Dallas County Schools Superintendent Rick Sorrells and Board President Larry Duncan responded Tuesday to a call for the superintendent's resignation as well as a bill that would abolish the beleaguered school bus provider by 2018.
Following a series of reports by NBC 5 Investigates that showed the agency is $14 million in debt and is $40 million off budget, Texas Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) called for Sorrells' resignation. News of the debt came after previous NBC 5 reports that bus drivers with DCS were racing through red lights while others were making students late for class by running off schedule. That's all in addition to questions about a controversial stop-arm camera program that cost the agency millions.
When asked Tuesday about the call for his resignation, Sorrells didn't say whether he planned to step down but that he'd talked to West and planned to do so again.
"I met with Sen. West last Wednesday and had a conversation with him about the future of Dallas County Schools and planned to have a meeting with him this next week to continue that conversation," Sorrells said.
Duncan said he also plans to meet with West "to understand his concerns" about Sorrells' leadership.
Sorrells addressed the budget issues Tuesday saying he'd hired an investigator to look into DCS' finances and that the "financial crisis" was a "budget issue."
"There is, at this point in the investigation, no money missing. There is no money lost. There is a budget issue and the budget is inflated," Sorrells said. "So, last week, we had the opportunity to try to handle that but it was only one sided. The revenues were being cut because we identified where the revenues needed to be cut. Now we're doing the other side to cut the expenditures where those expenditures need to be cut. The board actually tabled making that because it was so lopsided -- it was only one-sided, the equation. So the board will take that up at their next meeting and we'll be fine. We'll be moving forward, doing what we do, for kids in the North Texas area."
NBC 5 Investigates first reported on Texas Sen. Don Huffines' (R-Dallas) plan Monday night. On Tuesday morning in Austin, Huffines filed Senate Bill 1122 which "creates an orderly and thoughtful wind-down of Dallas County Schools, followed by complete abolition" by September 2018. A statement from Huffines' office can be seen below.
"Students and parents deserve better than DCS," Huffines said in a news release Tuesday. "When a child boards a school bus, parents should be able to trust that he or she will arrive at school safely and on time. This is a promise that DCS has broken repeatedly, and that's unacceptable. DCS has put students at risk, and for that, I am seeking to do right by students and parents by abolishing this dangerous bureaucracy.
Duncan decried the agency's characterization saying, "This morning 2,000 bus drivers got in buses like this and picked up 70,000 children and delivered them to school safely. It's a shame that now our student's safety is being used as a political football" while vowing to fight the bill that may shutter the agency.
"Sen. Huffines this morning proposed a bill to do away with Dallas County Schools. Yesterday he showed his true agenda when he disparaged PTA parents and students who were just advocating for public education," Duncan said. "The bottom line on this bill is to do away, to suck out, 19 and a half million dollars of our ad valorem tax from the public schools. We've already had our funding for public schools cut too much. We cannot allow this to happen. We need to see it for what it is -- in full context. Contact our state legislator sand make sure that we can continue taking care of our students getting to and from school safely."
Sorrells and Duncan said employees are worried about their futures after seeing reports about DCS on the news. During Tuesday's news conference, they invited some of those employees to speak to the media to share their concerns.
In addition to being worried about their jobs, employees who spoke said they didn't see any problems with the bus agency and they feared how students would get to school if the agency were abolished.
"People around us are nervous. They're upset," said 12-year bus driver Ricky Walker. "I like the job that I do. The kids like me. I don't know what Mr. Huffines is trying to do, but I just need my job. I feel like everything is fine. We just have a few problems here and there. We can all get over it and get through it. It's no problem at all." (See the entire press conference, including the employee statements, above)
"We've been told it would be catastrophic for the children and the school districts for us to simply disappear. We believe that and the school districts believe that," Sorrells said.