Two days before the primary election, the Dallas newspaper revealed that a small army of petitioners would beset the polls. They would be asking Dallas voters to support a secret plan to take over the governance of the Dallas Independent School District. Under an obscure 1995 Texas law, voters can remove their elected school board and allow an appointed group to ignore many parts of the state laws that govern Texas education. Essentially, the entire district and its 159,000 students would become a giant charter school district. The man behind the plan, the newspaper revealed, was John Arnold. Arnold is one of the few Enron executives who survived their corporate disaster and all the legal fallout to keep his billions intact. Over the past decade, he has made his reputation with an assault to privatize public employees' retirement plans.
Professional school teachers know John Arnold well, according to Dallas Alliance/AFT (American Federation of Teachers) Executive Board Member David Lee, speaking at a meeting organized by the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) on March 11 at Kirkwood Methodist Church. Lee said that teachers and other public employees had been fighting off Arnold's privatization schemes for years. His new scheme to privatize an entire school district came as a complete surprise to the entire Dallas Community.
In the next few days, the newspaper revealed the other conspirators. Mike Morath is a school board member from Preston Hollow, where ex-president George W Bush lives. Mayor Mike Rawlings, who has been inexplicably talking about education since he first ran for the city job, even though the Independent School District is completely separate from city government, quickly declared himself a champion of the privatization project. Both Mikes are longtime supporters of Mike Miles, the school superintendent who brought his corporate and military background to "reform" the schools. School Board Trustee Carla Ranger, the most outspoken trustee in defense of the students and parents, calls them the "three blind mikes!"
When former Mayor Ron Kirk, who established his political credentials as a lobbyist for the unelected and unseen Dallas Citizens Alliance, spoke out for the privatization scheme, it became apparent that business community is more or less united in this effort.
Trustee Carla Ranger told the March 11 meeting that the entire conspiracy has nothing to do with helping teachers, parents, or children. "It is about power, control, money, and privatization," she told the crowd.
The Dallas school district is the 2nd largest in Texas. A corporate takeover of this magnitude would have repercussions everywhere.
Feelings at the meeting were so angry that the meeting organizers had to scramble to bring forth the beginnings of a fightback. Dr. Juanita Wallace, President of the Dallas NAACP, was one of the cooler heads. She wanted committees on research, legislation, voting, media, and fund raising. Later, she agreed to appear on the "Workers Beat" radio program on KNON, 89.3FM and www.knon.org, at 9 AM Saturday March 15.
A cool-headed attorney suggested that the group focus on several calendar deadlines that could stop or slow down the conspirators:
Even among the unanimously opposed group at the March 11 meeting, it was apparent that it will be difficult to get people to focus on the immediate threat rather than spreading their energies over many other school issues. After politicians and corporations have spent decades defunding, undermining, and defaming public education, schools are a "hot button" issue with almost everyone. A discussion on whether we wanted to be a focused "single purpose" coaliton or a broad general coalition on other aspects of school reform began, but was not concluded. The Texas Organizing Project leaders were able to get some committees formed and set a date for another meeting in two weeks.
Before he concluded the meeting with a prayer, Reverend Holsey Hickman synthesized the feelings and understandings of all the community and labor leaders assembled. He said "We should not call these schemers 'reformers.' They are regressivists. Their scheme subverts the entire notion of democracy!"