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Residents Sound Off On DISD Vs. Charter Schools

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It could have been a routine discussion at Dallas City Hall, but it wasn’t. The topic — whether to create a non-profit corporation so a public charter school could issue bonds.

Instead the meeting took a turn and became a debate on whether public charter schools hurt the DISD.

“I’m asking please do not give monies to uproot education in our community,” said Dallas resident Shirley Daniels, who is critical of the public charter school expansion, especially when the DISD is preparing to close down schools.

Other residents echoed her criticism.   “Our city does not need to get into competition against the Dallas Independent School District,” said Marion Bennett.

Holsey Hickman added his concern.  “Now they’re coming up with a system to profit off the minds of our children, for profit.”

Rena Honea, president of the Alliance-AFT, a teachers labor group, was also critical.  “The charters compete with our public schools in the Dallas ISD.  They recruit students that would otherwise attend Dallas ISD schools,” she said.

Some councilmembers echoed the same concerns.   “I think that we are not giving our public schools the role that it needs and the support that it needs,” Carolyn Davis said adamantly.

Dallas City Councilmember Angela Hunt wondered aloud why there was such a rush for the non-profit corporation vote, since the proposal didn’t come in until last Friday.

“I’m not clear on why we would be moving forward in endorsing the charter school concept when we have DISD schools shuttering their doors.”

Mayor Mike Rawlings staunchly defended the proposal.  “I’m not going to personally stand to let poor people get bad education anymore,” he declared.   The discussion seemed to bring him to the verge of tears.  “Guys,” he pleaded to the council and audience, “we’ve got to come to terms with this. This is not about politics. This is not about neighborhoods. This is not about the old way of doing things. This is about the kids.”

Rawlings supports the concept of Uplift Education, which sponsors nine charter schools in Dallas-Fort Worth.   Uplift’s very demanding curriculum and goal is for every graduating senior to go to college.  The schools tend to fit into whatever spaces are available.   In the case of a West End academy, it’s the first floor offices of a Dallas West End parking garage.

Uplift routinely issues bonds, but now federal stimulus funds allow those bonds to be tax exempt if Dallas will create an umbrella-sponsoring corporation, at no cost or liability to the city.

But many speakers at council see the schools as a threat and blame them for some upcoming DISD shutdowns.  One resident also took the council to task because a proposed school is to be set in Deep Ellum.

“We think this is a terrible idea to have this school in Deep Ellum,” said neighbor Eric Wilson.  “It is an entertainment district; many of them are alcohol-related.  It’s a no-brainer that it shouldn’t be there.”

But Uplift’s CEO said it is compatible with multiple venues because it is a non-profit and money saved will go to improved buildings and teacher salaries.

“We are absolutely committed to the success of education in Dallas and we want to see DISD thrive as well,” said CEO Yasmin Bhatia.  “We just learned about all of the rules behind this new source of bond financing; and as soon as we learned there was a requirement to bring it forward to the city we brought it immediately forward to the city, to ask for their help.”

The council ultimately deferred the item for two weeks to allow for additional study and neighborhood comment.

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