What We Can Be Thankful for in DISD: Mo Money, Mo Money

The latest Nutall allegations square with her past behavior

Before the holidays, here are my thoughts on the DISD news stories (and stories that for some reason didn’t make the news) from the past week. Just some nuggets to chew on before you dive into your roast bird:

• The latest revelation in the Nutall-Miles junk-swinging contest is not surprising. Rudy Bush of the DMN editorial board has been very smart and even-handed in his opinion posts regarding this spat, and about DISD overall. If you listen to the video above, he rightly shows how political Nutall’s posturing has been against Miles, beginning when she backed him on closing low-performing/attendance schools in her district. (UPDATE: I should know this but stupidly keep forgetting: Those schools were closed under Alan King, not Miles.) It’s important, in other words, to take history into account when analyzing this situation. This is true for both Miles — his history of stubbornness is well-chronicled, and it comes into play here — as well as Nutall. So when we look at the allegations of verbal abuse of staff that both the DMN and Jim Schutze wrote about, it’s important we ask not just, “Do we believe this allegation?” but also, “Does this fit a pattern?”

The answer is yes. I’ve written about Nutall regularly overstepping her authority and berating DISD staff, even suggesting these employees are not truly black if they don’t agree with her. (I hope to record a podcast soon where I can ask Schutze about his suggestion that this is just something that happens in the black community, and whites can’t fully understand it.) But just focus on the berating, not the racial cat-calling. Nutall berates a staffer who won’t do as she says, according to the complaint. This not only squares with what current and former DISD employees have told me, it squares with a previous lawsuit against the district, it squares with what has been reported by Schutze before, it squares with behavior the DMN editorial board long ago lamented, and it squares with what four trustees have told me — that they have personally witnessed Nutall loudly and angrily berate staff members who won’t do her bidding.

(Sudden thought: Maybe Nutall is simply going deaf. Maybe she doesn’t realize how loudly she’s talking when engaging staff. If you’re really black you should do what I say and we should fight together against this horrible half-black superintendent sounds much less threatening if spoken at a reasonable volume. I’ll investigate.)

• Remember what I said above about how it’s politically expedient for the southern Dallas DISD districts to know you’re anti-Miles? Please remember that during the next several months. Oh, hey, in a completely unrelated item, here’s an interesting story for you to read.

• Did you celebrate the good news about Dallas ISD last week? It was in all the papers. OH WAIT NO IT WASN’T! Which was odd to me, since the school board was told at last week’s meeting that the district just received an astonishingly clean financial audit. That is at least in part why DISD bonds were just upgraded for the second consecutive year, receiving “AAA” status.

(UPDATE: Because apparently I’m incapable of reading, let me try that again. The district was upgraded by Fitch from AA to AA+. The district’s debt is secured by the permanent school fund, which is and has been at AAA for a long time. When DISD issues debt, it’s at the AAA rate because of its co-signer. This means the upgrade to AA+ doesn’t actually help the district out financially, since it doesn’t impact its debt service cost, which is always at the AAA rating. But the bond rating is a very reliable indicator of underlying performance overall.)

Among the reasons cited in the announcement: “Steady surpluses build a strong position.” This is important. Remember five years ago when the district had to borrow $100 million to cover costs because the reserve fund (or “fund balance”) was $38-$39 million? (The TEA recommends a balance at least equal to a district’s 60-day burn rate, or about $150-$200 million for DISD.) It was a story when the fund reached $91 million a year later, and again when it reached $190 million in 2012. That didn’t stop Highly respected financial analyst Steve Blow from writing a column wondering about the district’s fiscal responsibility. So I thought the announcement last week at the board meeting that the fund had reached an unprecedented (for DISD) $342.8 million would be welcome news to Mr. Blow and his accountants. It was to me, because such tight financial controls and fiscal responsibility is necessary for the district to continue its efforts to improve. And for that I’m very thankful, as should be the entire city.

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