DKF Recommends an "Against" Vote on the November 7 Dallas County Schools Proposition

On November 7th, DallasKidsFirst Recommends Voting “AGAINST” on the Dallas County Schools Resolution – Our Students Deserve Better

The mission statement of Dallas County Schools (DCS - not to be confused with Dallas Independent School District) states, “we strive to be a trusted, solutions-oriented partner that not only serves the learning community, but also municipalities throughout the state with innovative solutions.” However, the reality is that Dallas Kids First is unable to reconcile the responsibility to serve Dallas County as described above with the current level of service and financial condition of DCS.

Dallas Kids First (DKF) supports policies and practices that put the interests of student first and that are budget responsible, and it is through that lens, that we cannot support the continuation of Dallas County Schools for Dallas ISD and the other districts they serve.

The research that led us to this conclusion started with examining the level of service that Dallas ISD students and campuses are receiving, and the results are shocking to say the least. Examples of a negative impact on our students, include:

  • Valuable classroom instruction missed due to late arrival. In 2015-2016 school year, DCS buses had a 64% on time arrival rate. Just think about that, four out of every ten students that rode the bus arrived to school late and missed classroom instructional time. This statistic is even more troubling when you consider that 88% of Dallas ISD’s student population is economically disadvantaged and rely on Breakfast in the Classroom to be physically prepared for the day of learning; a breakfast that is served during first period which a student would miss if late to school. 
  • An appalling safety record. Since 2011-2012, there has been an average of 419 accidents/incidents per year involving DCS buses. Said another way, that is one accident/incident per every 69 students that ride the bus. Each of these accidents/incidents put our children’s safety and security at risk, and although we understand accidents happen, 419 per year is a mindboggling number. To put that in perspective, a number of other transportation providers were researched, including the provider for Hillsborough County Schools in Florida, the 8th largest school district in the Country, never once had more than 50 accidents/incidents in a single year transporting more students across larger districts.

  • Missed extracurricular opportunities for an already underserved student population. There is no better way to express this point than to use the words of a Dallas ISD teacher. In the past year alone I can think of several instances where my students were denied the opportunity to compete in sporting events and other extracurricular activities because DCS couldn't be bothered to provide reliable service. I've waited at stadiums and ball fields for countless hours, only to find out that the bus never showed up at the school to pick up the kids. Our baseball team has had to forfeit JV games so Varsity had enough time to play on at least two occasions. Our entire swim team missed a meet last month because of DCS error. Our soccer team had buses break down and students had to walk the remaining mile to a district game or forfeit. My kids don't deserve that.”

As if above issues directly impacting students wasn’t enough, DKF also focuses a great deal on quality governance, and if we were completing one of our scorecards for the DCS Administration and Board of Trustees, they would most certainly receive an “F.” There is evidence of extreme issues of financial mismanagement involving taxpayer dollars and administrators and elected board members are named in numerous news reports and investigations for serious infractions that have led to Texas legislators’ taking bipartisan action to consider dissolution of Dallas County Schools.  Specific examples that bring us to the conclusion that voters should seriously consider an “AGAINST” vote include: 

  • A per student cost to the Dallas ISD that has doubled (~$800 to $1,600) since 2011-12 with 22,000 less riders and historically low fuel costs, with no explanation on why this is the case.
  • DCS borrowed funds to the tune of $52M to enter into a revenue-producing stop arm camera program with districts outside Dallas County which ultimately led to millions in lost revenue.
  • Dallas County Schools has turned over records to the Texas Rangers who are charged with investigating public corruption.
  • Questions around campaign contributions of more than $200K from a vendor (who was ultimately awarded a multi-million-dollar contract) to the board president and general transparency of campaign finance reports of all board members.
  • DCS sold a number of properties for $25M, then turned around and leased the same properties back for $47M, passing on the increased lease amount to its district partners. Dallas ISD paid (unbeknownst to them due to poor transparency from DCS) $2M towards this questionable land deal, money that should have been in the classroom.
  • DCS has a financial rating that is considered to be “junk status”, has defaulted on debt payments, and over the past year, DCS has had two Superintendents, two Chief Financial Officers, and the Board President all resign which points to the incredible dysfunction and uncertainty around the current DCS operations.

The safety of our students comes first and foremost, and parents should have the confidence that their children will arrive to school in a safe and on time manner, while being prepared for the academic day and able to enjoy their extracurricular activities. Furthermore, taxpayers (which pay a $.01 property tax to DCS) deserve transparency from their elected officials, which the DCS Board of Trustees is, free from corruption or back-room deals, and who stay true to the mission of their organization and do so with fidelity. Even with recent leadership changes at DCS, DKF has zero confidence that the product will improve and believe strongly that there must be a better alternative.

At the bottom of the ballot, make sure to vote “AGAINST” on the Dallas County Schools proposition.

Dallas Morning News Editorial Board recommends an ‘Against’ vote on Dallas County Schools Bus System

NBC5: DCS investigation stories dating back to November 2016

DMN: Credit agency warns of bankruptcy risk

Early Voting Dates:

 Monday, October 23 – Saturday, October 288:00am to 5:00pm

Sunday, October 29 –1:00pm to 6:00pm

Monday, October 30 – Wednesday, November 18:00am to 5:00pm

Thursday, November 2 – Friday, November 37:00am to 7:00pm

Early Voting Location Finder (vote anywhere in Dallas County)

 Election Day

Tuesday, November7:00am to 7:00pm (vote in your precinct)

Critical Needs for Continued Progress

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In 2013, Dallas led the country in the growth of millionaires, with these families controlling over $450 BILLION in personal wealth.
 
At the same time, the city of Dallas has the highest child poverty rate in America. 4 in 10 Dallas children live below the poverty line, which is the equivalent of a family of 4 earning less than $24,000 per year.
 
