Live Blog - DISD Board Meeting May, 2009

ADAM MEDRANO ELECTED BOARD PRESIDENT!

Superintendent admits he originally put controversial staffing proposal (cutting the magnets / learning center staff) on the "consent agenda" presumably to limit discussion on it. Jack Lowe says it was a mistake to do so...

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The meeting opened to the shouts of "Carla... Carla... Carla..." aimed at Carla Ranger. Definitely the most popular person in the room tonight.

It's 5:41 and the first item up is to consider election of board officers (president, vice president, treasurer, etc.).

But first...

Carla Ranger is making a motion to pull items relating to campus staffing (the reason why 90% of the audience is here). In other words: a motion to remove the items to damage the learning centers.

The reason: board members received packets of information on Wednesday afternoon containing new information.

"It's important to have as much information [] as possible [before voting on these items]."

Jack Lowe is countering that the board should act tonight. Rationale: to preserve jobs. It is unknown at this time whether Jack has been privy to information not available to the others, or whether he's just "trusting" the staff to make the right decision--and wanting to rubber-stamp their will.

Ron Price is asking that decisions be postponed as well noting that new information is available and that "wrong decisions" have been made about the learning centers in the past.

"Although we live in a red state and a blue city, we need to make a 'green' decision in this matter," said Price.

Edwin Flores is voicing an opinion for proceeding forward as well.

Leigh Ann Ellis is proposing a "different approach." She proposes keeping it on the agenda to discuss, publicly, the information. Keep it public.

Jerome Garza agrees with Leigh Ann.

OMG! OMG! OMG! Adam Medrano can speak! Adam says he won't support Ranger's motion to pull the item from the agenda.

Leigh Ann proposes that the items stay on the agenda "letting the discussion go" and see where it takes the board.

Ranger wants to guarantee no vote happens, on the learning centers, tonight.

Ranger keeps her motion on deck and it fails.

6:01 - Board elections are up for consideration ("approval of a waiver to board policy to allow nomination of board officers and election").

Let's see who votes against it... Flores and Nancy Bingham.

So we're having board elections.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa is running the election tonight.

Nominations for president: Flores, Medrano and Blackburn (Blackburn gets applause from the crowd).

The trustees get to vote until there is a majority.

Flores gets 4 votes!

ADAM MEDRANO GETS THE MAJORITY VOTE: Flores, Lowe, Bingham, Medrano and Garza!

There is some unhappiness since Blackburn didn't get a vote.

Nominations for first vice president: Blackburn, Garza and Ellis.

Blackburn gets the job as first vice president.

Nominations for 2nd vice president: Garza, Carla Ranger (gets applause), Edwin Flores...

Carla Ranger gets it!

Nominations for board secretary: Leigh Ann Ellis. Everyone but Bingham and Carla Ranger votes for her.

"I am honored that the board elected me as 2nd vice president," said Ranger as she thanked the Board for their vote.

Adam is thanking everyone for their support. I guess this means he has to talk more now!

6:20 - We're on to the superintendent's report. While Hinojosa was giving his talk, Jack Lowe walked up and put his arm around Adam Medrano--looking like he was giving Adam some "fatherly advice."

6:30 - The Skyline Mock Trial team is getting an award for representing the DISD. Joe Wicker and Martin Williams coaches.

16th in the nation and NONE of them seniors. So they're going to continue to be contenders! Very good program academically. Being 16th in the nation is quite an accomplishment.

"I hope I'm never in a courtroom being interrogated by these young men and ladies," added Dr. Hinojosa.

The Madison Basketball team is up now! The 2009 State champions!

Caleb Veazey is getting an award for earning 2 gold medals at the UIL swimming and diving. Caleb is a senior at Booker T. Washington and swims for Bryan Adams high school.

Here's one after my own heart: the Early College High School Robotics Team has taken an award for building a robot. They're trying to demonstrate it now. It works!

An 8th grader at Edison Learning Center, Adriana Alonso, is getting an award for earning a perfect score on the TAKS test! And they want to shut these down!

Hard to believe that, in a few minutes, this room may well turn into a raucus debate-fest.

7:04 - We're on to speakers to agenda items. Adam proposed that speakers be limited to 2 minutes instead of the 1 minute imposed on them by Jack Lowe.

