EXCLUSIVE 'Home rule' campaign video, e-mails raising questions

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 10:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 21 at 10:24 PM

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NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — Thursday is the deadline to certify the petitions on the Dallas Independent School District "home rule" initiative.

But News 8 has obtained video and internal e-mails from the campaign backing the change, leading to new questions about whether the public was being tricked into signing those petitions.

Last Thursday, home rule campaign organizers delivered three boxes of petitions to DISD headquarters containing 48,000 signatures — many more than needed to force the formation of a commission to draft a new constitution for DISD.

But since then, people like LaCheryl Johnson have come forward saying they were not told they were signing a home rule charter petition.

"I asked that fellow what was it for, and his answer was, 'It was for the betterment of public schools for our children,'” Johnson said.

Others soliciting for signatures had a different sales pitch.

For instance, one young man from St. Louis said he was being paid $4 per signature to circulate home rule petitions. He was supposed to say this to prospective signers: "The purpose of this petition is to appoint a Charter Commission to frame a home rule school district charter."

But what he told one citizen who contacted News 8 was something entirely different.

“The petition is to create a charter commission to look over the Dallas school district,” said the petition worker. “They are trying to make it better, because it's one of the worst school districts in the nation."

Then — after calling DISD one of the worst school districts in the nation — the worker told one prospective petition supporter: "The home rule initiative would create a charter commission because the superintendent and the school board are not doing a good job."

Home rule opponent Bill Betzen has been claiming citizens have been misled for weeks.

"Every day I'm meeting more and more people who were tricked into signing," Betzen said.

His anger was renewed when we showed him internal e-mails from one of the staffing agencies hiring people to circulate the home rule petitions.

According to one agency manager, the goal starting on March 25 was 80 signatures per worker per day.

On March 31, the goal was lowered to 30-50 per signatures per day.

In a later e-mail dated April 6, petition workers were told to "aim to get 15 signatures a day" plus the added incentive of an extra $2 for each additional signature... plus an iPad mini would be awarded to the top performer.

Then, on April 19, another e-mail read: "The top producer will get a free trip to New Orleans."

Betzen says this helps explain why petition workers might tell citizens anything to get them to sign the petition.

"It eliminates whatever integrity there may have been,” he said. “It basically pulls it down to a money deal. We are out there to get people to sign, and you basically push people hard enough that they will sign so they can get you off their porch."

News 8 has been trying for days to get a response from campaign coordinators Allyn Media without success.

On Thursday night, DISD trustees will vote on whether to certify the home rule petitions. If they do, they then have 30 days to appoint a commission to draft a new constitution for the Dallas Independent School District.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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