THE SCHOOL BOARD: Dallas’ Own Taxpayer-Financed Circus

THE DEBATE IS BEING conducted in the high tradition for which the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees has become famous. It is a cat fight. This is not your parliamentary contest over the merits of differing proposals. This is your hissing, scratching, clawing melee in which the opponents have one goal: to draw blood. It is the type of ordeal that normally occurs in an alley. Or in the DISD board room.

If today’s discussion occurred in any other governmental body in Dallas County, the participants would later refer to it as a bloodletting or a showdown. But this is the Dallas Board of Education. This is the group whose collective schizophrenia has earned it a reputation of being the worst elected governmental body that Dallas has ever seen. This is the taxpayer-financed circus. This is the group that has fought and bickered and debated ancillary issues while the public schools of the city have been educationally and fiscally flushed down the toilet. And because this is the DISD, where turmoil and incompetence are the status quo, today’s exhibition of verbal carnage will later be referred to by school board veterans as simply an average meeting.

“I have some very serious and fundamental questions about our representation on the Texas Association of School Boards steering committee,”’ says school trustee Harryette Ehrhardt, glaring at fellow trustee Sara Has-kins, the Dallas representative on the TASB steering committee. “I think we should discuss them in executive session.”

“No, we shouldn’t” snaps Mrs. Haskins, “I’m fed up with secret meetings. If you’ve got something to discuss, let’s do it right here in the open.”

“Well,” says Mrs. Ehrhardt. “It’s just that I have heard some very disturbing reports … I thought Kathlyn (DISD Board President Kathlyn Gilliam) was going to be our nominee to TASB . . . Have you called TASB board members and told them if they’d block Mrs. Gilliam that you’d run for another term?”

“Some of the TASB members called me and asked if I’d consider renomination, ’ ’ says Mrs. Haskins. “And I said I would.”

“Well, I heard that you called trustees in our sister districts and said that if they’d block Kathlyn you’d be the nominee,” says Mrs. Ehrhardt.

Mrs. Haskins: “I never said that.”

Mrs. Ehrhardt: “It’s sad that you’ve been misquoted, then.”

Mrs. Haskins: “You’re not sad. I don’t think you’re sad about anything, Harryette.”

School trustee Brad Lapsley, seated at the other end of the board table from the melee, jumps to Mrs. Haskins’ defense.

“Maybe we ought to put Sara under oath before we grill her anymore here,” he says. “And by the way, Harryette. I want to go on record as pointing out that your reference to ’sister districts’ is a sexist remark.”

Mrs. Haskins: “I’m not on trial here.”

Mrs. Ehrhardt: “You are quoted as telling a board member in another district that Kathlyn once intervened against a teacher on behalf of a student. . .”

Mrs. Haskins: “I’m not on trial! … At least I haven’t had our staff calling all of these districts and soliciting support on the behalf of a candidacy (for the TASB steering committee), which is more than 1 can say for some people around here.”

Mrs. Ehrhardt: “Have you ever said that Mrs. Gilliam was incompetent?”

Mrs. Haskins: “If I say that, I’ll say it to her face.”

Lapsley, using a blatantly mocking tone, inserts another question: ’ ’ Have you ever said that about any other member of our board? Never mind, strike that comment. “

Mrs. Gilliam, who theoretically is in charge of this particular meeting of the school board, stares at Mrs. Haskins. “I think we have been talking around in circles long enough . . . Everybody knows what’s going on here.”

Mrs. Haskins. ignoring that comment, fires an inquiry to Mrs. Ehrhardt: “Why don’t you go ahead and get your hidden agenda out on the table?”

Mrs. Ehrhardt: “I don’t have any hidden agenda.”

Mrs. Haskins: “You always have a hidden agenda. You’re saying that our participation in TASB is based on whether Kathlyn gets the nomination. Why don’t you admit it.”

Mrs. Ehrhardt: “That’s not true.”

Noticeably silent during all this discussion is DISD Supt. Linus Wright. In the 18 months since Wright has taken over the reins of the district, he has developed an incredibly stoic poker face. That’s partially because he knows that on any day when five of the eight people who make up the most erratic and capricious governing body in Dallas decide they no longer like Linus Wright’s looks, he can kiss his $66,000-a-year job good-bye. Nolan Estes, who spent 10 years as the Dallas superintendent before Wright took over, has been accused of being a horrible administrator; but he was never accused of not knowing how to manipulate people. Estes knew how to steer the board through those potentially ugly discussions before they ever started. He simply wouldn’t let the school board bicker. But Nolan Estes ran the Board of Education. Linus Wright is different. He labors under a concept that is perhaps somewhat naive: Linus Wright thinks he works for the Board of Education, just like it says in his contract.

