DALLAS — If they weren’t all accustomed to bruising political battles, it might almost have been a little awkward.
As Superintendent Mike Miles and the Dallas Independent School District board sat there at City Hall Wednesday afternoon, the Council debated — right in front of them — the contentious home rule proposal.
No one is sure yet exactly what changes might come under home rule, or what it might ultimately mean for the futures of those DISD leaders who looked on as the public discussion played out around them Wednesday.
It’s an idea that could ultimately lead to the school district’s top executives all being tossed out.
“We must improve the perceptions about our schools," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said. "I have seen several pieces of research myself, quantitative across Dallas, that the No. 1 barrier to living in Dallas is the school issue."
Even though he praised the board and the superintendent for the job they’ve done in recent years, Mayor Rawlings says better, faster results are needed. He staunchly supports home-rule, which would allow for local control over Dallas schools instead of state oversight.
“How can we have the best urban school district in America? That’s my goal,” the mayor said.
No district has ever done something like this in Texas.
“It’s dividing our city,” said Council member Adam Medrano.
He was one of several colleagues who pushed back against the plan at the Wednesday afternoon briefing.
Council member Philip Kingston insisted that after some rocky years, DISD is finally on the right path.
“I don’t know why we would choose this moment in time — when we are seeing the first fruits of those efforts &mash; to blow it up," he said.
Even as the issue is being discussed, a petition drive is underway. If five percent of voters in the district sign on, the idea of home-rule would be put to the electorate in November.
Some say the change can’t come fast enough; others complain it’s happening too fast... that they don’t know enough about home-rule.
One parent admonished the Council Wednesday morning to “stop playing politics” and focus on the kids.
The issue may only get more contentious and complicated from here. There were enough Dallas school board members in attendance to observe Wednesday’s Council debate on home-rule that DISD Board President Eric Cowan announced that — in keeping with open meetings rules &mash; the Council gathering was officially also a joint meeting with the Board of Trustees.
When Dallas ISD Superintendent Mike Miles was asked at the Council briefing whether he could take part in the home-rule discussion, the school board president politely told the Council he would prefer that school officials not discuss the issue until the district can hire an attorney to advise leaders on home-rule.