DALLAS -- There were three town hall meetings regarding the DISD home rule initiative in Dallas Thursday night, all held simultaneously in Pleasant Grove, northern Dallas, and southern Dallas.
In Pleasant Grove, things began with a Power Point presentation. Former DISD school board trustee Dr. Edwin Flores laid out the case about the troubles the school district is facing.
"Only eight percent of graduates are college-ready, and so we're behind," he told the crowd of about 50 or so. "Are we happy with only 588 students graduating college-ready?"
He stressed that he is not on the board of Support Our Public Schools (SOPS), just a concerned member of the public who was willing to help out with a presentation about DISD.
But he sat at a table with Jeronimo Valdez, who is on the Support Our Public Schools Board. Valdez said he's a DISD graduate who believes DISD is at a crossroads.
Support Our Public Schools is circulating a petition, which, if it gets 25,000 signatures from registered Dallas voters, would force the current members of the DISD board of trustees to form a 15-member commission. That commission would draw up a new charter for DISD.
The district would be the first in the state to become a home rule district.
"So what it means is greater local control and greater authority for our communities and local leaders to dictate what we do in local independent school districts," said State Rep. Jason Villalba, who hosted the town hall held in at the public library at Royal and the tollway in the northern part of Dallas. "The way we craft legislation in Austin is a one-size-fits-all mandate. Education is not one-size-fits-all. You have to craft individual school districts based on the needs of the communities."
Some powerful people are in favor of the change. Villalba stood with Dallas City Councilmember Jennifer Staubach Gates at his meeting. Mayor Mike Rawlings is also in favor of the initiative.
"Ninety percent of our children are not prepared for the competitive workforce that we have. To me, that's a disaster, and that means we've got to do something significant," Rawlings said.
After the Power Point presentation at the town hall meeting in Pleasant Grove, they opened up the microphone for public comment and the sparks began to fly.
One woman said, "I'm not ready to give up on DISD yet, because I’m a product of DISD."
"It's still public, it's still DISD," Valdez replied. "We're not going private, we're not going charter."
He was criticized when people asked why, if he'd like to change the district, he'd never run for school board.
"I don't live in the city of Dallas, and I'm not hiding that," he said.
One man attending the meeting said Valdez's residence bothered him.
"I feel insulted knowing you're not a DISD voter, and you come to my house and tell me, 'This ain't good for you no more,'" he said.
At the meeting in northern Dallas, there was such a crowd people spilled out into a hallway. Organizers said it was just an initial foray into the topic, promising more information would follow.
While Rawlings said the Support Our Public Schools has a "blank slate" and no clear agenda, not everyone agreed.
"They keep acting like they're doing it from scratch. You don't come up with meetings and money from scratch. This is not a down-home thing. This is a highly-organized entity, and they're not telling us the whole story," said Diane Birdwell of the National Education Association of Dallas. "None of us are happy with the way things are. Status quo isn't happy for anyone, but they won't tell us anything about what they're trying to do."