Finally, trustee Jerry Bartos, who has also been silent during the board room brawl, puts a stop to it all.

“This is a personal, political issue that doesn’t have anything to do with educating the kids,” says Bartos as he gets up from the board table and walks toward the door. “We have a $20 million overdraft proposal before us that we haven’t even given proper consideration. I’m not going to listen to this anymore. I’m going to lunch.”

(Ironically, Mrs. Ehrhardt later questioned whether Bartos had been “putting on a show” for the benefit of the news media when he walked out of the board room.)

While Bartos’ adversaries on the board may accuse him of voicing his frustrations in a theatrical manner, it would be difficult to build a case that Bartos’ frustrations were unwarranted. What bothered Jerry Bartos was not what the school board discussed, but what it declined to discuss in detail. The session that Bartos stalked out of was the school board’s “Committee of Whole” session of July 23. That particular committee is made up of all the members of the school board, and the committee meeting is the informal session in which board members are suppesed to hammer out the decisions they will officially act upon in a formal meeting that follows.

Somehow the board’s penchant for bickering took precedence over any in-depth discussion of the major issues. And there were plenty. No bank had submitted a bid for the DISD fiscal depository contract because the school district’s monetary reserves were too low. No financial institution wanted to carry the DISD in the fall with loans until school taxes are collected in the winter. The board’s discussion of a recommendation to raise the district’s reserve fund from $6 million to $10 million by the end of the year-a move that will require an ad valorum tax increase of anywhere from 2 to 4 cents per $100 valuation-got very little discussion.

The only informative question raised during the board’s brief discussion came when Mrs. Ehrhardt asked the school staff: “Now how is it we pay our bills in the fall when we don’t collect our taxes until January?”

Attorney Warren Whitum explained that the bank with the district’s depository contract traditionally floats the district a loan for the money necessary to pay its bills in the first half of the school year.

“Have we been doing that all through the years?” Mrs. Ehrhardt asked Whitum.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responded.

“Oh,” she said. “OK.”

The only thing particularly enlightening about that exchange was that it revealed that although Mrs. Ehrhardt has served on the board for three years, she is fundamentally ignorant of one of the most basic methods by which DISD finances its operations.

Also falling largely out of the board’s somewhat limited attention span that day was any probing discussion of a few other incidentals. Like the purchase of $7 million worth of goods and services for use by the district next year. And the board’s approval for payment of $40 million worth of bills and claims. Those are the type of little details for which the board has had a notorious lack of attention. Discussion of matters like whether the school district’s checks are going to bounce just seems to fade away when the board starts talking about things such as which individual board member is going to serve on what state committee.

The soap opera style with which the school board conducts itself these days has caused eyebrows to raise among the more reserved members of the community, but it has not been without its benefits to some people. Television reporters love it. There’s nothing that makes better cinema than eight adults acting like children in public, especially when they are elected officials.

“When I first came on the school board six years ago, you didn’t ever see any television cameras at the board meetings,” says trustee Robert Medrano, who says there’s no such thing as “bad” media coverage as long as his name is spelled correctly. “We’d be lucky if we got a little, small newspaper write-up back near the classifieds. Nowadays, man, it’s a whole different story. We get the minicams, and the radio coverage. It’s the whole shot. We are front page news. “

But the Dallas school board hasn’t become the best story in town merely as a result of its well-orchestrated buffoonery. Anyone who has even casually followed the newspapers over the past three years knows there’s been much, much more for which the Board of Education can take credit:

-Like creating the Foundation for Quality Education, a now defunct organization which theoretically was going to take DISD “seed money” and acquire hundreds of millions of dollars in private grants for the good of the schoolchildren. The net result of the foundation’s existence is that DISD lost about 1.4 million tax dollars. The board’s attorney has told the board it violated a state law by giving away public money to the foundation. He has also advised the board members that the only thing that has kept them from having to be personally responsible for paying back those missing tax dollars is that no one has so far had the enterprise to file a class action suit against them.

