Dallas County Schools Financial Records Show Tab for Lobbyists, Consultants

School bus agency says it has now made payments on debts that it had defaulted on earlier this month

Dallas County Schools announced late Friday that it says it has now made payments on debts the troubled school bus agency had defaulted on two weeks ago.

DCS has been struggling to raise cash to cover its bills, and there have been questions about whether it even has the cash to pay its own employees in the months ahead.

There is no word yet from DCS on how it generated the funds to make those payments.

Meanwhile DCS financial records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show that the agency paid lobbyists and consultants more than a million dollars in three years.

The records show they spent $389,020.97 between legislative lobbyists and consultants in 2015. In 2016, that number climbed to $520,538.48. And this year alone, through May 31, they have spent $326,381.64 for a grand total of $1,235,941.09.

Cal Jillson, professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, says it's not unusual for government agencies to lobby lawmakers on causes that affect them. And this is an agency fighting for survival.

"A troubled agency that is going to get better, assuming it survives in the long term, can reasonably spend money like if this. Whether this precise amount, I'll let other people worry about. But if this money is being spent in a public agency that is not going to survive, then it is money down the rat hole," Jillson said.

Dallas County Schools said it had to spend the money to stay alive. In a statement, interim superintendent Leatha Mullins said, in part:

"DCS is in a fight for survival. That means the agency needed to hire professionals to assist us in communicating to the legislature ... Cities and school districts routinely hire lobbyists and obviously we needed all the help we could afford. This expenditure pales in comparison to the unfunded mandate requiring school districts to pay millions of dollars to individually manage school bus transportation."

But State Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), who has been critical of the school bus agency, said, "This is evidence of just how bad things really are at DCS."

DCS is certainly not the only government agency that spends money on lobbyists. The Dallas Independent School District does, too. In fact, they also spent money on lobbying in Austin arguing DCS should be shut down.

NBC 5 has requested complete expense records from Dallas ISD, we but don't have those yet. State records show they expected to spend about $425,000 since 2015. But that's just on lobbyists and does not include political consultants.

NBC 5 Senior Investigative Reporter Scott Friedman contributed to this report.

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