstinance, cynicism, and power preservation. It showed clearly that Bernadette Nutall and Carla Ranger (sometimes joined by Lew Blackburn, as in this case) care more about preserving their pitiful, shallow claims to power rather than help DISD improve.
Let’s go to the bullet points as I detail why this is so, as well as offer a special message for the 15-member commission at post’s end:
• One of the things that was on display last night was the power of the board president to reign in the crazies. The opening hour-plus of the meeting was to be where each trustee gave the gender, race/ethnicity, and parental status of at least their top three nominees for the commission. (For example: “Candidate one, female, african-american, not a parent.”) This took an hour-plus to get to, because Nutall and Ranger were, as always, trying to derail the conversation from the matter at hand with stump speeches on whatever imagined injustices were being committed against children, democracy, Jesus, and bald eagles. But last night, for the first time in a long time, members were actually doing what the board president should do every minute of every meeting: enforcing Robert’s Rules of Order. Each attempt to hijack the conversation from the mission at-hand was voted down, usually 7-2. (However, the board is so ignorant of/respectful of Robert’s Rules that the poor parliamentarian had to hand-hold them through almost every step of every motion. Suggestion: board retreat to a high school student council meeting to bone up on these, perhaps?) This is important because it allows the board to cut through the grandstanding, and it shows clearly who the obstinate, status-quo members of the board really are.
• The first clue as to the intent of the black board members was in the lists they presented. Remember, diversity (in more than one category) was a key charge of the home-rule statute they were following. Each board member showed he or she took that charge seriously, making the list as diverse as possible so that the final members of the board could meet this diversity requirement. Wait, that’s not entirely accurate. EACH BOARD MEMBER EXCEPT THREE OF THEM. Would you care to guess oh who am I kidding you know it’s Nutall, Ranger, and Blackburn. Each of their three nominees to the commission were black.
• Perhaps they had a small pool from which to choose, you say? First of all, they could have chosen anyone they wanted for said pool (including themselves, which is frightening). And there were 450 applicants! Teachers, parents, PTA members, DISD staff, you name it: An incredibly diverse pool from which to select your three or more candidates. (Each only selected three, even though others nominated four or five to further increase the diverseness of the applicant pool.)
• Because trustee Miguel Solis’s suggestion last week that a sub-committee evaluate these names and bring them to the full board for a vote was never enacted, that meant the entire board retired to closed session to hash out their names. It’s worth remembering that the idea behind a sub-committee (the real idea, not the stated one) was that you would have a better chance of having a board that took its charge from the state seriously: Improve the charter in a way that helps make the district better at teaching kids. (My loose interpretation.) Remember that when we discuss the final list.
• Point of order: You should know that Robert’s Rules of Order are supposed to be upheld in closed session. From what I’ve been told, that never happens — the trustees treat it as a free-for-all. (Which is why I could hear Nutall yelling at what I think was pretty much everyone several times over the board’s two hours behind closed doors.) The free-for-all nature of those sessions is why I thought they’d be locked into arguments all night, and why I was shocked (and would have lost $20 if anyone in the press pool would have taken my bet) when they came out just after 9 p.m.
You can see the list in Zeeble’s story I linked to at the top, but here it is again, along with who nominated said person:
- Bob Weiss (at-large, interim chair)
- Stephanie Elizalde (at-large)
- Melissa Malonson (District 1, Elizabeth Jones)
- Edwin Flores (District 2, Mike Morath)
- Jeff Veazey (District 3, Dan Micciche)
- Ricardo Mendez (District 4, Nancy Bingham)
- Lew Blackburn Jr. (District 5, Lew Blackburn)
- Marcus Ranger (District 6, Carla Ranger)
- Jerome Garza (District 7, Eric Cowan)
- Danae Gutierrez (District 8, Miguel Solis)
- Shirley Ison-Newsome (District 9, Bernadette Nutall)
- Isaac Freeman (teacher already chosen by DAC)
- Bonita Reece (ditto)
- Julie Sandel (ditto)
- Ron Oliver (ditto)
• The highlights here are obvious: The three black members of the board looked at this not as a way to engage in serious charter reform discussion (including greater board accountability) but instead to stock the board with people who will preserve their authority. (And, inherent in that idea, preserve the lines of succession to their board fiefdoms.) Let’s take them one-by-one.