A staggering 50,000 children in Dallas live in extreme poverty, in a household making less than $12,000 per year. And nearly 4,500 students enrolled in Dallas ISD qualify as homeless.
 
How has Texas and in particular, Dallas, become such an example of massive inequality?
 
The root causes of this inequality run deep, but our failure to provide every child access to a quality education has been a primary driver.
 
Currently only half enter the school system prepared to succeed in Kindergarten. 89% of the students in Dallas ISD are considered to be economically disadvantaged (the highest percentage in North Texas), 43% of student are English Language Learners and 65% of students are considered at-risk by the State.
 
Yet, even considering these immense challenges, Dallas ISD has the 3rd lowest tax rate in North Texas (only Highland Park with zero poverty and Azle ISD have lower rates) and has had the same tax rate for a decade.
 
However, Dallas ISD has not blinked in the face of these challenges, and over the past four years, has made tremendous academic progress that deserves to the celebrated. Accomplishments include:

  • Kindergarten Readiness has grown by 12% since 2012
  • Pre-K enrollment has grown by 43% since 2012, to over 11,000 students annually
  • 40% of students now accessing IB/AP classes, up from 33% since 2012
  • 14,209 fewer students attending an Improvement Required campus, a 47% reduction, in 2 years
  • Career certificate attainment rates have increased by 4X over the last 2 years
  • Early College High School programs on track at all 22 comprehensive high schools by 2018
  • Piloting the first two schools where student enrollment is intentionally balanced based on family incomes
  • Board policy to eliminate discretionary suspensions for students in grades PK-2 by 2022-23 

To their credit, Dallas ISD has not complained about being the highest poverty school district in a city with one of the lowest tax rates, but simply focused on providing the very best for their students on less and less – but they can only do that for so long until the resources run out.
 
Furthermore, Dallas ISD has roughly 33% LESS money to spend per student than the national average for school districts. As a result, hard choices are made each year during the budgeting process, choices that kids shouldn’t have to suffer from and that elected Boards’ shouldn’t be forced into making. We shouldn’t have to choose between expanding pre-K or keeping librarians, paying teachers well or providing college counselors for primarily underserved, first generation students.
 
Our kids are being short changed by a state that has failed to make education a priority, particularly for those growing up without wealth and privilege.
 
Don’t be fooled by rising property values and assume that Dallas ISD is receiving more money to put towards are students. As local valuations increase, the State simply contributes less, pushing the burden away from them. Case and point is the current Dallas ISD budget which saw an increase in local revenue of $87M and a decrease in State revenue of $97M – a net LOSS of $10M.
 
Despite a Texas Supreme Court ruling that the State Legislature should overhaul public school funding, the legislature once again failed to act, leaving taxpayers in Dallas with a choice. Do we choose to invest wisely to break the cycle of poverty? Do we believe our kids are worth it?
 
We at DallasKidsFirst are advocating for a Tax Ratification Election to be brought to the voters – a small increase between 6-13 cents (depending on the Board decision) on our property taxes which has the power to make a big difference in our public schools and in the lives of more than 158,000 Dallas ISD students.
 
Our kids are worth it, our educators are worth it, and the District has earned it with the great progress over the past four years. Let’s all come together and support the district, giving them the ability to continue this progress for our students – the future depends on it.

The Board will vote on August 5 to decided whether they place a TRE on the ballot in a special election. We hope you will encourage your Dallas ISD Trustee to support the measure. Contact information for each trustee can be found here. If you need help knowing who your trustee is, send us a note at info@dallaskidsfirst.org. 

2017 Dallas ISD Elections | Districts 2, 6, 8

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Congratulations to Trustees Marshall, Foreman, and Solis on their re-election to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees in May and June 2017

District 2: DKF-endorsed candidate Trustee Dustin Marshall was elected to fill a vacancy on the board in 2016 and filed to run for a full term in 2017. With 4 candidates on the ballot in 2016 and 3 candidates in 2017, both elections required a runoff. He earned a rare “A” on his DKF candidate scorecards both years. Marshall ranked high in knowledge of local, state, and national education policy, understanding of board governance, urgency, independence and he has spent a year working to bridge the gap between his own private school experience and the District 2 community’s loyalty to their neighborhood campuses through providing “office hours” in local coffee shops and an advisory council to provide feedback on how policy votes will impact their campus. We believe in his solid commitment to Dallas ISD and are very pleased to see him re-elected by over 66% of District 2 voters in a hard-fought runoff to serve through 2020.

District 6: Students in District 6 schools have a strong advocate in Trustee Joyce Foreman who was re-elected by her community in 2017 to serve a second term on the board. While we don’t always agree with Foreman’s approach to policy solutions, we do recognize her commitment to her role and clarity of opinion. We never doubt where Trustee Foreman stands on an issue.

District 8: Trustee Miguel Solis filed to run for re-election and did not draw a challenger for the seat. He was sworn in to serve a second full term on May 25, 2017 without an election. Solis, elected in 2013 to fill a vacancy on the board then re-elected in 2014 for a full term has been instrumental in supporting the current teacher evaluation system, expansion of Early Childhood Education, and the reduction of out of school suspension of our youngest students. Solis was endorsed by DKF in 2013 and 2014.

DallasKidsFirst exists to increase citizen engagement by providing voters with actionable information about public school governance. DKF believes that district-wide transformation requires Trustees who will honestly assess Dallas ISD’s challenges. Following years of low voter turnout and cancelled elections, DKF wants to engage every Dallas ISD stakeholder by shining an intense light on school board decisions. Our Dallas ISD Vote Tracker is released each month and easily accessible on our website and social media.