Supporters and opponents of the controversial Dallas Independent School District home rule charter change clashed Wednesday at a rare joint meeting of school trustees and the city council.
The meeting was supporters' best chance yet to dispel rumors and make their case to the public, but critics -- including several vocal city council members -- used the platform to denounce drastic changes in school governance.
One option for a home rule charter could dispose of the elected school board and put trustees appointed by the Dallas mayor in charge of the DISD.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said he backs a petition drive to force the next step, a 15-member commission that would decide on a new charter.
The city attorney said under the law, DISD voters would have the final say on a home rule change and 25 percent of those registered in the district would have to approve.
"The number one barrier to living in Dallas is the school issue," Rawlings said. "All of us need to act with a sense of urgency because every year that passes our children will never get it back."
But school officials said they are making progress under the current arrangement.
"We can't afford incremental gain, we need to do some transformative things in Dallas ISD," Superintendent Mike Miles said.
School Board President Eric Cowan was asked if he believes the current governance structure is limiting success.
"In my opinion, no," Cowan said.
Cowan said the district deserves a better reputation and Councilman Phillip Kingston agreed.
"I believe however there are people who choose not to put their kids in DISD because of perception problems that are not reality," Kingston said. "If we have a discussion that is not clouded by secret backers and secret agendas, we can work together to improve this district."
Councilwoman Carolyn Davis pressed Rawlings to reveal his connections with the group seeking the signatures, Support our Public Schools.
"I was a citizen supporter of that effort, OK, and continue to be so," Rawlings said. "At the same time, that is a separate organization that I have no voting powers on."
Rawlings said he still believes a home rule charter would be positive improvement for DISD.
Support our Public Schools hopes to have the required 5 percent of DISD registered voters submitted by May.
In the meantime, Wednesday the mayor announced a new joint committee of city council members and school trustees to pursue immediate improvement in support for Dallas public schools.
Councilman Adam Medrano, a former DISD Trustee, will lead the committee.