-Under the supervision and with the approval of this board, $4.2 million in contracts was awarded to the A.F. Holman Boiler Works to replace school building burners over a three-year period. The contracts were awarded without competitive bids. The contracts were supposedly awarded so the district could comply with a Texas Railroad Commission docket ruling that required governmental bodies to upgrade the efficiency of their heating systems. The only problem with that is that the docket ruling was reversed before the contracts were ever awarded. DISD was not compelled to spend a penny on new boilers. And there is one other problem, according to Bartos. the only current board member not in office when the contracts were awarded: The taxpayers were overcharged $1.7 million for the boiler work.

-Over the past three years, the board blindly approved millions of dollars in contracts for school repairs and constructions to be made by the now infamous William Maxwell Construction Co. The owner of the company, William Oswalt, is currently under federal indictment for 17 counts of fraud and conspiracy because of his dealings. Many of the contracts on which Oswalt’s company allegedly bilked the school district out of hundreds of thousands of dollars were one-bidder “emergency” contracts, rubber-stamped by the board with little or no questioning. There have been numerous allegations of other frauds committed against the school district, such as overcharges for the construction of temporary buildings and for the construction of school air-conditioning systems. Insiders in the DISD administration contend that the aggregate total for which the taxpayers have been bilked over the past five years, including overcharges, purchases of unneeded equipment and services, and downright theft, comes to about $10 million. The vast majority of those dollars flowed out of the public purse with the approval of the same school board members who are in office right now.

-The board came very close recently to reinstating former Assistant Superintendent Weldon Wells, whom Wright fired after a lengthy investigation into DISD business practices over which Wells had control.

After a month-long hearing requested by Wells, a majority of the board members appeared ready to cave into Wells’ demand for reinstatement and exoneration by the board. “They were ready to flake out on Linus,” said one DISD insider. “They were ready to give Weldon Wells back his key to the executive washroom.” Sensing the tide in the hearing was turning in Wells’ favor, Bartos was able to delay a board vote over an early June weekend. Wright, hearing what was about to happen, called each board member and told them that if they reinstated Wells, they should look for a new school superintendent. “He told us that if he couldn’t fire Weldon, against whom he’d put together more than a 100 charges, then he was pow-erless to fire anybody and that his service to us wasn’t worth anything any more,” one board member recalls. That speech by Wright may or may not have had an influence. What obviously did was that before the board had a chance to reconvene, a federal grand jury indicted Wells, former DISD architect Gordon Sentell and William Oswalt on 17 fraud and conspiracy charges that could send each to prison. The board subsequently made a good decision in the situation that has become about the only one in which the board makes good decisions: The board had no choice. Linus Wright’s firing of Weldon Wells was upheld.

Those major, multimillion dollar foul-ups which have all but made the school board saga a regular part of the 10 o’clock news represent only one area of the board’s mismanagement, however.

This summer, the bottom line was made evident when the D1SD administration released results of Dallas students’ standing in statewide achievement testing. Compared to students in other urban school districts, Dallas students ranked at or near the bottom in the state in all three basic skill areas: reading, writing, and arithmetic. In Dallas. Johnny clearly can’t read, or write, or count beyond the capacity of his fingers. In the eighth grade in D1SD, for instance, 67 per cent of the students cannot read on the eighth grade level; 78 per cent can’t perform mathematics on their grade level, and 86 per cent can’t write on the eighth grade level.

And at the time when numerous other embarrassing facts about DISD’s performance were being publicized. The Dallas Times-Herald pointed out one more unappealing statistic: While Dallas students’ skill performance ranks seventh or eighth among the eight largest school districts in Texas, DISD cost per student ranks first at $1,808 per pupil per year. There were, of course, a lot of other statistics that Dallas parents probably would have rather not known: 51 per cent of the Dallas ninth graders can’t pass minimal ninth grade reading and mathematics tests; a staggering 66 per cent of the ninth graders could not pass a minimal ninth grade writing test.

Wright was quick to respond to the headlines, letting the chips fall where they may. Or at least some of the chips. He was quick to admit that the DISD had long engaged in frivolous experimental programs that waste tax money and take school kids away from the fundamental skills they should be learning. He was fast to admit that DISD had grown top-heavy with administrators and that non-educational departments like the district’s Research and Evaluation Division had grown well beyond their optimum size while the classroom had been too often forgotten. Implicit in all of Wright’s admissions to the news media was that while all these administrative empires had been built, while the seeds of the school district’s demise had been sown, Linus Wright did not work in Dallas. He joined DISD only after the educational ship was starting to leak below the water line and list badly to the pert side. What was somewhat less implicit in Wright’s admissions was that the board of trustees who directed the shipwreck are the same group of people who sit on each side of Linus Wright at current board meetings.

