At a hearing Thursday in Austin state lawmakers continued to debate legislation that could bring an end to Dallas County Schools, the troubled bus agency serving 10 local communities.
At the hearing, the feud between DCS and the Dallas Independent School District grew larger as the two traded jabs back and forth and the DISD admitted they aren’t even paying for bus service right now because DCS has failed to live up to its contract.
DCS interim Superintendent Leatha Mullins was in Austin to make the case for her agency's survival despite what State Rep. Cindy Burkett described as a dismal track record of poor service, safety problems and financial woes.
"Right now it's extremely mismanaged. It's losing money and the service they are providing are not what I would call quality," Burkett said.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told lawmakers his district is withholding payments to DCS because they have failed to provide reports outlined under a new contract signed last month.
"There are 11 things we've asked them to give us. They've given us three of them," Hinojosa said.
A public relations firm hired by DCS said Thursday that DISD’s claims are false and that the agency is providing metrics and monthly reports per the terms of their contract.
Hinojosa said he wishes DCS could continue running buses in Dallas but feared the agency was in such bad shape financially that they may not be viable.
"We are losing confidence that they can do it. We are losing confidence that they can be solvent," Hinojosa said.
DCS responded, saying they can survive and are cleaning up their financial house.
"You've heard that DCS has been mismanaged and may be insolvent. That is false," Mullins said, assuring lawmakers that past problems are being addressed. "On Tuesday the DCS board received and approved a positive audit report -- it's proof we are financially viable."
Unlike the DCS bill currently in the Senate proposed by Texas Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), the House bill does not automatically shutter DCS. The House bill lets the Dallas county school districts decide the agency's fate. If more than 75 percent of Dallas County school districts use the agency, the agency can continue to operate. That would be a difficult bar for DCS to reach given the current number of districts they serve. Coppell ISD recently dropped DCS service and some other Dallas County districts have said they are considering the same.
Even if DCS survives the legislative challenge there are questions about whether they can patch up their relationship with their largest customer, the Dallas ISD. If they fail there and the DISD goes elsewhere for bus service, that, too, could threaten to force DCS out of business. The DISD contract is worth about $50 million annually.
Two cities that pay taxes in Dallas County but do not use Dallas County Schools' bus services, Mesquite and Sunnyvale, both sent letters this week to Rep. Burkett saying they were in favor of dissolving the agency. Those letters can be seen below.
Mesquite Letter to Rep. Burkett
Sunnyvale Letter to Rep. Burkett