Can We Finally Get Rid of Dallas ISD Single-Member Districts?

dmag_cover_091980The Supreme Court’s overturning of the key provision of the Voting Rights Act may present a real opportunity for the long-suffering Dallas ISD. Our response to it should be an enthusiastic LET’S GO!!

Single-member districts were ordered by the Legislature in 1973 in response to the Act. Since that time, the dysfunction of the board has been the largest contributor to the DISD’s low performance, even including the prevalence of disadvantaged students. Board members have a pattern, dating back decades (as this D Magazine cover from 1980 shows) of interfering with the administration, attempting to create fiefdoms out of the schools in their districts, obstructing the firing of incompetent administrators, principals, and teachers, and placing personal agendas above the performance of students.

Besides being a drag on the system, single-member districts are outdated and ineffective.

Point 1: Single-member districts have not achieved their desired goal of substantially increasing minority representation. Seventy percent of DISD students are Hispanic yet there is currently no Hispanic member of the board.

Point 2: Four decades after single-member districts were ordered, it seems disingenuous to suggest that they are still needed to protect black voters from losing representation in an overwhelmingly white city. For one thing, the city is today only 50.7 percent white. Second, this is a city that twice elected a black mayor and twice voted for a black man to be president (last year in a 57-43 landslide).

The Supreme Court has now handed Dallas a golden opportunity to fix the biggest problem we have: our public school system. Let’s seize it.


  • Jackson

    A question, Wick: Are you saying that single member districts are “outdated and ineffective” strictly within the context of the DISD board, or in general, such as for city councils, county commissioner courts, etc.?

  • This article is so racist. Just because you have elected two Black mayors and one Black president doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist. How many white mayors have we had? How many white presidents have we had? It is still very out of balance and to put that in this article puts your ignorance on display. The only thing that comforts me is you will soon know how Blacks feel because soon Hispanics will be the majority.

    • Wick Allison

      My ignorance is constantly on display. By the way, Hispanics — as I noted — are already the majority in the DISD. Why no representation on the board? How would you correct that?

    • Peter Kurilecz

      racist in what way? Wick pointed out facts.

  • Donald

    Wick, I agree with your points. Although you’re mistaken to think that black people in this city are going to be high-minded enough to look at things from a fair and impartial perspective(look at [email protected] comment) and be kosher with this. Blacks in this city will say that “the man” will mess them around and do what’s best for the caucasian. Black people as well as some hispanics will say that they need “one of their own” to represent them and look out for their interest. That is the biggest bunch of bs I’ve ever heard. Are there people(no matter race) that have agendas in society? Sure. Does that mean every single human being does? No.

    There are people who will perform their duties in the best interest of the district/city etc. That’s why you VOTE for elected officials. And you make an INFORMED vote. As a voter do your due diligence with regards to who you elect. Don’t just look at the color of their skin and say, “Hey, this person looks like me, so he will represent me”. That is lazy, sloppy thinking.

    What people who have kids in DISD need to do is take care of their business. What I mean, is make sure their kids are going to school, paying attention in class, behaving each and every day, doing their homework, studying, making good grades on a consistent basis. And then when they have all these kids with great grades, good attitudes who are high school and college graduates and they don’t get jobs while other graduates are, then we’ll have a discussion about the possibility of something underhanded going on.

    By the way, Ron Kirk to my understanding wasn’t well received by the black community in Dallas. Supposedly,
    he was just a pawn for “the man”. I thought he was an excellent mayor.

  • Wick Allison

    I would leave that question to the Legislature’s discretion. Generally, where single member districts have demonstrably failed in both performance and in achieving the Legislature’s original goal of diversity of representation, as is the case with the DISD, the Legislature should be quick to offer redress, leaving it to the voters of that jurisdiction to make the final decision.

  • Donald

    Wick, why does it matter if DISD has Hispanic representation on the board? What should matter is having the ‘right’ people on the board. And by ‘right’, I mean people who are going to look out for the best interest of the district as a whole. Not the black students in the district, not the caucasian students in the district. All of the district as one school district.