A DISD public opinion survey released last December showed that only 28.4 per cent of the Dallas residents surveyed thought the board was doing a good or excellent job, while 54 per cent of those surveyed responded favorably to Wright’s performance.

Perhaps members of the school board are so testy with each other these days because of all that bad publicity, the notion of all those angry parents out there who are quite aware that the Dallas school board has failed miserably in its job.

“When I first came on the school board back in 1976,” says trustee Brad Lapsley, a former board president, “we used to really have fun. It’s just not fun anymore.”

One of the central reasons for the board’s lingering bad public image is its lack of ability to function even as a political body. The board doubtless could have abated many of its own problems a year ago when Linus Wright’s investigation of the business practices of the district started to unwrap all the sordid details of fraud and mismanagement in the district. The board could have bolstered public confidence in itself and the district by registering indignation at the frauds which occurred under Estes’ regime. Public hearings and public assurances by the board that it would get to the bottom of all the allegations of scandal would have at least given the taxpayers a better feeling about what was going on in their schools. Instead, the board chose to publicly ignore the obvious, opting for a series of private discussions and public debates about whether any fraud actually existed at all. Last summer Lapsley went before The Dallas Morning News editorial board and said there was “no proven mess” in the DISD business department.

The one member who was out front with his allegations of foul play was Bartos. who did not join the board until April, 1978. Bartos’ adversaries on the board, which at that time meant all the other members, were saying last summer that he was an over-zealous would-be watchdog. But he didn’t exactly have to be an FBI agent to uncover the problems about which he was beginning to raise questions.

A Price Waterhouse audit issued to the board in December, 1978, contained the following plain English statement in its summary: “During the year ended Aug. 31. 1978, the District contracted for the replacement of boiler burners in virtually all school buildings for an approximate cost of $2,200,000 without obtaining competitive bids. . .The district (administration) believed that the vendor with which the contract was placed was the only Dallas area company properly qualified to perform the work and as a result, did not solicit competitive bids. The transaction was later ratified by the district. “

Anyone with a high school education- unless it was obtained in Dallas-should have been able to see that as a sign that something was very fishy about the way the DISD was doing business.

Now, one year after the fact, the other board members contend that they knew what was going on all along and that Bartos only appeared to be out front with his allegations because he was courting the media. “We raised probing questions about the district’s business practices,” Mrs. Ehrhardt said recently. “We kept raising questions until something was done about it, and that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.” Lapsley and Mrs. Haskins both contend now that Bartos was being naive when he joined the board if he thought that his fellow members didn’t know what was going on in the business department and weren’t checking up on it.

But the fact remains that until Bartos wrote the superintendent a formal letter threatening to go to the news media with his allegations of fraud unless something was done about it, the public was never informed that anything might be wrong with the way the district was spending tax dollars.

In mid-June, 1979. Lapsley told the Morning News, “Jerry is going to hang himself. I hate to say it, but that’s what’s going to happen. The general consensus (of the board) is that Jerry Bartos walked out of the last audit with egg all over his face, dripping down his tie and all over his shoes.”

Even now, Lapsley is willing to debate the wisdom of the district’s boiler purchases. “What you’ve got to remember is that we were in a hurry to get schools open for the school year (when the boilers were purchased).” Lapsley said a few weeks ago. “In those days it was a matter of the lesser of two evils (no competitive bids or no new boilers). We did get the schools open and for that I think we have to take our hats off to Dr. Nolan Estes and Dr. Weldon Wells.”

While few of Lapsley’s peers on the board will join him in debating the existence of what is now widely regarded as the biggest public fraud in Dallas history, there is little doubt that one of the many crevasses in the highly factionalized Board of Education is caused by the fact that Bartos’ peers don’t like the way he pushed all the district’s dirty laundry into the public view.

“Jerry Bartos blew the whistle on the school board,” says Harley Hiscox. president of the Dallas Federation of Teachers, “and they will never forgive him for that.”

But the public frauds and the bad test scores by D1SD students, the front-page tales of incompetence, all the factors which the casual observer might think are the issues with which the school board should be concerned, are really not the basis for what’s going on currently in the DISD board room.

