Dallas ISD Is Great, But Dallas Families Aren't Hearing That Story

Most people don't know it, but Dallas ISD is in crisis. Although I have a very favorable opinion of the district and the work its administrators have done, their situation is challenging. Our state elected officials have neglected the least among us and refused to adequately fund our public schools. Charter schools are siphoning off an ever-increasing share of potential Dallas ISD students. Many of the district's most effective reforms are in jeopardy because there is not enough money to fund them.Administrators and the Board of Trustees have their work cut out for them in the current funding climate. Although there are often opposing views on how to best operate in such trying times, there was a rare moment of consensus at a recent board workshop. Stephanie Elizalde, chief of school leadership, gave a presentation on enrollment and the budget outlook that set the stage for two new school consolidations and other transformations that promise to offer more highly coveted Montessori seats. While the trustees had varying responses to the presentation overall, they all agreed on two points that they could seize upon to coalesce and build trust within their ranks.The first point was a no-brainer. They agreed that our elected officials in Austin have made a mess of public school funding and our schools are woefully underfunded. In addition to flat funding, the district will be subject to recapture of approximately $40 million in 2018-19 because of its standing as a property-rich and people-poor district. Without an injection of funding, possibly by way of a tax ratification election, the district will continue to have to make painful personnel and program cuts that could threaten the viability of the district. Even with voter passage of a TRE, the district will continue to scramble for funding until a permanent fix is made by the Legislature.Trustees also agreed that Dallas ISD does a poor job marketing the district's impressive school choice offerings to students and parents. While we all bear the burden of making our position felt at the ballot box, the district must do a better job making sure families know of all the exciting opportunities available at DISD schools.Trustee Edwin Flores made an impassioned proclamation to the board that Dallas ISD has the best offerings in the Dallas education scene, and I agree with him. While charter, private and parochial schools "get school right," that's all they do well. The portfolio of choices in Dallas ISD is robust and aimed at creating a best fit for every student. There are no other educational entities in Dallas that can match DISD's depth and breadth. Pre-K3, dual-language immersion, collegiate academies, the perennially ranked best high school in America — these are just some of the unmatched options Dallas ISD offers families. But the district's efforts to market these opportunities fall short.According to Ms. Elizalde's presentation, more than 34,000 students who reside within DISD's boundaries do not attend its schools. If the district could re-engage a quarter of those families, the trajectory of the district would change instantly. Although school choice and magnet schools are popular, the district must work to make neighborhood schools just as attractive. We know the district is focused on attracting private school kids in the north and charter school kids in the south.Dallas ISD-style school choice has the potential to stop the purge of students from the district and attract new families. But without real funding solutions in the near future, we won't get the chance to realize that potential.Kevin Malonson is an education coordinator with Dallas ISD and a Dallas Morning News Community Voices alumnus. Email: kmalonson@hotmail.com.  Continue reading...

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