    And the fact of the matter is there are many people, not just hispanics, who don’t want to serve on the board because of the cesspool of caustic, negativity that is very antagonistic and belligerent. Look at Mr. Miles and all of the departures of his Cabinet positions. Everyone wants to blame Mr. Miles because he is demanding. That may be 10% of the problem and another 10% of the problem is because of the board. The other 80% belongs to the rank and file within the district. The fact that as soon as the rank and file have to be accountable and do work they scream discrimination. And then you have them as well as certain community members getting highly belligerent and antagonistic.

    Do I have to remind you of the highly toxic interactions district officials had with certain community members for wanting to remove a couple of principals this past school year? Mr. Miles was justified. Look at the scores. And for anyone to say that its not about just some silly standardized testing, they’re right. Standardized testing is just a bare bones minimum of an assessment tool which is used to make sure that students are getting a solid foundation. If students can’t do that, how could they survive working a minimum wage job or even receiving an ‘A’ or ‘B’ in freshman level courses in college?

  • Joyce Foreman

    Donald, we know that we have been messed around in this city. Just look at the southern sector and tell me that the resources have been equally shared. We do not need others telling us what is best for us, that’s apart of our history and it does not work. DISD is a good example of how it does not work. If Mayor Rawlings, Todd Williams (Uplift Charter Schools), The Citizens Council, and the Greater Dallas Chamber would stop paying for the elections of the candidates that they want to win on the school board, maybe there would be better representation.

    And Wick, if single member districts do not work in DISD, then they don’t work anywhere. Either you’re all the way in or you’re not.

  • Bill Betzen

    This sounds like a plea from the ghost of the White Citizens Council, except that we know the “ghost” is alive and very active. In one very painful sense I agree that the single member districts have been an abysmal failure: gerrymandering!! The massive gerrymandering of districts both in the School Board and on the Dallas City Council has served to confuse voters and manipulate who can run such that money has been able to control the elections by making them more expensive to win. A compact district can more easily be won with a simple “shoe leather” campaign focusing on the population center around which the district should be formed. However, intensely gerrymandered single member districts are more expensive, and need more money to manage. Thus those outside the district can control the campaign more easily. That has been the normal operation of so-called “single member” districts all over the south. The strangely shaped districts confuse voters and encourage apathy. It is no accident that Texas has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Single member districts are not the problem. Gerrymandering gone wild is!

  • Bobtex

    The problem is not the single-member district structure–the problem is how that structure is used to construct governance of the district. Single-member districts make it harder for the dominant power base to control DISD, but they do not guarantee quality governance. One or two quality people on the Board will be swallowed up by the corrupt/ignorant majority and will achieve nothing. There needs to be a concerted effort to recruit quality candidates for at least a majority (if not a totality) of the Board over three election cycles. Until there is a totally fresh start with dedicated, intelligent, and competent trustees thye DISD will continue to wallow in the mire of dysfuntction that is its present hallmark. Getting rid of single-member districts is not the answer–getting rid of incompetent trustees is.

  • Brandon

    as you start referring to the hundreds of thousands of black citizens of Dallas as “blacks” and “black people” in a monolithic sense, you’ve crossed the line into intensive racism. I’m white. I’m assuming you are too. I sure as hell would never want to grouped with you in some description of “white people.”

  • Dubious Brother

    There are nine school board districts – divide DISD into nine districts along those lines. Let each one elect their own board where everyone on the board lives in the local district and run their own schools the way they see fit for their neighborhood. Don’t like the way the schools are run? Elect new members to the board or move to a district that is run the way you want without having to leave Dallas.

  • Pedant

    I know I’m too late and no one will care. But point 2 is very, very wrong.

    Dallas is only 28.8% white (The 50.7% number includes white-Hispanics). Last year the COUNTY voted for Obama with 57%. The city voted at some unreported higher number, but I’m sure DALCOELECTIONS would tell you if you asked.