The factionalization has little to do with anything deeper than the fact that eight individually normal people who happen to be school trustees collectively can’t function together as a deliberative, cooperative body. The soap opera that currently plays at DISD headquarters would probably be playing itself out even if the public schools weren’t falling apart at the seams.

The situation was described most succinctly by a DISD administrative official interviewed for this article. “What.” I asked him, “makes the Board of Education tick?”

“Hate,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

What the current problems of the school board all come down to is an old-fashioned feud, a power struggle in which the players, because of the nature of their personalities, take the conflicts personally. Essentially, the board is divided into two distinct factions, although there are subfactions within the factions.

The most prominent combatant in what has been called the “conservative” or “establishment” faction of the board is Mrs. Has-kins, a six-year veteran of the board. In the days when Nolan Estes was at the peak of his power and Bill Hunter was president of the school board, Mrs. Haskins was the top-level power player: She was chosen as the board’s political liaison with the Texas Legislature. “Nolan Estes figured out very quickly what Sara wanted,” says Hiscox. “so he waved his magic wand and made her a big wheel in the Legislature.”

The role continued to work well for Mrs. Haskins under the board presidency of Lapsley, a staunch ally of Mrs. Haskins. Although Lapsley has been criticized by his adversaries as being “foolish” when it comes to handling himself in public, he is still considered a strong member of the establishment side of the board.

The third member of the team is Gerald Stanglin. a young and eager former college professor who is credited with having large quantities of political ambition and ego. Stanglin recently took an administrative job with the Richardson Independent School District. The job is likely to limit his time so much that his assistance to the faction he supports will be limited.

The fourth memeber of Mrs. Haskins’ team is frequently Bartos, although Bartos is enough of an open critic of the entire board that he is often considered a faction unto himself. “Now I know what our problem has been for the past four years.” he openly declared to the press gallery at the end of a recent board meeting. “It hasn’t been a case of fraud and mismanagement by intent; it’s been a case of fraud and mismanagement by incompetence.” Statements like that don’t make Bartos popular with any of his peers on the board, but in a standoff he is likely to vote with the Haskins-Lapsley-Stanglin side of the board.

The other side of the board, the so-called “liberal” side, is led by Mrs. Ehrhardt, although none of the other members of the faction may realize that. Mrs. Ehrhardt. a Swiss Avenue activist and a former D1SD school principal, has skillfully sewn together a coalition of what once constituted the “have-nots” on the board.

A prominent ally of Mrs. Ehrhardt is Kathlyn Gilliam, a six-year veteran of the board and currently the only black member. As president, Mrs. Gilliam appoints all the committee chairmen. Since the board as a whole usually rubber stamps the recommendations of its committees, chairmanship of those committees is vital. When Mrs. Gilliam was elected, all of the team members of the liberal wing got committee chairmanships. The most natural ally of the liberal wing of the board is Robert Medrano, an unabashed political opportunist whose entire family has been involved in liberal politics for decades. Medrano is perhaps the most loyal devotee to the team-player concept. He thoroughly believes in the spoils system. Rounding out the liberal side is Mrs. Jill Foster, an Oak Cliff PTA mom who once was a regular member of the Haskins team. But Mrs. Ehrhardt was able to court Mrs. Foster and woo her away from the conservative faction. “Jill wears her feelings on her shirt-sleeve,” says one board observer. “If you offend her, you are her enemy for life. At a time when Sara was stepping on Mrs. Foster, Harryette Ehrhardt came along, pumped up her ego, and sewed up her vote.”

The vitriolic tone of the conflict between the two factions is partially because the leaders of the two factions, Mrs. Haskins and Mrs. Ehrhardt, apparently hate each other’s guts (although both publicly deny that).

This situation is exacerbated by another problem of the board’s making: There are only eight members on a nine-seat board. When board member Robert Price resigned recently because of a ruling that his position constituted a conflict of interest since his wife had been promoted to school principal while he was on the board, a vacancy was created. The board filled that vacancy by appointing Dallas attorney Lorenzo Brown. Among the fine points the board failed to check was whether Brown was legally qualified to serve. After black Democratic precinct chairman Dwight Patterson filed a suit against Brown, a district court ruled that Brown, who had not lived six months in the district which he would represent, could not serve on the board. Brown promptly appealed the ruling. And now it appears that it will be October or November until the matter is settled in the appeals courts. Meanwhile, the board will be split 4-4, and aimlessly drifting while it considers matters like a $321 million budget and a 31.5 per cent tax increase.