The topic: funding the learning centers.

7:21 - There is a young lady speaking from the magnet schools who is extremely good! We're going to try and cut this speech out from the video stream and put it up.

The kids are incredible!

Makes you wonder how we can even be debating changing these programs. We're going to try and get some of the videos of these kids and get them online.

7:32 - A speaker, Juanita Wallace, just read a speech claiming to have obtained a copy of Jack Lowe's notes in which he urged fellow board members to "assassinate" Carla Ranger politically and that the board didn't need "independent thinkers."

It caused quite a stir with the crowd. Jack Lowe leaned forward to respond but didn't.

I'm just going to say it: methinks Ms. Wallace is full of it. Somehow I just can't picture Jack Lowe saying this.

There are so many legitimate reasons to oppose cutting magnet/learning center budgets. It's too bad that people like Juanita Wallace feel the need to make things like this up.

We'll try to get Juanita Wallace's comments, on video, and put them up front-and-center for the world to see.

8:05 - Jack Lowe just clarified that Wallace's comments were made up -- "a lie." Lowe said he would welcome a handwriting test if anyone had any questions.

8:15 - CEI's.

There are several speakers talking to the inaccuracies inherent in the CEI process. CEI's, as one speaker pointed out, were pitched as a way to track student performance--not to terminate... er... non-renew teachers.

Classroom Effectiveness Indices (CEI's) were the brainchild of former District statistical whiz Robert Mendro. Mendro believed that the marginal rate at which students progress (as opposed to student progress in and of itself) can be quantified through a complex algorithm that can't be effectively explained to teachers--and even other statisticians. The buzz phrase is: "moving students."

The CEI employs quite a bit of "statistical witchcraft" using information--some of which is not public. As some speakers have pointed out, the CEI's themselves may be based on defective data.

So teachers may well be getting terminated... ah... non-renewed over a nebulous algorithm which may be error-prone and is definitely difficult to explain.

But it is still trusted by the administration for some reason.

It's 8:47 and we're still hearing from speakers. The current topic is the removal of principal Earl Jones from South Oak Cliff.

9:08 - We're on the last speaker. The debate over the agenda should be cranking up shortly.

9:19 - They're debating staffing levels for non-campus staff. District financial chief Larry Throm is clarifying that board approval is being requested to keep non-campus staffing levels will be unchanged.

9:22 - Ron Price offers an amendment to say that CEI's will not be used to fire employees.

School attorneys are telling Ron he's out of order and that the amendment would violate the open meetings act.

Ron turns to newly-elected president Adam Medrano and asks that he add this issue to next month's agenda.

9:25 - We're on to discussing the flash-point item on tonight's agenda: "2009-10 Campus Staffing Formulas."

Larry Throm is explaining how the learning centers and magnets must be destroyed if the District is to succeed.

No, that's not what he's saying... but he may as well. Throm is trying to convince the board to cut these schools' budgets because DISD risks losing $100M in Title I funds if they don't.

Of course, things change daily along these lines.

Throm claims that the information, recently given to board members, changes nothing.

"If we're not in compliance [in December] they'll cut off the federal funds [$100 million]."

Carla Ranger is saying that she has no confidence in the District's proposed direction with respect to the learning centers.

It is certainly interesting that each time someone looks into or challenges an aspect of the funding proposal (i.e. Brett Shipp's report last night), the administration comes up with another document to try and justify their methods (i.e. the one-page consultant's report that "surfaced" 2 days ago).

Carla is taking issue with Hinojosa over placing the staffing formulas (aka cutting the learning centers / magnet staffing) on the consent agenda as opposed to pulling it for a separate vote.

Hinojosa admitted he did it on purpose!

Hinojosa explained that the Federal government told him he had to cut the budget to bring the schools into Title I compliance. So, this maybe means he believed that further discussion would have been useless?

Carla noted that, had she not noticed, it would not have been pulled for discussion and a separate vote. Jack Lowe noted that he was Carla's "second" vote to pull the item from the "consent agenda" and put it on the regular agenda--so it could be debated.

It's getting raucus again. The audience is participating vocally.

Carla Ranger's position, basically, is that the learning centers were developed in connection with an agreement in the Districts previous desegregation order overseen by Judge Barefoot Sanders.

