Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The "I" in Richardson ISD

The Richardson ISD is in a tough spot. Enrollment is growing in Lake Highlands. Schools are overcrowded. Expansion could make them unmanageably large. Land for new schools is expensive. Making the issue pressing is an upcoming bond election in less than two months. Money is set aside in the bond for dealing with this, but exactly how to spend it is not yet determined.

What to do? The RISD has established a "Lake Highlands Reflector Committee" made up of parents, staff members, community members and students to research, discuss and recommend options to the board of trustees. Others are freely offering their own advice as well. There's a Facebook group, "Lake Highlands Schools Plan 2030", that has offered a comprehensive long-range plan. And there's even a Dallas city council member, Adam McGough, who has offered his own plan.

McGough's plan is not just an off-the-cuff brainstorm. It's detailed. It addresses not just adding elementary classrooms, but providing for playing fields and swimming facilities for high school athletics. The devil is in the details, but surely it deserves consideration, right? That's rhetorical. Right.

That's what makes this paragraph in McGough's open letter such a head-scratcher:
On Friday, February 5, 2016, along with the District 10 Park Board Representative, the leadership of our Dallas Parks Department, and a former RISD trustee, I presented a proposal to leverage resources and address the overcrowding issues in Lake Highlands to RISD leadership. Recently, I discovered the options included in the proposal were not included in the 14 options shared with the reflector committee created by the District.
Why were the details of this plan not even shared with the RISD's Lake Highlands Reflector Committee? Even if there's some deal-breaker hidden in there somewhere, the reflector committee ought to know about it, if only to understand the deal-breaker (McGough himself apparently hasn't been told of any deal-breaker). The existence of a reflector committee gives the appearance of an open process, but if the information that is presented to the committee is limited and controlled by the RISD, transparency is at least suspect.

What might be a deal-breaker in McGough's proposal? I have no idea what the RISD thinks (another strike against transparency right there), but I think the need for a partnership between the RISD and the City of Dallas could end up being something RISD parents and taxpayers later regret.

The City of Dallas is offering park land for playing fields, and a new swimming pool for a school natatorium. But it's still a city park. The RISD would provide some of the funding in exchange for some use of it.

This brings me to the headline for this blog item. What makes the Richardson Independent School District "independent"? Wikipedia has the answer:
An independent school district (ISD) is a type of school district in some U.S. states for primary and secondary education, which operates as an entity that is independent and separate from any municipality, county, or state. As such the administrative leadership of such districts is selected from within the district itself and has no direct responsibility to any other governmental authority. This independence normally also implies that the district has its own taxing authority that is outside of the direct control of other governmental entities.
Source: Wikipedia.
How can an ISD lose its independence? By entering into partnerships with cities and counties, by ceding control in exchange for "things". I don't want to reject Dallas city council member McGough's proposal out of hand. I don't think the RISD should, either. Partnerships sometimes can be win-win situations. But I start from a position of skepticism. I would have to be convinced that chipping away at independence in exchange for a swimming pool is the right thing for RISD's taxpayers.

The thinking goes both ways, apparently. I don't know how much council member McGough can speak for the City of Dallas, but the City of Richardson isn't all that eager to partner with school districts. In the 2013 mayoral election campaign, one issue was the possibility of the City of Richardson partnering with the school district (RISD or PISD) to build, perhaps, a natatorium (you see, there's nothing new under the sun). Then council member and future mayor Laura Maczka was against it, for reasons similar to what I said above. Partnership sounds great, but entanglements between overlapping governments (school district, city, county) pose long-term challenges that are best avoided unless there are compelling benefits.

Maybe that's why the RISD didn't share McGough's plan with the reflector committee. Or maybe it was some other reason altogether. In any case, we should at least be talking about it. Right?


Mark Steger said...

A reader privately offers a contrary view: "When school districts to do not reach out and partner with cities we get what we get with the RISD. We get an administration and board that, frankly, doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks." There's more, but that encapsulates it, I think.

Mark Steger said...

The Advocate Lake Highlands article led to the RISD presenting Adam McGough's proposal to the reflector committee at its April 5 meeting. The minutes of that meeting suggest another reason why the RISD might have rejected the proposal. It's about locating a K-6 school on high school grounds. As one reflector member said, "putting younger kids with older kids is not a good idea."