Insiders in the board say there’s more than just the surface-level incompetence to blame for the unfilled seat. The conservatives contend Brown was blocked from the board because he wouldn’t play ball with the liberals. They say Mrs. Ehrhardt put her friend Dwight Patterson, a non-resident of the district which Brown was appointed to represent, up to filing the suit. Mrs. Ehrhardt denies the charge. “1 did talk to him on the telephone before he filed the suit.” she told me. “”but I didn’t put him up to it. How could you coerce him into filing a lawsuit? It just didn’t happen.”

One of the unfortunate aspects of the struggle for power on the school board is that the score is kept with issues and programs that affect the school children and the taxpayers.

Wright proposed recently that the TASB legal staff update the DISD policy manual, a service which the TASB staff could perform for $60.000 less than DISD could have its own staff do the work. Mrs. Ehrhardt. obviously offended that Mrs. Gilliam had not been invited to take Mrs. Haskins’ place on the TASB board, fought Wright’s recommendation. She lost when Mrs. Foster defected on the vote. Had Mrs. Ehrhardt won that round, it would have cost the taxpayers $60,000 because of a feud between board members.

Mrs. Ehrhardt later said that she had fought the measure because, among other things, a school trustee from a nearby school district, who is also a member of the TASB steering committee, had made a racist statement about Mrs. Gilliam in a telephone conversation.

“I don’t think we ought to be giving money to that type of organization,” she said.

“Are you saying that because a board member who is part of that organization made a racist remark that the TASB (which is made up of 1200 school districts) is racist?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said, “I’m just saying that we should not spend money with them until we find out if they are (racist).”

When you consider the money the school board has wasted over the years, however, dropping a mere $60,000 is peanuts. The real potential stakes are much higher. Some school board members say there is a real chance that Wright, who is doubtless growing weary of the board’s antics, will leave the district. If he docs, the DISD will lose its last link with credibility and the problems can only accelerate.

“I’d say we arc running a real risk of running Linus off,’” says Lapsley. “He’s going to be tired of being bounced around (between factions) and pack his bags.”

“The odds are in favor of Linus leaving at this point.” says Bartos. “I hate to say it. but we may very well lose him. And that is something the school system just can’t afford.”

When Mrs. Haskins recommended Wright for a pay increase several months ago. the liberal side of the board turned it down. Some of the liberal team players later told Wright the turn down was “nothing personal.”

“They turned it down because I recom-mended it.” says Mrs. Haskins. “They wanted to get at me and Linus had to pay for it.”

Mrs. Ehrhardt tends to confirm that analysis.

“If she really felt that way,” says Mrs. Ehrhardt about Mrs. Haskins. “she shouldn’t have recommended the raise when she did.”

“What you’ve got to remember.” says liberal team player Kathlyn Gilliam, “is that no one person is bigger than this district. The schools are going to continue their work regardless of whether any one individual works for the district or not.”

“We cant go around all the time basing our actions on what will not offend the superintendent.” says Mrs. Foster.

Liberal team players contend it was the timing of Wright’s raise that made the difference. They say Mrs. Haskins was “trying to ram it down our throats.” After Mrs. Haskins’ tenure as chairman of the personnel committee ended. Wright was given his raise. Board members who voted against the raise the first time and voted for it the second say their change of heart was based on Wright’s performance and his clearing up questions about problem areas in administration of the district. Right.

The worst act the school board committed in the past term did not. ironically, occur in the DISD board room. It occurred in the Texas Legislature The board, using its connections in the capital, pushed through a leg-islative bill that lengthens the terms of the board members by a year, meaning that none of them will come up for reelection until April 1982. The reasoning for the bill, ostensibly, was that the 1980 census data would not be back in time for proper redistricting before the 1981 election. The timing of the measure, passed in June 1979. seems ironic. At the same time the school board terms were being extended, taxpayers were finding out about all the millions of dollars the school trustees had blithely paid for fraudulent contracts. Perhaps this timing had something to do with the fact that the school board never held a public hearing on the proposal before it was sent to Austin.

Now, even the board proponents of the bill are openly admitting it was a big mistake. “I was instrumental in getting that bill passed,” says Mrs. Haskins, “and I can’t tell you how sorry 1 am. There’s a strong move in the community now to get it rescinded in the legislature this spring, and I will actively support that.” Even Mrs. Ehrhardt, who was also in favor of the 1979 bill, now agrees with rescinding it. “Some people I know are putting something together on that right now.” she says. “The bill was a bad move.”