Carla is saying that the learning centers can't be altered because of the agreement. The lawyers are noting that the District is no longer under the desegregation order.

Lew Blackburn touches on the issue of the Steve Peterson report (used in Brett Shipp's report last night - link coming). We have questions: who pays this guy? TEA? DISD? What is his pay history? Who is he? How long has he worked for DISD/TEA/etc.? Maybe someone will ask.

10:53 - Ron Price handed out a TEA handbook which addresses when exclusions may be granted. The attorneys are saying they've seen them and addressed the issues. There is much confusion.

"In the spirit of Joe May," Price added, "we need a second opinion [from another lawyer]."

Price insisted that the federal government isn't going to let DISD go unfunded. They're not just going to withhold $100 million dollars from DISD. There are options.

11:00 - We're still going.

11:30 - Jack Lowe is talking and insisting that he can't see funding the learning centers at a higher level than other neighborhood schools when the learning centers aren't performing.

So we're starting to get down to a possible crux of the issue. It may be philosophical.

As to the issues that have been brought up repeatedly: information that still keeps coming and a picture that keeps changing, Jack offered his viewpoint.

"If you wait til you know everything you've waited too long," said Lowe. "I think we know more than enough to make a decision."

Midnight - Lew Blackburn is back up. He's pointing out discrepancies in the "learning center management plan" and what was written in the consultant's (Steve Peterson) report.

"It doesn't seem like the administration is trying to help us [not impact the learning centers]," added Lew. Then directed at Larry Throm: "Larry it seems like every time we meet we find holes."

Of course, Peterson isn't here to answer questions himself about his one page report.

It seems like there was very little consulting going on inside the District.

"No one talked to the learning center coordinator [before issuing reports," added Lew Blackburn. "Before you give us a decision [make sure you have] all of your facts."

"Trustees, once again, we have conflicting information [from staff]."

"If you don't want to get the truth about it [...] just say it."

12:30AM - Marathon meeting isn't it!

Carla Ranger has gotten Larry Throm to make a statement that he's not an expert on how learning centers operate (in essence). Throm seems to be dead set against looking for exclusions that allow the learning centers (and magnets) to continue to operate unimpeded.

12:34 - Security coming in! Someone in the crowd was voicing opinions--giving advice. But they didn't throw the guy out. Carla Ranger intervened.

Edwin Flores (jokingly): "I will begin on my hour-long [statement]." Flores started by reminding everyone on the board that practicing law without a license is a felony.

Flores voiced his support and confidence in Hinojosa and crew.

"I believe that Dallas ISD has never had a better administration."

Flores addressed what he called "inequities." He used W.T. White as an example contrasted against Townview--noting the Townview had 30% more staff "to do the same thing."

With respect to the Title I laws: "Congress knew exactly what they were doing when they passed this law."

Edwin Flores said he considered voting against the proposal and "just losing $100M dollars." "But that would have been unconscionable."

Flores is building on Lowe's position that eventually the Board needs to stop asking for information and just make a decision.

12:55 - Leigh Ann Ellis is up. She thanked everyone for staying until 1 in the morning. I got volunteered to buy breakfast for everyone :)

"I'm interested in how this is going to impact the campuses... the direct impact as far as the services," Leigh Ann said. "There's this fear that we're going to be losing something in the magnets [...] in the learning centers."

"We're asking for these bureaucratic answers and we're not really solving the problems on the table."

She is asking that a communication plan be developed and brought to the board before making a decision. Jerome Garza agrees.

12:59 - Hinojosa: "This has been a very difficult decision for everyone." He is asking the board to "take action" on the campus staffing plan.

Carla Ranger is asking for documents related to her request regarding exclusions. She also followed up with an apology to the man who was nearly removed by DISD police for speaking up in the meeting.

1:10AM - Let the voting begin.

The magnets get exempted ("hold harmless") but the learning centers are going to get reshaped on a 5-4 vote.

Carla Ranger is protesting that it takes a super majority to change policy (7 votes instead of 5).

Now we're on to the rest of the agenda. Most of it should pass quickly with some board members recusing themselves.

Then, if my watch isn't wrong, it may be breakfast time.

"Shame!" Members of the crowd (the few hardcores who remain) shout. "Shame on all of you!"

1:21AM - Goodnight everybody!