Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Other School Officials Battle Doubt in Black, Hispanic Communities Over Home-Rule Effort

Mona Reeder/Staff Photographer Mayor Mike Rawlings (right) and DISD superintendent Mike Miles (center) recently toured two schools that are part of an initiative to improve campuses. The schools, Quintanilla MIddle School and J.J. Rhoads Learning Center, receive extra teachers and resources, and students can participate in after-school learning sessions.
Mona Reeder/Staff Photographer
Mayor Mike Rawlings (right) and DISD superintendent Mike Miles (center) recently toured two schools that are part of an initiative to improve campuses. The schools, Quintanilla MIddle School and J.J. Rhoads Learning Center, receive extra teachers and resources, and students can participate in after-school learning sessions.

As Mayor Mike Rawlings and others push to convert Dallas ISD into a home-rule district, they have struggled recently to sell their plan to key people in Hispanic and black communities.

The challenges became clear Thursday night, when Rawlings abruptly left a private meeting with several dozen Hispanic leaders after it turned contentious. Rawlings walked out of an East Dallas church after 15 minutes when some attendees interrupted his presentation, challenged him on his support of charter schools and disputed his statistics about Dallas ISD’s poor performance.

“The meeting turned kind of quickly. Rawlings didn’t say much, got up and was a little upset by the questions,” said lawyer Eric Cedillo, who attended the meeting.

Rene Martinez, a local LULAC leader who also was there, said Rawlings got rattled and lost control of the room. “The mayor thought he would come in and we would all nod in agreement. He was not a happy camper.”

Rawlings said Friday he left to avoid the combative environment and to turn the discussion over to a board member of Support Our Public Schools, the group leading the effort.

“I left last night’s meeting early because I was interrupted numerous times with hostile comments from uninvited guests,” Rawlings said. “I will continue to reach out to the Hispanic community throughout this process.”

As with many things in Dallas, the home-rule issue has split along racial lines. In some circles, Support Our Public Schools is battling the perception that the business community and North Dallas elite want control of DISD and its $1.2 billion annual budget. Rawlings acknowledged that the home-rule movement will die if minority leaders don’t back it.

At Thursday’s meeting at Agape Memorial United Methodist Church, Rawlings began the presentation with facts about Dallas ISD, saying that its schools were “dark and without hope, and our charter schools are bright and optimistic,” according to people who attended. The mayor said that 7 percent of Dallas graduates are “college-ready” — a statistic DISD administrators put at 14.4 percent.

“They are skewing the numbers to make it look as bad as possible. They need people to hate the public schools to pass this thing,” said Anna Casey, a political consultant who questioned the mayor. “He was making it clear that he didn’t believe in public education and wanted to turn our school system to a system of charter schools.”

Casey said the attendees included a few community leaders, but mostly people who work at charter schools or had contracts with DISD.

“The people they invited were people who make money off the district. There’s a for-profit element behind this thing that’s kind of creepy,” she said.

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Source: Dallas Morning News | 

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