NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE
DALLAS — The Dallas Independent School District spent more than $66,000 last calendar year to rent private meeting facilities at places like the Infomart, the Anatole Hotel, and the Ritz-Carlton, according to a review of the district's records by News 8.
"This is the kind of fat employees are looking at," said Rena Honea, president of the Alliance/AFT teachers union. "Take care of these things before you even look at a position or an employee to let go."
The practice is especially worrisome to employees and labor unions since Dallas ISD — like every district in Texas — now faces a major funding shortfall from the state.
The district recently warned it could face up to a $253 million budget gap. To close it, DISD said it might have to lay off 3,100 teachers and 800 support staff.
Records show Dallas ISD regularly rents private meeting space inside the Infomart, the landmark building at Interstate 35E and Oak Lawn Avenue.
DISD booked that facility 10 times last year for principal and teacher training at a cost of more than $39,000.
Additional training happened nearby at the Anatole Hotel, costing taxpayers another $13,000.
News 8 also discovered that Superintendent Michael Hinojosa met with principals at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel last September. Their tab topped $1,300.
Dallas' largest teachers union calls it wasteful spending, considering that DISD has 225 of its own campuses where meetings can take place for free.
"They may not look like what you want them to look like," Honea said. "They may not be as comfortable, but if they're good enough for our students, they should be good enough for our employees."
DISD also paid $5,640 to meet and train staff at the Hilton Dallas Lincoln Centre.
CityPlace Conference Center in Dallas cost taxpayers $4,270 and space at the DoubleTree Hotel Campbell Centre was rented by the district for $2,006 last year.
"If we don't have space, that's when we go to an off-site space," explained Dallas ISD spokesman Jon Dahlander. "Otherwise we try to use our district facilities as much as we can."
Dahlander and DISD also credit off-site training with helping triple the district's number of exemplary schools — not to mention improving the graduation rate over the last four years.
Still, the district suspended off-campus rentals two years ago during its last financial crisis, and Dahlander said the same thing could happen again.
"Everything is on the table, and obviously this is one of the things you'd look at," he said.
In all, Dallas ISD spent at least $66,000 to rent private facilities last year.
The total may only represent a position or two — which is not a lot considering the impending budget shortfall — but it's certainly an unwelcome appearance as layoffs loom.