Education

Mayor Eric Johnson’s Broken Promise to Support DISD

Why hasn't he come out in support of the proposed DISD bond package? Ask Locke Lord.

The mayor of Dallas has abandoned DISD’s 150,000 kids. By extension, he has turned his back on the city of Dallas. I’m talking about his refusal to say anything publicly about the $3.7 billion bond proposal on the ballot right now. When the bond’s steering committee asked him to join leaders like these who have voiced their support for the bond, he declined to do so. I wrote about his silence a couple weeks ago.

Now an alert FrontBurnervian has sent me a video that emphasizes just how offensive that silence is — especially given that the ballot contains confusing language crafted to kill the bond. Voters need clarity. A capable mayor could speak up and help provide it. Johnson instead has chosen to sit this one out. In doing so, he has broken his word.

That brings me to the video. I’ll get to the confusing ballot language shortly. But first, on May 29, 2019, the Communities Foundation of Texas played host to a debate between Johnson and Scott Griggs. The two men were in a runoff, you’ll recall. Here is what Johnson said when asked what the mayor of Dallas can do to help DISD:

“I think the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office is a tremendously powerful tool that should be utilized at every opportunity on behalf of DISD. … We want people to look at our school district as an asset, not as a liability that has to be overcome by finding some other way to educate your children. The mayor has a great pulpit to do that from.”

Watch the video for yourself:

His response to the question was a great one, and he spoke those words forcefully. A tremendously powerful tool. Should be utilized at every opportunity. And here we have a $3.7 billion opportunity, the biggest such opportunity in state history, yet the tool remains in the shed. Why?

That debate, again, happened on May 29. On June 8, Johnson was elected mayor. And on August 26, he was given a job as a partner at the law firm Locke Lord, working in their public finance group. The firm’s deputy managing partner, Whit Roberts, said at the time, “The mayor has said that his service to the residents of Dallas comes first, and we fully understand that.”

Now we know that is not true. As the mayor’s chief of policy and communications told me when I wrote about this earlier, the mayor has chosen not to say anything about the DISD bond because he “wants to avoid even the appearance of a conflict because he is a bond attorney.”

Understand that the mayor has no business with DISD. Locke Lord has no business with DISD. Johnson refuses to pick up his tremendously powerful tool, the one that should be utilized at every opportunity, because he wants to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The conflict is clear. It’s staring us right in the face. The mayor’s side job prevents him from serving the children of DISD. He promised he’d use the bully pulpit. He has broken that promise.

Here’s what he could be saying:

Citizens of Dallas, I need your votes. You elected me in part because I said I’d champion our public schools. They need your help.

Right now, DISD figures it has about $6 billion in facilities needs. It is an old, sprawling urban school district. Yet despite its aging schools, some of which have leaky roofs and too many children cooped up in portable buildings, it is doing some of the best work in the state. Other large urban districts are following its lead as they enact their own reforms. In fact, Michael Hinojosa, DISD’s superintendent, just this month was honored with a national award for his work, named the Urban Educator of the Year by his peers.

Folks, we aren’t going to get to $6 billion, not without raising your taxes. The district has done the math. If you vote ‘yes’ on all five measures of the bond proposal, the district can borrow $3.7 billion and pay it back, with interest, without raising your taxes.

I know, I know. The ballot says in capital letters, ‘THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.’ The Dallas Morning News calls those words ‘imprecise.’ I’ll go one step further. Those words are a lie. If you vote ‘yes,’ I guarantee that you won’t pay a single penny more.

The Tea Party folks down in Austin who got that language on the ballot have an odd way of thinking. They think that if DISD doesn’t borrow more money to fix its schools, when it pays off its current debt, it can lower your taxes. That’s why they want you to think this is a tax increase. To the Tea Party folks, not lowering something is the same thing as increasing it.

Let me ask you a question. Let’s say that every time you came to my office, I made you step on a scale. [wait for laughter] I know. It’s weird. Rawlings took all his furniture, but he left me this really nice digital scale. So let’s say on Monday you weigh 140 pounds. Then, when you come back to see me on Friday, you again weigh 140 pounds. Question: did your weight increase? [wait for chant of ‘hell no, we didn’t grow’ to subside] That’s right. Your weight stayed the same.

And if I told you that you were wrong, if I said that your weight DID increase because if you’d starved yourself that week, your weight would have decreased, therefore, because you did eat that week, your weight increased even though you still weighed 140 pounds — well, you’d call me crazy, wouldn’t you?

Ladies and gentlemen, DISD can’t starve itself. The 150,000 kids enrolled in the district have to eat. All you have to do is say ‘yes’ to keeping our kids healthy. I’m speaking metaphorically, of course. Everyone knows that bond funds must be used to build facilities, not buy food. You get my point. Say ‘yes’ to the future of this great city!

Look, I don’t enjoy paying taxes. No one does. But what you pay right now, today, is money well-spent when it comes to DISD. We’re the envy of other large school districts across the country. Let’s keep that progress going! It won’t cost you a cent more than what you’re already paying.

Vote YES for the DISD bond program!!

And to all the other school districts out there: for your bond-program needs, remember this little ditty that I love to sing with my DPD security detail as we march through the lobby of 2200 Ross Avenue [to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme]:

Who’s the leader of the club
That’s made for you and me?
L-O-C-K-E L-O-R-D
Hey there! Hi there! Ho there!
You’re as welcome as can be
L-O-C-K-E L-O-R-D
Come along and sing the song
And join the jamboree!

I’m just riffing here, people. It’s a rough first draft of the speech. Maybe Mayor Johnson, Esq. might want to skip the Mickey Mouse stuff.

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