84th Legislative Session: HB 2579 – DISD Governance Legislation
Updated information about the bill:
The recent public discussions related to Dallas Independent School District (DISD) governance has resulted in a number of contentious issues raised by various groups within the district. Rather than focusing on issues that divide us, the intent of HB 2579 is to build off of those issues for which there exists a high level of consensus. In most cases, the proposals under this bill have broad buy-in from stakeholders and are genuine efforts at common-sense reform. In other cases, the bill borrows from recommendations made by the City of Dallas Charter Review Commission. HB 2579 purposely avoids amending state laws regarding home rule charters, and instead focuses on governance by amending Chapter 11 of the Education Code. I have included a brief synopsis of the relevant provisions of the bill. We look forward to stimulating further debate on how we can move DISD and the City of Dallas forward.
Summary of Proposed Legislation:
HB 2579 would implement provisions related to the governance of DISD by requiring the DISD school board to order an election on November 8, 2016 for the following propositions. If a proposition is approved by a majority of the voters, the board would be required, under the bill, to implement the proposition and adopt appropriate policies.
1. Student Trustee: Would establish a non-voting student trustee to serve on the DISD Board of Trustees. The board would establish by policy the term length of the trustee position, the selection procedure, the procedure for removal, and the level of trustee participation in deliberations and access to information.
• The non-voting student trustee would serve, along with the nine elected trustees, to offer student perspective, help increase the focus of the board on the needs of the students, and improve the ability of the board to connect policy decisions with student outcomes.
2. Flexible School Start Date: Would allow the board the flexibility to consider a start date prior to the fourth week of August. The bill would not change the total number of school days for year.
• Current law prohibits school districts in Texas from starting before the fourth week of August, creating disproportionate spring and fall semesters, which can negatively impact teacher lesson plans. HB 2579 would exempt districts from the provisions of Tex. Educ. Code § 25.0811 relating to first day of instruction, allowing the district the flexibility to consider an earlier start date.
3. Increase Voter Engagement: Would change the length of trustee terms from three years to four years.
• School board elections have a notoriously low turnout and low voter participation, with voter participation in DISD elections well below 5 percent. Aligning board elections with City Council elections will help increase voter participation and reduce election costs due to cost splitting measures.
4. Stability in Leadership: Would require a vote of at least two-thirds of the District’s Board of Trustees, at a public meeting posted for that purpose, to approve and terminate a superintendent’s contract or other employment. The change in the voting requirement would not take effect during the contract of the sitting superintendent.
• The hiring and firing of the superintendent is among the most important duties of the Board of Trustees. Current law requires a majority vote to terminate the contract of a superintendent. Amending current law from a simple majority to super majority vote for termination would align the district with the city’s requirement for termination of the Dallas City Manager. Since 1994, DISD has had ten superintendents, compared to the City’s four city managers. Continuity and stability in leadership are as much needed in the school district as they are in city government.
5. Trustee Compensation: Would allow elected District Trustees to receive compensation equal to the average starting salary of a teacher with a Bachelor’s degree.
• Compensating trustees would acknowledge the demands of school district board members and allow for a larger pool of applicants. Similar considerations factored into the decision to increase compensation for city council members during the 2014 charter review, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
6. Redistricting Reform:
• Implements redistricting reforms almost identical to those adopted by the City of Dallas and approved by voters in the November 2014 elections. The reforms, as proposed, would increase transparency, independence of the commission, and remove interested parties and political insiders. Instead of politicians selecting their voters, we must get back to voters choosing their politicians.