Friday, June 25, 2021

Dallas voters should support Dallas County Schools

Dallas County Schools has provided transportation services to the Dallas ISD and other area districts. Currently the agency is facing an effort to dissolve it, being led by area politicians and activists. The voters will get the final say in an upcoming vote on the issue. (Photo Credit: Dallas County Schools)

NDG’s View

Nov. 7 is Decision Day for the Dallas County Schools (DCS). The voters in Dallas will decide if they want to save the embattled agency which provides transportation for thousands of students in North Texas. Despite many influential voices seeking to close the agency, the North Dallas Gazette (NDG) believes the agency should survive to see another day. In the absence of a viable alternative presented to the voters, we believe DCS should continue efforts underway to address problems of the past.

As we shared in the Dallas Black Press Coalition story on Oct. 28, DCS is not a school district; they provide transportation for more than 450,000 Dallas County students in Dallas ISD, Richardson ISD, Irving ISD, Highland Park ISD, Lancaster ISD, Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, Cedar Hill ISD, and DeSoto ISD. They also provide service to local nonprofits at affordable prices for field trips throughout the academic school year and the summer.

First, we must point out possible confusion on how it is listed on the ballot. Under the Dallas City Bond $1.05 initiatives, Proposition A is for Streets and Transportation, however, this is NOT related to DCS. The ballot matter related to DCS is located at the bottom of the ballot under Dallas County School Board Special Election as Dallas County Schools Proposition A. NDG recommends you vote “For” the proposition.

A vote for Dallas County Prop A is a vote to support economic development through the estimated 3,000 jobs at stake. This includes the bus drivers, vehicle maintenance staff, leadership and support staff which run the agency. Through DCS they have health insurance, access to participate in Teacher Retirement System and other benefits. Right now as you can imagine, they are very concerned about the future of their jobs, which until now have been stable. This has led some to share their concerns with students and parents, which is improper electioneering and leadership has warned them to not participate in this improper behavior.

While NDG certainly does not condone these actions, with their jobs in the hands of voters who likely are not aware of what is going on, and an organized vocal opponent they perhaps feel they have little choice. It has been suggested they would likely be hired by the new entity put in place, but will they have the same benefits package and pay? Or will they be relegated to minimum wage pay with no or very limited benefits? Also, if they are such poor performers as suggested, why would they be considered by the new entity?

No one will dispute there have been problems within the agency in the past, but it is important to separate how much of the problems were related to the on-going activities of the staff, and how much was related to the actions of a single individual. The former leader was under investigation by the FBI and the Texas Rangers. But no one else was accused of wrongdoing and under new leadership, the agency has made improvements.

There were questionable financial decisions made which have put the agency in debt, but dissolving the agency will not fix those problems. According to the current leadership, they have been addressed and the agency is no longer in danger of bankruptcy. So why are we trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater? Until news reports surfaced last year, where was the oversight of the agency? Why are their hands seemingly clean and their jobs not called into question?

A significant concern is for the safety of the students first and foremost, and news reports of bus drivers incurring thousands of dollars in red light violations are disturbing. But instead of dissolving DCS, why not first ensure appropriate policies are in place to address repeat offenders? Someone with oversight should require the agency to look at the best practices other school districts have in place and implement them promptly. That goes a long way toward fixing a problem, versus scrapping an entire agency because of the misdeeds of a few.

NDG is also concerned about the safety of students. A hastily thrown together plan with very little details does not sound like an effective way to make sure the children will be protected. This starts before they get on the bus with complete background checks before the first day a driver gets behind the wheel. DCS has an effective process in place, but that comes at a cost. What assurances do we have the new team, whoever that may be, will do the same. Or will they simply go with the most cost-effective vendor that presents a proposal?

Follow the money

State Senator Don Huffines and Dallas ISD Trustee Dustin Marshall have been actively campaigning to see DCS disbanded. However, they are merely the public faces, a political action committee (PAC) named Protect Dallas Kids was formed to lead the charge against DCS. According to the financial report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission on Oct. 30, the PAC has raised $22,500. The money comes from three sources: $1,000 from the Dallas Citizens Council, $1,500 from a retired individual named Todd Williams and $20,000 from Dallas-based telecommunications giant AT&T.

For those criticizing the financial management of DCS, it is odd to see the Protect Dallas Kids seems to have a problem in balancing their books. Also it is interesting to see every dime was spent outside of Texas. They have incurred unpaid bills totalling $96.174.16:

• $4,000 Remington Research Group in Kansas City, MO for polling

• $4,589 Henry Alan, LLC in Dublin, OH for accounting services

• $87,585.16 Axiom Strategies, LLC in Kansas City, MO was paid for advertising

Until Tuesday, few elected officials would offer more than “let the voters” decide in way of support for DCS. Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price recorded a radio ad encouraging voters to support DCS. “Don’t be fooled by the opponents’ rhetoric who wants to abolish a public entity that has been serving the district for decades,” Price stated in the ad encouraging voters to give DCS a chance to continue to address and fix the problems of the past.

Is Dallas ISD really prepared for the task?

Dallas ISD’s official position is to reserve comments on the proposal and let voters make up their own minds on whether to save DCS, spokesperson Robyn Harris told the North Dallas Gazette. If Dallas County residents vote against the proposition, the district has already developed a contingency plan for finding alternative means of transporting students. What exactly that contingency plan entails remains unclear.

So, let’s say worst case scenario what happens if the voters vote to dissolve DSC, what happens? Those pushing hard for this to happen claim to have a plan but it is short on details. Dallas ISD Trustee Dustin Marshal, a vocal DCS opponent, recently shared via Facebook that a vote to dissolve DCS would trigger the creation within a week of a Dissolution Committee by Nov. 15 with one member from each of the ISDs served by DCS “among other members” with no indication of who these individuals are or how they will be selected. He also indicated the buses will be given free of charge to the ISDs they serve, and they will have to assume the lease if one exists. The committee would select new leadership and decide what happens to the other assets of DSC.

The more you read the plan briefly outlined on this Facebook post it becomes evident – Dallas ISD believes they can run the program themselves at a cheaper price. In fact, they are already in talks with a Transportation Consultant. NDG is certainly in favor of efficient use of taxpayer money, however, the voters deserve more than bits and pieces of information before they make an important decision regarding the transportation of their children. To end his message with, “and it certainly can’t get much worse than DCS,” is not terribly reassuring.

Also, under what authority is Marshall speaking, as a member of the recently formed PAC seeking to dissolve DCS or as a voice of the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees? With the message coming via his campaign page where he regularly shares info about the affairs of the district and using the term “we” throughout the post can blur the lines for voters – intentionally or otherwise.

This is an important matter and hastily drawn plans behind closed doors is not the way to provide voters with actionable information. NDG favors voting FOR Dallas County Transportation Prop A.

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