• Nutall’s pick, Shirley Ison-Newsome, is this person. For a less inflammatory recap, here is a DMN editorial — which has to be more balanced because the paper can’t say that praise for Ison-Newsome from board members Nutall and Ranger are meaningless. And even so, you read the very even-handed editorial and you think, good grief — out of all those applicants, she was the one best-suited to evaluate DISD’s charter? Another data point: This is someone who ran a feeder pattern that produced 1 percent college readiness and 10 percent 6-year graduation rates. She should be banned from the district, not a part of trying to remake it. (Also: to call her a pawn of Nutall might not be fair, because there are those who think she has been pulling Nutall’s strings ever since Ison-Newsome left the district two years ago. Half-dozen in one, six in the other, as far as I’m concerned.)
•Carla Ranger chose her husband. His name is Marcus Ranger. You may know him as the District 6 school board candidate (to replace his wife) who got 104 votes in the May election. I’m already taking bets as to whether he shows up to 50 percent of the meetings, since he did almost zero campaigning in said election. It’s sad and absurd that Ranger put her husband on the commission for many reasons, but I’ll just focus on one. Ranger drones on at every meeting about the importance of democracy. She talks often about respecting the will of the people. And THEN she appoints her husband to one of the most important bodies in the history of DISD, a man who was soundly rejected by all the voters she represents. Her hypocrisy is in abundant display during meetings. Last night, it became legend.
• Lew Blackburn chose his son. I don’t know Lew Blackburn Jr., but I’ve heard he’s just as smart and capable as his father. Which is fine, although I have the same critiques, like putting someone on the board just to do Blackburn’s bidding. But more than that, I’m deeply disappointed. Blackburn is not Nutall and Ranger. He’s smart and he seems to care about kids, but he’s let his blinders — the ones that cause him to frame every reform effort as support of Miles, whom he’s against for some reason — dictate his actions. He knows this subverts the serious nature of the task with which he’s been charged. He just doesn’t care. That makes his appointment worse in some ways.
• Speaking of Miles, I continue to be amazed that he sits at every meeting, goes back and listens to every closed session, and doesn’t go on a machete-wielding rampage. I’m not even kidding.
• You can argue with the other nominees — perhaps you wanted more grass-roots PTA types (like Danae Gutierrez) and fewer former DISD insiders (I think you need someone like Edwin Flores on the commission to argue for board reform). But overall, it’s a solid group. And the arguments for or against them are ones that serious-minded people can engage in. You can’t argue that with the selections of Nutall, Ranger, and Blackburn. They’re just terrible selections.
• The good out of this is that the two at-large members, Bob Weiss and Stephanie Elizalde, are both seen as outstanding choices, people with impeccable credentials in terms of promoting data-driven solutions while being very compassionate about how changes affect people within the system. There’s a chance they can lead a group that gets something done — but it’s now a very slim chance, because …
• Shirley Ison-Newsome will attempt to bully her way through this process and limit any sort of substantive reform. Hell, don’t be surprised if she tries to use it to advocate for undoing some of Miles’ important reforms, like TEI. (I’ll admit, this is where home-rule opponents who didn’t like it’s unpredictability sound smart to me.)
To close, I’d like to address the other 12 home rule commission members not selected as board puppets.
I don’t know what you want to get out of this charter review. I’d hope first among your efforts would be to instill board accountability, perhaps even rules to reign in its meddling and undermining. Maybe you’re a fan of longer school years and/or days, because you believe in data and research and you don’t fear change and you want to help Miles reform DISD into something grand. Maybe you’re worried that teachers’ rights will be eroded, and you want to protect them. Or maybe you just want to get on TV. I don’t know. But I do know this: Whatever your take on how the district needs to be structured, if you’re intelligent and take your task seriously, you will be challenged. You will be bullied. You will be yelled at. You will be called a racist — whether you’re white, brown, or black. And whatever you do, you can’t shrink. You can’t cower. You can’t do what school board members usually do in the face of such accusations. Prepare yourself going in for the worst that can happen, and do whatever it takes to steel yourself. Tape a picture of a child to the inside of your binder, to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Read your Bible, or Koran, or your Ubuntu writings. Get your chakras aligned and spinning. Remember, the bully preys on your fears. Go in with a sense of purpose, whatever that may be, and know that even when all you can hear is the bombast of the obstinate, you must stay your course. This is important, and the city cheers you.