The End of the Masturbatory Exercise That was the Home Rule Commission

Some commissioners thing simple recommendations will do the trick. They're wrong.

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I’ve been arguing with myself all morning, wondering how much I should say about what I know/think/believe regarding the Home Rule Commission and its decision last night to not write a charter. Part of me says just unload on the HRC, because it had a chance to do something substantial but instead chose the most spineless path possible. The HRC voted last night 10-5 to NOT put out a recommended charter, which would have been voted on by the citizens of Dallas, but decided to instead write a series of recommendations to the school board, a document that will carry with it the political weight of carbon aerogel.

But part of me says, hey, take it easy. This commission just castrated itself. Let the wound heal. Instead, complain about the specific people who’ve been controlling the HRC behind the scenes, the ones who claim to have the best interests of kids at heart even though they fight reform efforts at every turn.

Then I thought, “Why don’t we have both?” Fair enough.

• Let’s get the important things out of the way first. This vote is not a surprise if you understand how the status quo crowd uses soft intimidation tactics to get what it wants. Soon after the commission was formed right up until this week, people like Harryette Ehrhardt would call commission members to take their temperature, see how they might vote on the idea of writing a charter. If commissioners waffled, they were reminded — never in an overt way; too smart for that — nefarious “others” might use this information to attack you, and, oh yeah, by the way, do you own a business because I’m just saying be careful out there. (Sometimes these calls were direct, sometimes not. At least one commissioner says he was told that by another commissioner that “they’ll come after you, so be careful.” Now, what does the status quo crowd have to threaten people with? Everyone knows the answer to that: DISDblog, Facebook, other social media. Just take a peek at how someone like commissioner Danae Gutierrez has been written about since she decided that the commission should write a charter. (Gutierrez, by the way, was staunchly anti-home rule charter but changed her mind during the discussion process. To the status quo crowd, that means she was corrupted. Free thought just isn’t in play, in their minds.) Now, you may think, so what if they write mean things about a commissioner. They should do the right thing! Well, that’s easy for me or anyone else in public life to say, because we’re used to it. But for those who thought they were signing up for an apolitical commission to try to help kids, they were far easier to “convert.”

• Sub-point: You may be saying, “That doesn’t sound like the sweet and caring Harryette Ehrhardt I know.” I would just ask you to please read this story about the 1980 Dallas ISD school board, of which Ehrhardt was a member. It’s freaking amazing for about 20 reasons, which include but are not limited to a) how dysfunctional the school board was, b) how much discord and political division was fostered by Ehrhardt, and c) how increasingly horrific student performance was ignored. Does any of this sound familiar? I think I’m going to do a whole post on this article tomorrow, but read it today. It’s fascinating.

• I feel like we need to address some Bob Weiss quotes. Recall, he is the commission chairman. I’ve written often that I like Bob, and I do. I talked to him just last week at a Leadership DISD function about early education initiatives, and I believe his commitment to kids is unquestioned. THAT said: His statements yesterday didn’t totally make sense to me. For example:

Weiss says he opposed the writing of a charter because the law that gives the commission its authority is “a very bad piece of legislation.” Yes, and the price of tea in china is currently about 290 yen per kilogram. It’s yet to be explained to me how putting together a governance structure that must be ratified by a huge number of voters has anything to do with the quality of the law that allowed that vote to occur. Yes, it was a poor law in that it did not foresee a status quo contingent adept at exploiting its loopholes during the commission’s formation, but the END RESULT the law requires — a governance document that can only be ratified if approved by a large number of Dallas voters — is worthwhile.

Weiss also “suggested that reformers bring their ideas and applications for campus program charters to the Board for consideration.” That’s a good idea, actually. In-district charters could be part of a transformative package, combined with DISD’s school choice options. (Problems: Miles doesn’t really support in-district charters because unlike choice models, he loses control over the process. A discussion for another day.) But all that said: In-district charters have nothing to do with whether or not the commission, which should be addressing board governance issues, does its job properly.

Weiss also said during the meeting that “no one can tell me I am not a part of the conversation.” This was a point he made to me last week as well — that if nothing else, the HRC “started a conversation.” Point of order: It was the people who founded and funded SOPS, the ones so decried by the status quo crowd, who started this conversation. It was the commission that has effectively ended it.

• I know that some of the 10 members who voted to not write a charter — heck, perhaps most of them — really believe they can recommend governance changes to the board itself and put pressure on them to seriously consider them. I just think that shows their naïveté. The status quo trustees will listen, say nice things, and then do everything they can to thwart any substantive change, especially anything that dilute their authority or makes them more accountable. Remember, hope is not a strategy.

• Mea culpa: I said that Lew Blackburn Jr.’s appointment was absurd because Blackburn would simply do his father’s bidding. Multiple commissioners told me that Blackburn was an independent voice behind the scenes from Day 1, and he believed that writing a charter was the right thing to help the district. Turns out not only was I very wrong, but that I the commission in fact needed more independent thinkers like Blackburn Jr. I apologize.

• I hope to have a few podcasts to discuss this in-depth, one of which will look at whether Austin is going to make reform efforts easier this session. I’m hopeful.

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