Mrs. Haskins is going a step further, working to get a recall bill for school board members passed. Under the oddities of Texas law. school board members are the only elected public officials who can’t be recalled.

Even though the board has been notorious for being out of touch with the community. Mrs. Haskins is right on target with one assumption: “If any of the board members were fool enough to run for re-election, the voters certainly would turn them out of office.” she says. “And if we had a recall bill m effect here. I’m sure some of the board members would have been recalled from office long ago.”


The DISD desegregation battle will be 25 years old on September 12, and chances are people won’t be getting together all over town for a birthday celebration. This controversy has turned into an interminable municipal soap opera, with frequent shifts in plot and character but generally the same depressing conclusion. For those who missed or have forgotten the earlier episodes, here are a few highlights.

September 12, 1955: The NAACP files suit against the DISD, charging racial discrimination in the city’s schools.

September 16, 1955: Federal Judge William Atwell tosses the case out, declaring that Dallas schools are fine just as they are.

September 5, 1957: Judge Atwell. under order from the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, orders the integration of Dallas schools.

June 25, 1958: In the first of many foot-dragging maneuvers, the DISD board votes unanimously to maintain segregated schools through the spring of 1959, arguing that the conflict between state and federal segregation laws has not been resolved.

September 6, 1961: 18 black first-graders enroll in previously all-white schools, the first step in a grade-a-year integration program.

July 3, 1965: The Fifth Circuit Court throws out the grade-a-year plan and orders the immediate integration of the entire system.

October 7, 1970: Dallas Legal Services, representing 21 black and Mexican-American students, files suit requesting that U.S. District Judge William Taylor formulate a comprehensive desegregation plan.

July 15, 1971 : Judge Taylor agrees that the DISD is not in compliance with Federal desegregation guidelines and orders the school district to draw up a desegregation plan.

August 2, 1971: Judge Taylor puts forth a desegregation plan that calls for the busing of approximately 7000 students and the introduction of a closed network television system in elementary schools so that Anglos, blacks, and Mexican-Americans can talk to one another. That part of the plan is decried as an evasive gimmick by most observers. The plaintiffs appeal.

September 7, 1971: The busing portion of Judge Taylor’s plan goes into effect without incident, but only a handful of whites actually get on the buses.

July 23, 1975: The Fifth Circuit Court, after a four-year delay, finally tosses out the 1971 desegregation plan and orders Judge Taylor to come up with a new one.

August 23. 1976: The new desegregation plan, put together by the Dallas Alliance, goes into effect. Among other things, it calls for busing of students in grades 4 through 8 and the creation of four magnet schools. It is hailed throughout the country as a creative and farsighted plan.

January 7. 1977: The NAACP appeals the 1976 plan on the grounds that over 25.000 students still remain in all-black schools.

April 21, 1978: The appeals court remandsthe case to Judge Taylor’s court, ordering himto either consider a new student assignmentplan or to find justification for the continuance of the 1976 plan.

And that, for the moment, is where the matter rests. Earlier this year the NAACP asked for clarification of the Fifth Circuit’s decision to remand the case to Judge Taylor’s court. The NAACP maintains that a whole new student assignment plan has been called for, whereas Judge Taylor insists that he has merely been ordered to conduct further time/ distance studies on busing and to find justification for the existence of 61 one-race schools. The issue is currently being discussed by lawyers on both sides. If an agreement isn’t reached soon, another hearing will be set and the same tired scenario will be played out again.

It is impossible to calculate the emotional and psychological costs of this prolonged struggle for students, teachers, parents, and the general public. But certain other costs aren’t quite so intangible. Since 1972, the DISD has spent an estimated $600,000 in legal fees defending or appealing the various court orders and several million since 1955. And from 1970 to 1980 enrollment in the DISD has dropped from 175,843 to 142,252. Ironically, the thrust of the 1971 order was to avoid repeating the mistakes of cities like Atlanta, where massive busing had transformed a district that was 70 per cent white to one that was 85 per cent black. In 1971, the Anglo enrollment in the DISD was 69 per cent; it is currently 32.2 per cent, and dropping. Soon there won’t be enough Anglos left to meet the requirements of any desegregation plan, no matter how farsighted. One can’t help wondering what would have happened if. in the early Seventies, the DISD had taken the initiative and come up with a sweeping desegregation plan of its own instead of waiting for the courts to call the shots.


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